No matter how valuable you may be to your team and the org at large, and despite the many people who may see and recognize your contributions, when it comes to raising your salary to reflect that value, more often than not, it falls on you to make the first move and ask for it.
The problem is: a raise is an investment. While you might feel intimidated approaching your manager with the request, she is likely equally nervous at the prospect of either a) that investment failing to return, or b) you quitting when she can’t cough up the cash.
It is frequently an uncomfortable conversation for all involved, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you approach the negotiation well-prepared, avoiding these three major pitfalls, you are likely to leave the discussion feeling respected and recognized for your initiative, saving you (at least) a week’s worth of agonizing over “should-haves.”
Building a (Solely) Qualitative Case
It goes without saying, but before you grab time with your manager, it’s important to have a plan in place for how your proposal will go. Start by making a list of the reasons you feel you are due a salary increase, and consider how “measurable” each item is.
Oftentimes, negotiations begin with the idea of being “good” or even “the best” at a job. Though this may very well be true (and a fair consideration for compensation), this claim – without receipts – won’t stand the test of the budgeting and stakeholder considerations that will happen once you’ve left the room.
Aside from your deliverables (i.e., what is already expected of your current salary), what do you contribute uniquely to the organization, and what is the financial impact?
Your employer likely has a fund allocated for raises, but they have to think critically about where they invest it. The same as any other investment, they have to ask: how will spending this money (on your salary) make or save money for the organization?
If you can anticipate that question and answer it up front (ex: I’ve calculated that the ERG I played a key role in mobilizing saved us $200k in attrition costs last year by creating a stronger sense of belonging and inclusivity at the org) then you take the guesswork out of the game.
Key point: “I deserve it” doesn’t imply a return, but “I’m an integral part of our org’s growth as per these margins” does.
2. Crowding the Air Space
The most common, most damning, and yet least considered negotiation failure = talking too much.
We know, it’s hard not to jump into the ring guns a-blazing when you are bursting from the seams with “what ifs” and counters to arguments that haven’t even begun yet. But trust: less really is more.
All too often, it is what we blurt out in the heat of the moment that undercuts our final offer, not the hundred things we didn’t say.
This is another reason why that initial prep time is so important. When you spend time getting all of the small things out on paper, you can take a step back and pinpoint the two or three items that most strongly support your case. While it’s tempting to “leave no stone unturned,” the reality is: the more minutiae you fill those 30 minutes with, the less likely those key arguments are to stick in your manager’s mind.
Present an organized, well-researched, and confident case, then get comfortable with a little silence – for you and your manager to think.
Not only does rambling undercut credibility, but if you allow your mouth to run ahead of your brain, you may very well end up inadvertently bargaining yourself down.
3. An “All or Nothing” Approach
Raise negotiations are an inevitable part of a career in corporate – either as manager or an individual contributor. Meaning: they don’t have to be dramatic, “end-all-be-all” events.
Trusting relationships take serious time and effort to develop at work, and the last thing you want to do is let a moment of well-intentioned self-advocacy jeopardize the strength of those ties.
If the discussion doesn’t seem to be leaning in your favor, don’t panic. And above all else: do not threaten.
That higher salary may very well be the only thing that will keep you from window-shopping new opportunities, but leveraging a “quit” is only going to put a sour taste in your manager’s mouth.
Think of it this way: if you bring up being a potential retention risk, there is little to suggest that a raise will keep you from eventually leaving anyway. And if she is weighing the success of an investment in your salary, planting that seed of doubt in her mind isn’t going to do you any favors.
Besides, denying your raise may have nothing to do at all with how valued you are at the organization. Especially at smaller companies or orgs undergoing market shifts, they may simply not have the funds to support it.
Come to the negotiation prepared with a few alternative “middle ground” items. EX: extra PTO, a travel/health/learning stipend, WFH flexibility, stock options, etc… Just because you can’t make money appear from thin air, doesn’t mean you have to leave the room empty-handed.
But remember (re: #2): don’t lay those cards on the table too soon. Stick to your pitch, stay calm, and keep an open mind. If you’ve built a good relationship with your manager up and through this point, you can trust that she will do her best to advocate for you from there on out.
(Bonus tip: even if the conversation with your manager goes well, there are still people above her head who she will have to convince. Do her a favor and work to align with other stakeholders ahead of time so your name rings a positive bell over the budgeting table.)