You’re going to have to work a little harder for your raise this year—especially if you want more than the measly 2.9 percent average.
Companies have been moving away from awarding small salary increases to the entire staff and toward singling out top performers. But scoring a big bump isn’t just about standing out from the crowd. Your timing and preparation can make the difference in how much you get, and when.
Here’s how to make sure you nail your pitch.
1. Exceed expectations and track your achievements.
If you’re going to ask for a raise later, you’d better be sure you have a very clear understanding of what your manager expects from you now. Have a discussion at the start of this year about what his or her expectations are, then figure out how you can exceed them. Keep a running list throughout the year of all those awesome (and quantifiable) accomplishments. If you signed a huge client, note how much revenue that adds to the bottom line. If you wrote a popular article, record the traffic and make the connection to how that boosts overall brand awareness.
Be sure you frame your wins in a way that matters to the higher-ups and the larger company goals. “Take a look at what the company values, rewards, and promotes,” says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of “Corporate Confidential.” “Work to their values.”
2. Time it right.
By the time the holidays and your annual review roll around, it’s too late to broach the subject of a raise. Budgets—and your salary—are already locked in. At many companies, bonus structures and raises for the next year are decided in Q4, so make the formal request in or before September, when your boss still has time to go to bat for you. After all, you’ve already laid the groundwork.
Be mindful of the overall state of business though. If sales are down, say, so are your chances of securing a raise. “If you ask for a raise at the wrong time, you can be seen as sort of greedy and only out for yourself, and it’s very easy to get on the wrong side of your company’s good graces,” says Shapiro.
3. Know your worth.
Comparing yourself to others generally isn’t a good idea. We’re unique snowflakes, and all that. But knowing your market value is necessary when asking for a raise, so check sites like Salary.com and Payscale.com to see what other people in your position and area earn.
If you’re underpaid, use this information as backup when asking for more. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s in a company’s best interest to pay fairly so it doesn’t lose strong employees to better-paying rivals. “It’s very expensive [to replace an employee], and there is also loss of time in retraining and getting the team back up to speed with yet another new person,” Shapiro explains.
4. Name your price.
Once you know the going rates, you have your target salary. While the standard principles of negotiation would suggest starting with an inflated figure with the expectation of landing somewhere in the middle, Shapiro recommends shooting straight.
If the typical pay for your job is $75,000 and you make $50,000, ask for $75,000. Yes, it’s a big jump, but if you can prove you deserve it, that’s all that matters. If your boss says they can only offer $60,000 this year, keep the conversation open.
“That’s when you say, ‘I really appreciate that, but I would like to get to market rate. What can I do to get there by the end of next year?'” Shapiro says.
5. Don’t be discouraged by “no.”
Of course, your boss could give you a straight-up “no.” If it’s just a matter of money, try negotiating for other meaningful perks like more vacation time and flexible hours. Or ask about getting a bonus tied to performance targets in lieu of the salary bump, which can be tougher to secure.
If you absolutely, positively can’t work out a deal that makes you happy, you can always move on. Update your resume, rev up your social networks—online and off—and seek out better opportunities. At the least, all your prep work will help you when you’re interviewing—and negotiating your next salary.