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How to ask for a raise in 2018: Avoid these common pitfalls

There are right and wrong ways to ask for a higher salary. Experts weigh in on what to say and when.

With a bright shiny new year underway, maybe one of your resolutions is to finally work up the nerve to ask the boss for a raise. It's not a bad instinct: The majority of IT leaders expect staff salaries to increase in 2018, so the time to get in on rising financial tides might be now. 

But there are right and wrong ways to go about asking for a higher salary. We want to help you avoid putting your foot in your mouth when you should be beefing up your paycheck. We spoke to a variety of career coaches, HR consultants, and people who have had a good track record of getting the raises they ask for and found out what not to do in that crucial meeting. Forewarned is forearmed, so take this advice to heart.

1. Don't make it all about you

Obviously, you want (or need) a raise because of your own personal financial situation or career goals. That said, your boss or HR manager looks at your compensation from the point of view of the company's needs, not yours. If you make what you want the centerpiece of your request, you'll be getting off to a bad start.

First off, don't go into the meeting framing a raise as something you deserve. "That's trite and egocentric," says Don Maruska, a master certified coach and author of "Take Charge of Your Talent." "Employers need to have a business case for giving people raises."

"If every staff member met with their boss simply for a chat and received a raise as a result, there would be a lot of high-paid salaries and complacency among staff," says Steve Pritchard, an HR consultant for Cuuver. Instead of just saying you deserve the raise, he says, you need to show it. "Present solid evidence that the work you’re doing is improving your company and allowing it to grow. A presentation or an organized handout sheet can really wow your boss."

And while it might be true that your personal cashflow issues are the driving force behind your quest for a raise, that's not something your boss wants or needs to hear about. "Never, ever, mention your financial troubles," says Pamela Shand, CEO of Offer Stage Consulting, a career coaching service. "It's too easy for a manager to shoot that argument down; you're not the only person at the company with money problems."

Finally, don't lead with how long it's been since your last raise, says Valerie Streif, a senior advisor at Thementat.com, a San Francisco-based organization for job seekers. "This starts off the conversation with a tone of entitlement and shifts the focus away from your achievements. Instead, it reveals that you expect the raise solely due to the amount of time you've been in your position."

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2. Don't compare yourself to your co-workers

Your compensation should be about you and your performance. By talking about your co-workers, you detract from that point. "Don't start the discussion by telling your boss 'I know Gary makes X more dollars than me,'" says Robin Schwartz, managing partner of MFG Jobs. "Employers are aware that staff share salary information; it's why most companies will strive to create equity programs, so there aren't disparities. But you have no idea why Gary might make more money than you. He might have more years of experience, have more certifications or education than you, or he may perform better than you." The boss likely will be put off by the fact that your argument for a raise relies on the salary of someone else and his achievements.

Company management may accept with varying levels of ease employees voluntarily sharing salary info with each other. However, the emphasis here is on the voluntary. Jeff Skipper, CEO of Jeff Skipper Consulting, recalls that on one project he worked on, he actually had someone tell him, "I used our HR system to look at my peers' salary and see that they are all making more than me." The only thing dumber than doing something illicit is telling the person you're asking for a raise about it! 

This isn't to say that you should go into these meetings blind, mind you. Negotiation consultant Devon Smiley says that when it comes to your co-workers' salaries, "be sure to collect data for comparison so that you know what the range is for a position. But still, always frame your requests and justifications in terms of your unique skills and contributions." And Andy Chan, chief career coach at Prime Opt, recommends going beyond your office in your research. "Glassdoor is a reliable source which job seekers should check out before entering an interview loop. And the Department of Labor publishes salary levels of each job title at different levels of experience." But putting your cards on the table isn't always a great idea. "Never directly quote the numbers on Glassdoor or other references when negotiating for a higher salary," says Chan. "Many companies could easily say that the number you give is only an average number or even claim that those numbers are not reliable."

3. Don't make promises you can't (or don't want to) keep 

There's a certain satisfaction in visualizing a scenario where you walk into your boss's office, tell them that you need a raise or you're quitting, and watch them scramble to keep you on board. Unfortunately, in real life, that's an incredibly risky tactic to take, one that can easily backfire.

To begin with, you need to be prepared to have your bluff called. "Don't make threats you can't back up," says Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology. "Don't say, 'I need a raise or I'm going to go somewhere else' if you don't have a better gig lined up with 100 percent certainty."

Even if you do have a plan B ready when you present your ultimatum, don't be impatient and expect an answer immediately. "Bosses need to percolate on a new idea like a raise," says Linda Swindling, a negotiation expert and author of the book "Ask Outrageously!" "You've been thinking about asking for several months, but your request is brand-new information to them. Your boss may not have the authority to say yes anyway. Corporate environments have budget constraints, and most supervisors don't have the ultimate authority to raise the pay of their direct reports."

Maybe you're not the threatening type; maybe you're a people pleaser instead. But be aware that when you're making a case for why you deserve a raise, you might be making some implicit promises. Maxim Makarenko, product owner at Aquiva Labs and a self-proclaimed "rather experienced raise-asker," has some great advice for IT professionals who are prone to working long hours. "Never tie your raise request to the fact that you've been working late or on weekends, because guess what: You'll be expected to continue doing it if you do get that raise!" Instead, he says, you should frame your work ethic as evidence "that you've taken on more responsibility or demonstrated a commitment to the project, or proved to be a team player. Just never directly cite the extra hours you've been putting in."

4. Don't ask too soon

With all these warnings in mind, you may be ready to approach your boss and ask for that raise in a way that reflects well on you and makes business sense to them. But there's one more thing to remember: It matters not just what you say, but when you say it.

"Once you decide you want to ask for a raise, it will be difficult not to follow through immediately," says Bart Turczynski, a career expert and content editor at Uptowork. "But you might want to have that discussion after a challenging project has been completed and your contribution is fresh in your employer's mind. You also should be aware of your company's review policy and time your request accordingly. You don't want to wait half a year and let everyone get used to your productivity, but waiting a month or so might give you a leg up during the negotiation process."

Finally, he adds that a good time to make your pitch is after you've picked up someone else's slack or made work easier for other team members. "For employers," Turczynski says, "doing well with your responsibilities is merely your job. Going beyond that, however, is reason to reward you." 

What managers like to hear ...

  • "Are there some extra responsibilities I can take on to advance my career here?" 
  • "With the experience I have under my belt now, I'm ready to change my job description and take on new responsibilities."
  • "What certifications can I get that will help advance my career here?"
  • "I completed the following projects, above and beyond my everyday duties."
  • "I would really like to stay here if I can. Let's set a meeting soon to talk about how my career at this company can advance."

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.