How to Negotiate For a Raise – Even in a Bad Economy

Be honest: have you ever wanted a raise at work, but were too afraid to ask for one – or uncertain as to how to get it? When it comes to the workplace, one of the least favorite tasks facing workers is asking for a raise, especially these days. I know there are some onerous bosses out there, and I realize, of course, that we’re all dealing with tighter budgets. But the truth of the matter is: if you’re cash-strapped, the simple act of walking into your boss’s office and getting a raise could be just the thing you need to boost your finances in this shaky economy.

And believe it or not, you can get a raise now, even amid the economic downturn. I know some of you doubters are going to say, “But there are layoffs taking place right now,” or “My boss is a total tightwad,” or “Our company isn’t doing so hot financially and they’ve told us no raises.”

To all of those excuses I say: they don’t matter. First of all, realize that many companies are indeed offering raises, even if they’re not publicizing it. An October 2009 survey from CareerBuilder and USA Today found that while most companies expected salaries to remain flat into early 2010, 40% of employers expect to raise salaries between 1 and 11% or more over the next three months. Beyond the statistics, however, there are techniques savvy workers can use to get raises, even when others aren’t landing them.

Get a Raise By Proving You Deserve It

There are several sure-fire strategies you can implement to make sure you get a raise-even in the harshest economic environment. First, you must constantly document your work accomplishments to demonstrate your performance and what you offer to the organization. In other words, do not just walk into to your boss and say, “I want a raise,” or “I think deserve a raise.” Your boss won’t care that you’ve been doing good work, or that you’ve come to work every day on time. That’s not good enough. That’s a basic minimum level of expected performance.

You have to show-in numerical terms-how you benefit the organization. If you saved the company ‘X’ amount of dollars, if you created a new program that has generated a certain amount of income for the business, if you have been instrumental in training, if you have done hiring, if you have been a sales superstar, whatever it is that you have done, document that.

When you get performance appraisals, feedback, and e-mails from customers, peers, and your higher-ups, and they notice what you have done, keep a running log of all of those things. Those communications and feedback become part of your success story. That is what you are going to bring to the table, because ultimately the person with the most information is going to win when it comes to negotiating for a salary increase. Think of the dossier you create of all your accomplishments and various pats on the back for a job well done as your “Praise” folder-it’s praise about the great work that you’ve done over the course of the year.

Negotiate a Raise From a Position of Strength

Secondly, always negotiate from a position of strength-not need or greed. Do not go complaining to your boss, “You know I just had a baby,” or “My spouse and I just bought a new house and we’ve got tons of student loans and other bills to pay…blah, blah, blah.” Most bosses don’t care about your personal problems; they do not want to hear about your financial troubles or how many bills you have. So you need to negotiate in their language, with terms and information that is relevant to them. By telling you to negotiate from a position of strength, I’m suggesting that you show and quantify the value you bring to your organization. Demonstrate your accomplishments and make your case persuasively. Say: “This is where I have been extremely successful. This is where I have contributed. This is where I have been able to save money.” And then proceed to enumerate those accomplishments in financial terms or using cold, hard statistics that can’t be refuted.

Get a Raise By Putting the Ball In Your Boss’s Corner

Lastly, be specific in what you want.  Let’s say the boss does turn you down. Assume that he or she won’t give you a raise right now no matter how much you demonstrate your case, quantify your value, and negotiate from a position of strength. Here’s what to do next to make sure you ultimately get that raise.  Put the ball in your boss’s corner. Not only you are going to be specific in saying “I want a raise,” you are also going to make them justify why you don’t merit one. You have to be artful here. But the idea is that you want to turn things around and say, “Well, I think I have made a very strong case as to why I deserve a raise.’”

Do not let them tell you about the cost of living adjustments, how nobody else got one, or how tough times are. Instead, put a blunt question to your boss. Ask “What do I need to do in order to get a ‘X’ percent raise (fill in the number you want) in one year’s time?” Maybe you want that raise six months from now, or perhaps your boss will agree to revisit in the following quarter. But don’t just ask for a raise. Ask for a specific raise, in percentage terms, and give it a time frame. Have your boss spell out what standards he or she would like to see you meet.

If there are performance issues to address, handle them. But your boss may say something like, “Well, I’d really like to see you meet such and such sales targets, complete this or that project, and brush up on your technical skills.” Whatever the boss says, make sure you get an agreement in writing-even if it’s just e-mail-so that you’ll have the basis of an understanding surrounding the issue.

Get Everything In Writing

One easy way to do this is to merely go back to your desk, write your boss an e-mail saying thanks for meeting with me and here’s my understanding, based on our conversation, of what you’d be looking for in order for me to earn a merit-based increase. Also note the agreed-upon time frame at which the two of you will revisit this topic. When you do go back, three months, six months or even a year later, if you’ve done all that your boss has asked-along with documentation of your accomplishments in your growing “Praise” folder-your boss will be hard-pressed to turn you down for that raise. When you meet his or her own criteria for performance goals, work measurements, and other targets, the boss will have little choice but to honor your justified request for that 10 percent raise, or else he risks looking like a liar, or at least someone who doesn’t keep his word. This is one way you really negotiate from a position of strength on the job.

Recommended Resource on Negotiating a Pay Raise

One great online resource to consult is, from the Wall Street Journal. It’s packed with lots of free tips and great information on negotiating a winning compensation package.

By the way, if you can’t score a raise and are thinking about jumping ship to a new employer, take heart in knowing that the best time to secure the most dollars from your employer is when you first get hired. That’s the point at which you have lots of room to negotiate for a host of perks, including extra vacation time, annual bonuses, stock options, and more. When an employer really wants to bring you on board, you’ll also have more leverage in getting a higher starting salary. Ask about benefits such as tuition reimbursement plans, and inquire about whether your boss would even pay off your student loans as part of an employment incentive contract to keep you as a loyal employee of the company. Amid your negotiations, you obviously want to bargain for the best overall compensation package. But don’t forget to lobby hard to make sure that the meat of your compensation – your basic cash salary – adequately compensates you for the value that you bring to an organization.

If All Else Fails – Get the Raise Your Boss Can’t Say “No” To

As a last-ditch strategy, those of you who are cash-strapped and unable to secure a raise should consider another alternative. Have you gotten a tax refund check in the past or do you anticipate getting one in the future? Well anytime you get a big refund check from Uncle Sam all that really means is that you have given the government an interest-free loan. So adjust your withholdings at work. Do not get a refund check.

What you have to do is fill out a form called a W-4. You should also get IRS publication 919 (available at, which walks you through the whole process of properly filling out a W-4. It’s not overly complicated but this publication spells out in detail the ways in which you can adjust your W-4 at work. What you are going to do, in a nutshell, is increase the number of allowances that you claim on line five of your W-4 form. The goal is to decrease the withholding amount and ultimately receive a bigger paycheck. For those of you who usually get tax refunds, adjusting your W-4 at work will instantly put money in your pocket.

That extra money will immediately get funneled into your paycheck. So let’s say you usually get a $2,400 refund, which is close to the average of what many people receive. Well, $2,400 dollars translates into $200 a month that you could be getting right now in your paycheck. If you get paid once every two weeks, expect to see an extra hundred bucks in each paycheck.

This is one way to get a raise that your boss has no say-so over!

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