Do you feel underpaid and deserving of a higher salary? Are you thinking about asking for a raise, but unsure how to go about it? Do you cringe at the thought of approaching your boss? In this article, adapted from Chapter 24 of my new Wiley-IEEE Press book, The Engineer's Career Guide, I provide guidelines for making the task less intimidating. Following these guidelines will be maximize your chances for success - and hopefully get you the raise you want and deserve.
Following are the five basic steps to follow when asking for a raise :
Bad Reasons - First of all, do you have the right reasons? If you are asking for a raise because you need the money and can't pay your bills, you are asking for the wrong reason [2, 3]. If paying your bills is the justification for your raise, your boss is more than likely to tell you that you have a personal financial problem, not a reason for them to give you a raise. Giving you a raise is not the answer. Look at the situation from your employer's prospective and base your case on why they would consider you for a raise and what you can do for them.
Another mistaken justification for an increase is that others in your group are being paid more and you feel you performance is as good as theirs. This is not a good reason because you do not know all the experience and extra skills they have for which the company is willing to pay more. Managers know that if they give a raise for this reason and word gets out, your entire group will be in the boss's office asking for a raise. This is a management nightmare, and for this reason, managers do not give raises just because an employee feels they are doing just as good a job as others.
Right Reasons - The only right reasons for deserving a raise is because your job performance is outstanding and that you are underpaid. You need both of these reasons to build a solid case.
Career Tip: Raises are justified on outstanding performance and establishing equal performance and being underpaid.
Underpaid - To build the case that you are underpaid, you will need to conduct some research. Here is research you should consider to establish the case that you are underpaid.
Outstanding Performance - To build the case for outstanding performance, you will need to seriously review your accomplishments and overall job performance [3, 4]. If you have been receiving an average rating, then this is going to be an extremely tough sell. However, if you have been receiving outstanding ratings and awards, your case is much stronger.
Make a list of your recent significant accomplishments for the company and how they contributed to the bottom line. Document costs savings, productivity improvement, important projects achieved, above-the-call customer service, and ways in which you have contributed more than your job required . Some other reasons for giving a raise might include extra revenue you generated, tight deadlines you've met or beat, new initiatives you took above your normal job, and extra hours you put in.
Make a list of any additional responsibilities you have added to your job. An increase in responsibility, more employees supervised, or special projects are often grounds for an increase. Documented outstanding performance where you clearly went above the norm will definitely support your case for a pay increase.
Research Company Policy - Find out your company's policy on salary increases. Read your employee handbook, look at company policies and check with your human resources department. Doing this should reveal the process whereby salary increases are granted. If a policy or a process exists, your best bet when asking for a pay raise is to follow the process exactly.
Other things to consider are raise cycles. Are all employees reviewed at the same time each year and are raises given only at that time? Does your boss have the budget to give you a raise? For the highest chance of successfully getting the raise you want, you have to know the company's policies regarding compensation, and if your boss alone has authority to grant the raises if other departments like human resources have to be involved. Once you have conducted and documented your research, you are ready to move on to preparing and planning your presentation.
Network - Network with other employees or engineers in the industry who might have recently asked for a raise. Professional associations also do salary surveys and provide networking opportunities with people in similar jobs. Ask how they prepared and if they have any recommendations for you.
Have a Reasonable Figure in Mind - After you have done your research on salaries, you should have a good idea how much you are underpaid and what a fair and equitable raise would be. When it comes time to discuss how much of a raise you want, talk of how much you are underpaid in terms of dollars per month. Using dollars to describe the amount underpaid makes it look better for you. Then, when you discuss raises, put it in terms of percentage of increase. This number appears much smaller and easier for people to accept. This approach gives the appearance of being significantly underpaid and only a small percentage increase is requested.
Don't Employ Ultimatums - Some people feel the right thing to do is give their boss an ultimatum: Give me the raise or I quit. Many managers, when faced with this situation, will simply call your bluff. Considering the employment situation and job competition today this approach is not recommended. 
Practice - Practice and rehearse your pitch at least five times before you meet with the boss . Practicing will help you appear confident and firm about your request. 
Timing - Timing is everything, including how your company stock is doing, how the project you are working on is going, time of year, day of the week and hour. The ideal case is to ask just after the company announces record sales and profits, or just as you successfully completed a very difficult assignment. Studies have shown that on Fridays, workers are in the best mood, and therefore more agreeable rather than the beginning of the week, and especially not on a Monday . Try to pick a time during month that is not your boss' busiest time, a time when your boss is not distracted by deadlines and will have some extra time to work on your request.
Familiarize yourself with your employer's pay practices. If increases only occur once a year, you are unlikely to receive a raise at any other time. If your company offers more frequent increases, you'll have more luck asking for a raise outside of the designated period.
Asking during tough times - Your company might be losing money because of a downturn, but if you can prove that you're vital to getting the company through the recession, then a raise is assured . Also, if your company recently downsized, and as a consequence you've taken on additional responsibility and subordinates, that warrants a higher salary or promotion.
Anticipate objections - Your boss is going to raise objections, and you should be prepared to have answers that overcome these objections. Here are some objections you might encounter and good answers:
Now that you are prepared, it's time to contact your supervisor and set up a time to talk.
Give your supervisor time to prepare for the meeting. Your boss will want time to research company policies and consult with the Human Resources. It is best to pick a neutral meeting place like a conference room with a door instead of your boss's office or your office.
Then list the reasons why you consider your salary low and deserve a raise. Show the evidence you have illustrating how low you think your salary is, and propose the size of the adjustment you consider reasonable. Keep it strictly professional with no shouting or yelling. Discuss everything in a confident and firm voice.
Make it perfectly clear as you summarize that you want a xx percentage raise, and that you would like to know if the boss is going to work to help you get it. Then stop talking and let your boss respond. Listen closely to the responses offered. Is the boss saying no, maybe, or yes? If yes, then express how glad you are to hear it, and that you appreciate how your boss agrees with you and how you are looking forward to the raise. If the boss is saying anything other than yes, then you are on to the rejection scenario.
Do not respond with anger or by threatening. You will need to continue to interface with your boss on daily assignments and putting up walls around you is never going to help your cause. Another natural reaction is to cut back on your work in retaliation for the rejection. Some people think if they are not going to pay me more then I am going to do less. Keep your performance up, continue to show them you deserve it and get ready for the next cycle of raises.
If you follow these guidelines and present a compelling case, you are more than likely going to be successful. Set up a special one-on-one meeting with your boss and come prepared to present your case and handle objections. Look your boss directly in the eyes and speak with confidence about your desire for a raise. Do not have an emotional and bitter exchange with your boss, since it is only going to hurt your career. Be prepared for "no" and have a plan B just in case.
Have you identified any career actions you want to take as a result of reading this chapter? If so, please make sure to capture these ideas before you forget by recording them in the notes section at the back of the book.
John Hoschette, is an experienced Career Development Coach, Trainer, and Professional Key Note Speaker. Mr. Hoschette's past position at Lockheed Martin and current position as Technical Director at Rockwell Collins have allowed him an acute understanding of all aspects of an engineering career.
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