Money Matters: How to Negotiate for a Higher Salary
For many job seekers and employees, bringing up the subject of money is, at best, awkward and uncomfortable. This can be especially true for academic jobs or jobs that require advanced degrees, where it’s almost an institutional taboo to discuss money during the interview phase and your research interests and dedication to the field are often supposed to supersede your need to pay the mortgage. The “life of the mind” is perceived to be at odds with our “world of things,” i.e. bills, student loan debt, rent, or the need to eat. You know, the little things.
And it often doesn’t get any easier to talk about money once you have the job. Many employees are unsure of how to initiate conversations about money, how to ask for a raise, or how to navigate ongoing salary negotiations with leaders who hold hiring/firing power.
Here are some important factors to consider each step of the way as you prepare to talk about salary:
BEFORE YOU ASK FOR MORE MONEY
- Do your homework: Research average salaries for someone with your experience/education in your role and the type/size of company you work for. What’s the high and low end, and where do you fall? Before you ask for a higher salary, you need to have an informed sense of what your real worth is on the job market or in your field based on facts (not simply how much money you’d like to or need to make).
- Talk to your mentor: Hopefully you have at least one or two professional contacts who you feel comfortable going to for advice and are confident your conversations will be productive as well as private. If so, take advantage of their experience and expertise. Get their insights on the kind of salary increase you’ll be proposing to your employer and how to bring it up.
- Are your goals met?: Before you go in to ask for more money, it seems like a no-brainer that you need to make sure you’re not just doing your job, but excelling in your role. Make sure your quarterly or yearly goals are, at the very least, being met; ideally, you are exceeding them. You should be in good standing with your manager and have received consistently good reviews and feedback. If you’re experiencing any difficulties performing your job or meeting your goals, it’s likely not the best time to ask for more money.
- Make sure the timing is right: Don’t schedule a salary talk at an inopportune time: during an unusually busy time for your manager, right before or after a vacation, over the holidays. It’s not always what or how you say something, but when that can make the difference between a “yes” or a “no.” Gauge your timing appropriately.
- Be upfront: If you try to be coy or indirect, you may end up sabotaging yourself and appearing dishonest, sneaky, or insecure about your performance in the company. Of course, there’s no need to be aggressive or blunt, but take an honest, upfront approach when you bring up the subject of money. Don’t make the meeting about anything other than salary (and certainly don’t use it as a complaining session to your boss about things you’re frustrated or dissatisfied with). Keep things clear and positive.
- Be ready with the facts: An employer is not going to raise your salary simply because you want or need more money. Pay is performance-based as well as influenced by other external factors, many of which are well beyond your control. When negotiating for a higher salary, focus on the things you have control over: your own performance, particularly over the last 12 months. Be ready to talk about specific results you’ve achieved for the company, as well as the current goals you’re working towards. Stick to facts here, not feelings.
- Emphasize an increasing workload: If you can clearly demonstrate to your boss that your workload has recently increased or become more demanding or complex, it will be much easier to justify a pay increase. Again, come with the facts. And if this is indeed the case, you may want to consider discussing a higher salary in conjunction with a revised job title (assuming your duties and responsibilities have in fact changed or evolved significantly).
- Frame the discussion as a positive: Rather than pointing out how low your salary is or the things that displease you about your current role, benefits, or salary, frame the discussion in a positive way. Focus on the positive goals you want to achieve for the company and for your own career path. Emphasize not only what you currently do but also what you’re working towards and how your new goals will be an asset to the company. Presenting it like this gives the impression that you’re growing as a professional, you’re ready to take on new, expanded responsibilities, and you’re continuing to set and reach ever-higher goals for yourself and your company. This is what advancement looks like, and from an employer’s perspective it makes much more sense to pay more for an employee who is continuing to add more and more value to the company as time goes on. Your job in these types of conversations is make sure they know this describes you.
- What if they say no?: Decide for yourself ahead of time how important this pay increase is to you and how essential it is to your future at the company. If you are denied the increase for whatever reason (performance, budget, etc.), what course of action will you take? Have a plan in place before you go in for the talk. But, also keep in mind that you don’t want to come across as if you’re giving your boss an “ultimatum” and demanding an increase “or else,” as this can easily backfire.