It's easy to put career advancement on the backburner during the summer, amid daydreams of vacation, ice cream, and fun in the sun. But summer is the best time to think about something a little less beach-minded: getting a raise.
Managers will be spending the next few months deliberating compensation, so if you're going to proactively seek a raise this year (and you should), start now.
"It's smart for people to let their manager know their intentions and expectations because in large companies, compensation pools are allotted to senior managers by the end of June," says Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, cofounder of career-coaching firm Six Figure Start.
Companies surveyed recently by Mercer said they expected pay raises for next year to average 2.9 percent, up modestly from 2.8 percent this year and 2.7 percent in both 2011 and 2012. High-performing employees will see even more money, with expected average base pay increases of 4.6 percent.
But obtaining a raise isn't just about upping your game from now until December 31; it takes a focused strategy, especially as businesses remain tight-fisted with their budgets. Here's how to pull it off.
1. Consider whether requesting a salary boost might be inappropriate
Virtually any employee, as long as he can make a case, has the right to ask for a raise. But sometimes, doing so can irritate your manager and make a bad situation worse — for instance, if your responsibilities at work are already being reduced, says Jim Camp, creator of Negotiator-Pro.
If you're in good standing at work, don't put yourself out of the running just because of the economy. "Say you know the company is doing really badly and hanging by a thin thread, and you're underpaid," says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. "You still have to have that conversation. If it's hanging by a thin thread, don't they need the top performers? It's always appropriate to ask for a raise if you're a superstar or an over-performer."
2. Conduct salary research, then crunch the numbers
Check out the salary range for your title, experience, and geographic location on sites like Payscale.com, GetRaised.com, Glassdoor.com, and Salary.com. Also, talk with others in your industry to better understand how your compensation compares.
With that knowledge, determine your target number. If you think it's a fair salary but one that would be a stretch for your employer, consider negotiating flexible hours, working from home one day a week, trying an overseas assignment, or taking extra vacation time.
3. Determine your value to the company
Less than half of employees feel they are adequately paid, but you've got to make a case in negotiations.
Take your manager's perspective: "What do you do for the company? It should be quantified. How many new clients or how much revenue did you bring in? How many conflicts did you resolve?" says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, who adds that you should document qualitative feedback, such as praise you've received from both inside and outside the company.
4. Set performance goals for the rest of the year
Create goals that will move the company closest to its aims or boost its bottom line the most. For instance, Camp recommends setting objectives that save money, make processes more efficient. But base your targets on a realistic assessment of how you can improve your performance and that of the company.
"Keep a time diary, and see how much time you are really spending on revenue-generating activities," says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. "People think they're doing a lot with their clients, but sometimes, they're wasting time on reports that aren't important."
No matter what, choose goals that go beyond your job description. "If you're just going to keep doing your same job, why are you asking for a raise?" Camp says.
5. Hone your argument, and practice
Before you meet with your boss, come up with three reasons you deserve a raise, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. "People get nervous when they're talking compensation," she says. "It's still an emotional topic, but you have to take the emotion out and make a reasonable case. It can't be, 'I've been with you 15 years,' or 'I work till 10 p.m. every night.' It has to be about the value of what you bring, the quality of your work, the effectiveness." Keeping emotions in check during negotiations is even more important for women who tend to have more trouble discussing compensation than their male peers. Once you've formulated a strong argument, practice it with friends who will be tough on you, get their feedback, and perfect your pitch.
6. Meet with your manager
Choose a time (if you can) when you're at your best — say, morning if you're a morning person — and get a slot in which both you and your boss will not be rushing to or from meetings.
That day, look your best, and be prepared: Use numbers to show you're going above and beyond, and bring the targets for the rest of the year that will wow superiors. If possible, get your manager to throw out the first number.
You can, however, state your target number, too, says Thanasoulis-Cerrachio. "If they come back and say, 'Here's your 3 percent,' and it's not what you were expecting, then you need to be clear."
7. Follow through and follow up
Make sure you and your boss are on the same page about what you need to do to get this raise. Create a plan to apprise him or her of your progress. Over the next few months, manage your time to ensure you reach your goals. Then, communicate milestones. Broadcast your accomplishments as much as possible but don't bombard your supervisor with reports she hasn't requested. The more the boss is engaged in your effort, the easier it will be at the end of the year to collect," Camp says.
8. Consider interviewing for other jobs
If you're severely underpaid and need more of a salary adjustment (i.e., a 30-percent increase), you may need to secure another offer. But then the conversation is trickier. Thansoulis-Cerrachio advises saying, "'I love my job, I want to stay here, but they came forward with a $30,000 increase. Can you match that?'"
If you're using this strategy, though, be prepared to walk away.
9. Meet again at the end of the year
Ideally, a final meeting will make your new salary official.
If it doesn't go as smoothly as you've hoped, however, "ask your manager, 'Is anyone getting a raise in this business environment?'" advises Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, or, "'Is there anything I can do to get a raise?'" At this point, put other kinds of compensation on the table — telecommuting or flex hours.
If your boss won't budge, it may be time to seriously look elsewhere.
"Every employee should manage his or her own career — and that career includes responsibilities, career growth and compensation," Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says. "It's just like any skill."
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