The Art of Asking For a Raise

By: Randy Dotinga

If people were as afraid of making marriage proposals as they are of asking for raises, the bridal industry would fall apart. There’s something especially disconcerting about hitting up your boss for more money, and some people — like me — have never been brave enough to do it.

But the experts say asking for a raise doesn’t need to be scary. Here are some tips about how to get the paycheck you think you deserve:

1. SPEND TIME PREPARING: Don’t go to your boss with a vague idea of why you’re worth more than your salary. And leave your personal financial woes — the credit card bills or the child support payments — out of the picture entirely.

“The key in asking for a raise, especially in this kind of environment, is having proof of how you’ve helped the bottom line or improved the editorial product. You’ve got to show that you’ve gone above and beyond the call every time you’ve had the opportunity to do so,” said Tony Lee, editor in chief of CareerJournal.com, the executive career Web site of The Wall Street Journal. (CareerJournal.com is a partner of Editor & Publisher’s Career Center.)

“Come prepared to say that ‘I’m earning X, and I’ve done some research and found that the average salary for this is Y. I feel like that’s what I deserve given my effort.’ Then discuss some accomplishments,” Lee said.

Don’t be afraid of listing your most successful projects in extensive detail, said Peggy Klaus, an executive coach who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“I can’t tell you how many times it comes to an appraisal, and the boss really doesn’t have all of that information. The employee thinks, ‘Of course she has it,’ but she doesn’t,” said Klaus, author of the upcoming book “BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It.”

2. WORK ON YOUR TIMING: Don’t show up in your boss’s office on a whim. “It’s good to ask for a raise after you’ve had a significant work-related achievement,” said Randall Smith, assistant managing editor at The Kansas City (Mo.) Star. “And timing is important when things are very difficult [financially]. That’s usually not a good time. You want to look for times when people will say yes to you.”

In the worst-case scenarios, bad timing could scuttle your career, said Lee of CareerJournal.com. “If you’re completely insensitive to what’s going on around you, if the company is struggling and you bound in and say you want more money, it shows you’re incredibly self-absorbed or stupid,” he said.

3. BOLSTER YOUR CONFIDENCE: Convince yourself that you need a raise before you ask for one.

Beverly Hills workplace psychologist Ken Siegel says a good first step is figuring out exactly why you want more money. “You could feel underpaid or you could feel neglected and want to substitute money for praise,” Siegel said. “You need to be clear about your reason and have a strong sense that it’s very valid.”

Thinking about your motives should help you feel that you’ve “earned” a raise, not that you simply “deserve” it, he said.

Klaus, the executive coach, said women must make special efforts to loosen up enough to promote themselves. Women are often uncomfortable with the idea of bragging, she said, and many “feel they don’t deserve it, that they shouldn’t get a raise unless they’re perfect.”

4. HAVE A PLAN B: When the economy is in the doldrums, your boss may not be able to give you a raise even if he or she wants to. Be prepared to accept other incentives like more vacation time or a Friday off once a month, experts said.

But don’t make threats about quitting your job. “People often will say that as a knee-jerk reaction, and it forces the boss to also get into a knee-jerk reaction,” Klaus said. Instead, she advises employees to remember that they do hold some power over their bosses. “They’re going to try to find a way to keep you. The costs of the turnover if you leave is far more dear than giving you a raise.”

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