Despite historically favorable conditions (high inflation, labor shortages, more transparency about pay), you may still find it difficult to negotiate salary. Here are key steps to asking for more pay, and what to do if the answer is no.
CConsumer price increases are reaching near-record highs in 40 years. The labor shortage is increasing. State pay transparency laws are making it easier to know which jobs pay. And a renewed labor movement is forcing employers to better respond to workers’ demands.
If ever there was a good time to ask for a raise, it’s almost certainly now.
“People don’t perceive themselves as having as much influence and power right now,” says Ben Cook, CEO of Riva, a salary negotiation startup founded with experts from Harvard Business School. “Right now is a phenomenal time to go and ask for a raise.”
However, despite this unprecedented wave of favorable conditions, you may still find it difficult to ask your boss for a higher salary. To many, touting his own accomplishments, not to mention having a candid conversation about money, feels awkward. If you’re a woman, you know you have to navigate complicated gender norms about how assertive people expect you to be.
And even when more workers talk openly about pay, negotiations tend to be information asymmetry at worst, with managers generally having more data about paying jobs than you do.
Still, there are ways to walk into the conversation with confidence and walk away with a raise, or at least something more desirable that you want. Below, find the key steps to remember when negotiating salary and what to do if the answer is no.
EXPECT A PROFIT
Timing is everything, especially when asking for a raise. Don’t plan it for when your boss is busiest or after a slip. And pick a time that immediately follows a profit you can claim or a big sale you just closed. “The timing of the application makes a big difference,” says Kathleen Downs, senior recruiting manager for Robert Half.
You also don’t want to get in too late, after payroll budgets have already been set and promotions decided. Discussion is more likely to be a time-consuming process. “A conversation about a raise is not a day, a half hour of time,” says Katie Donovan, a Boston-based pay equity and salary negotiation consultant. “It should generally be planned for the next fiscal year. Start six months in advance. … it’s going to take a while.”
DO YOUR OWN JOB SEARCH
To get started, play the role of a job seeker, looking for what not only your company, but others like it, are paying for new hires in similar roles. A small but growing number of localities, such as Colorado and, early next year, New York City and Washington state, now require employers to disclose salary ranges for new jobs.
Experts say that is beginning to have an impact on salary information in job advertisements, and employers post ranges elsewhere as well. “Do a theoretical job search: See what salaries are offered at those places,” says Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of books on negotiation Y women’s races. “That can help you gauge your application.”
With inflation soaring and businesses having a harder time finding workers, employers fear the new laws will reveal inequalities for today’s workers. Executives say a phenomenon called wage compression, when new workers with less experience are paid similarly to those with more seniority and skills, is happening more now. a recent poll by Robert Half found that 56% of C-suite executives said they had seen pay discrepancies between new hires and more tenured staff in the past year.
If your employer isn’t being so conscientious, and you see a job ad at your company that pays more, it should help. “Calmly and professionally say ‘explain what I’m misunderstanding,’” suggests Donovan. “This person will come and do the work that I am doing now. … Why wouldn’t they pay me what they would pay that person?”
ASK OTHERS WHAT THEY THINK YOU SHOULD DO
By now you know that you should do your homework before negotiating salary. Look at websites like pay scale Y Glass door. Request salary data from professional associations. Find databases in your field. Look up data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But such sources can sometimes be out of date or unspecific; In those cases, ask people who work in your field. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone what they earn, Babcock says, ask people who might oversee a role like yours for their experience. “Ask, ‘What do you think I should do for this position?’ They can use all the information they know and they will get a wider range of data.”
Or, if you’re asking a colleague who works at another company, replace the awkward “how much do you make?” with an offer of your own salary and the question “how would that fit within your organization?” Downs advises. “There are ways to find out what other people are earning,” she says, without asking the question too directly.
FOR THE WOMEN, GIVE A COMMUNITY PRESENTATION AND AIM HIGHER
The actual words you use really matter, particularly to women. Society views women as “other-focused,” so when they ask for something for themselves, “there’s an inherent friction there,” says Kathryn Valentine, founder of Strategies that pay offa negotiation training and consulting firm for women executives.
So for women, it’s important to keep the conversation collaborative, communal and holistic, Valentine says, making your request in terms of how you can help your boss or the company. She suggests that an example presentation might read something like this: “Last year I was able to generate $500,000 in sales. I think we are on track to deliver 20% more this year. To meet that goal, I’d like to align my compensation with market value, which is X. What do you think?”
A simple formula, he says, is to highlight past performance, combine it with future potential, and follow up with a direct request. Then he stops talking. “In order to make others feel comfortable, women will continue to speak and in doing so [hurt their negotiating position],” she says.
Women, Donovan suggests, should ask for at least 75% of the market value of the job. Research has shown that women are more likely than men to be paid in a narrow range around the median and, as a result, are less likely to be paid at the higher end of the range. “The median salary for everyone is always lower than the median salary for white men,” says Donovan.
USE A SPECIFIC NUMBER AND GO FIRST
Many negotiation tips suggest that you should wait for the other person to make the first offer. But unless you have no idea what the pay range should be, says Valentine, investigate shows that it is worth go first. If you do, it means that you “anchor” the conversation with your number, she says. “If you know the trading zone, you always get the first number.”
She also suggests, again, particularly for women, starting with a specific number, rather than a range. At least in her experience with clients, “when you give a range, what they hear is the low end of the range,” she says.
Jennifer Trzepacz, director of personnel for SymphonyAI, do you agree. Without a specific number, it’s hard for managers or HR professionals to know how you’re being valued or what will close the deal. “When they say ‘I’d like a raise’ and don’t say specifically what [the number] it’s,” he says of people who ask for a raise, “there are times when you go back and get them the raise and they’re like, ‘That’s not what I wanted.’ As a result, they have advocated on your behalf for nothing.
WITH COUNTER OFFERS, GET TO KNOW THE CULTURE
Be careful using outside salary offers to get a raise unless you know how they are typically received. “Different companies have different cultures about this,” says Babcock. “In some companies, if you come with an external offer, they say ‘let me help you pack.’ In other companies you don’t get a [raise] unless you have an outside offer, and will help your supervisor advocate for you. But you really have to know what the culture of the organization is like.” If you’re not sure, ask colleagues you can trust about their experiences making outside salary offers and what counteroffers look like.
Negotiation experts suggest using the salary offer you’ve received to inform your market rate, or presenting it as a surprise to an employee committed to the organization. “You can say ‘I haven’t been looking, but this came to me and I was really surprised to see that they were compensating 20% more. Can you help me bridge that gap so I can keep contributing here?’” suggests Valentine.
TURN NO INTO A COURT QUESTION
If you still don’t get the raise you want, pay experts say, ask what you need to do to get it, and then don’t let the conversation stop without concrete details. “You say, what needs to change so you can say yes?” Donovan says. If they are changes you can really make, make them and then come back. But if they “keep moving the finish line, then you know you’re never going to succeed there. Go find another job.
Or think about what more you could want. If your boss says he can’t raise your base salary, consider negotiating additional time off, removing responsibilities that won’t position you for a raise later or even more capital if it’s a new company. “We really encourage our clients to be as flexible as possible in terms of the currency they are paid in,” says Riva’s Cook.
KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS
In the end, says Donovan, one of the best strategies for negotiations is to try to keep asking questions. “You, as an employee, don’t have to have the answers. You’re not teaching them anything they don’t know,” says Donovan. “The more questions you have for every no you get, the more likely you are to get it. The winner of each negotiation is the person who can keep the conversation going. Once I shut you up, I win.