|Sure, your boss or Board of Directors might call you in and offer you a raise, But chances are overwhelming that they will not. So if you want to earn more money next year than last, you will have to initiate the process yourself and use all your skills to pry loose a little extra.
It's not easy to accomplish, however. In fact, annual increases in base salaries are averaging only 3%, the lowest amount in more than 20 years according to Christine Seltz, spokesperson for Hewitt Associates, a nationally known compensation consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, IL.
Fortunately, about two-thirds of the nation's employers offer incentive pay for top performers. If you can work your way into this type of program, you will receive extra pay or other benefits whenever you achieve specific performance targets. Depending on the specifics of your situation, these performance targets might cover just you or your entire team.
Either way, however, incentives can provide much bigger take-home pay increases than conventional raises. Hewitt Associates' surveys show that today's budgets for incentive programs presently average about 7% of the budget for base compensation (that is, salaries). This means incentives provide more than twice as big a pie as raises from which to cut yourself a juicy slice.
Here are some strategic and tactical tips on how to increase your take home pay in the coming twelve months.
- Determine your worth in the marketplace. Contact the competition, clip and save relevant employment ads, even talk to executive search firms. You might also look for references and facts in magazine articles and compensation surveys that support your idea that you should earn more.
Be prepared for a happy surprise, especially if you have been working for the same company for several years. There is often a large discrepancy between your present salary and what the market says people with comparable skills and experience can earn. Many people simply do not know what they are worth.
If you are already getting what the market says you are worth, do not give up on getting more.
- Consider how to become more valuable to your employer. As business fashions and thinking changes, different departments become "hot" and are deemed worthy of fatter paychecks. For example, today marketing or finance might be better places to earn the big bucks than manufacturing or customer service.
If you cannot switch career tracks so quickly, you still might be able to take on additional responsibilities or even discover totally new issues and projects that will make you more valuable to the company. Take advantage of the "cross training" mentality that is popular today. At the highest levels, employers nearly always prefer executives who bring a broad-based perspective to their work and the company's mission.
If your present employer does not place extra value on a broader range of skills and knowledge, your cross-training efforts will still make you more valuable--to your next employer.
- Feel good about asking for a raise, and do not worry about getting canned. "The threat of firing you for wanting too much is nothing but a psychological bluff," says Lawrence D. Schwimmer, author of "How To Ask For A Raise Without Getting Fired," now a top manager with Geneva Corporation, a San Francisco acquisitions and mergers firm. "Even a stupid boss knows the cost of hiring and training your replacement is much more than the raise you're asking for," Schwimmer counsels, "so don't weaken yourself by imagining the worst."
- Phrase your request assertively, not aggressively. Leave out any "or else" threats, no matter how emotionally satisfying. This allows you to save face if your request is denied. You can take time to think things over, and either make plans to leave or make clear that you have decided you like your job and your firm so much you will stay and see about getting a raise later on.
- Anticipate the objections, worries, or problems your request might generate, and incorporate the top three or four in your initial statement. Done right, this approach can "take the wind out of their sails" and make it harder for your employer to say "no." Be careful, though, if you bring up really powerful reasons for refusing you a raise, you might be providing the opposition with unbeatable arguments.
- Set limits: Do not ask for a raise in general, but for a raise of a certain size. Do not allow an open-ended time limit on getting a response; ask to be informed within two weeks.
- Base your request for a raise on performance. Arguments about pay equity, reference to the many years since your last raise, pleas for compassion because you have big expenses coming up--none of these fly very well in today's economy.
- "Bring solid documentation of what you've done to help the company," suggests Schwimmer, "and, anticipating that you'll refer to your performance when you ask for a raise, keep a file to document your level of performance during the most recent year or six months."
- Be assertive in your request. Do not hint or allude to what you want. Communicate honestly and directly in an appropriate manner. "In fact," says Schwimmer, "you might want to ask for twice as much as you think you're going to get, so you can negotiate down to an acceptable level."
- Role play your request before you make it. Try talking about what you have done to merit a raise to yourself in a mirror or while driving alone. Having said the words many times before, you will probably ask for the increase more confidently and articulately when it counts.
- Negotiate for perks and travel benefits, not just salary. For example, get permission to attend seminars and training sessions in areas of interest that lie outside your present job description, Or negotiate for paid leave so you can have more frequent 3-day weekends. Ask for a car allowance. Three out of four times that an increase is in order, say the experts, such a request is met with some concession.