Asking for a Raise in a Tight Economy
CNBC.com News Editor
You might think that when the economy is still clawing back, it’s the wrong time to ask for a raise.
In fact, some salary pros say, that’s one of the best times to ask for a raise.
“A lot of people are taking on more responsibilities because companies have laid off people,” said Avi Karnani, the lead strategist at GetRaised.com, a site that helps people figure out if they’re due for a raise — and then how to get it.
Taking on more responsibility makes a person more valuable to the organization, he explained. “And that’s why they can ask for a raise.”
A few years ago, the advertising company Kim Gallina Viscio worked for was in the middle of a hiring freeze. But as the company was making cutbacks, she realized that she was being undervalued. Her title was “junior copywriter” but she was doing the work of a senior copywriter — and getting paid barely more than she did working as a secretary.
“I felt taken advantage of and that I’d be happier going somewhere else where I was truly valued,” Viscio said.
So, she calmly, matter-of-factly told her boss that she was unhappy and felt undervalued.
“My boss at the time had no idea what I was making. And that shocked me,” Viscio said.
Well, the move paid off: She got a 40 percent raise — in the middle of a hiring freeze! Today, she’s a creative director at another agency.
The first step, most pros agree, is that you have to do your homework. You can’t just walk in and demand a raise because you’re awesome. (Though I’m sure you are.)
Use a site like Payscale.com, Salary.com or Glassdoor.com to figure out what the salary range is for your profession so you have a reasonable ballpark of what to ask for heading into the meeting with your boss.
Plus, know where your company is financially. Did they have a great third quarter? When your boss or CEO holds a staff meeting, you should be taking notes — not throwing spitballs at your co-worker or texting about how boring this is and do they have any more doughnuts? If the CEO says, “We had a great quarter and your division was a key part of that” — that’s something you should be writing down for when you meet with the boss. Plus, when they send an email with the quarterly results — save that email. Spend some time online searching recent news articles for what the analysts are saying about the health of your company.
Then, and this is a crucial step, do a self-evaluation. Make a list of what your job responsibilities are. Maybe you’re doing the work of two people after that last round of layoffs, or, like, Viscio, you’re doing the work of the next level up — without the pay.
Then make a list of all the reasons why they should pay you more. Are you bringing in more money or more clients than last year? Are you helping to cut costs?
There’s an important distinction: This isn’t the same kind of list you make when you’re going for a job interview — I’m organized, I’m a people person, I’m a team player. Those things are great but if you got the job, they already know that. What they want to know now if they’re going to even think about paying you more is — How are you improving the company’s bottom line?
GetRaised.com is a new site that will help walk you through this process. You plug in your job title, location and other data, and they’ll give you a free evaluation of whether or not you’re due for a raise.
If the answer is “yes,” for $20, they’ll help you figure out how much of a raise you should be asking for. If you don’t get it in six months, they’ll give you your money back.
A surprising amount of the process is done through a software program, which smartly sorts through your data and reaches conclusions. But then, for your $20, they’ll throw in a human — think of it as that friend that gives you a much-needed push — to help you craft the pitch to your boss and harass you if you don’t follow up!
And, if Karnani and lead scientist Matt Wallaert are any indication, they’re not just that helpful friend — they’re that helpful, witty friend that keeps you laughing but also makes sure you get the job done.
“It’s really easy for people to be intimidated by this process and drop out. Say it’s not the right time.” Wallaert said. “We really want this to happen for people.”
Debbie Cramer, a marketing coordinator at a software firm, used GetRaised just before her annual review.
“I knew my performance over the past year was exceptional and my salary wasn’t in line with the scope of my position,” Cramer said.
She said just going through her achievements — and having the guts to ask for a raise — gave her a big boost of confidence.
“I felt so empowered!” she exclaimed.
Her boss was pleasantly surprised when she asked. And, it worked: He gave her a raise! It wasn’t as big as she’d asked for, but she’s pretty confident that it was bigger than she would’ve gotten if she’d waited for a raise when the company was ready.
“I’m convinced it was larger because I asked and HOW I asked,” Cramer said.
That’s a crucial detail: The pros say don’t get emotional or angry. Be very calm, make your case professionally — and have the facts to back it up.
Your pitch should always be solid —but even more so in a tight economy.
“In a boom economy, there’s lots of money floating around for raises,” Wallaert said. “Now, you have to make a very good request … There’s less to go around.”
If for some reason you don’t get it, ask politely why you didn’t get it and what your boss thinks you should do that you’re not currently doing in order to be considered for a raise. Maybe you need to be thinking more about the company’s bottom line and what you can do to boost it – or maybe it’s just a matter of timing. Maybe your boss will say try again in six months.
For now, ask if your boss would be willing to compensate you in some other way — maybe an extra vacation or personal day, or to be flexible with your work hours such as allowing you to leave early on Fridays. Things like that don’t cost the company money and they provide you with a valuable incentive to keep working hard.
Marie McIntyre, aka “Your Office Coach,” says you may not want to wait for your annual performance review to ask for a raise.
“In many companies, salary decisions are made before appraisals are discussed with employees, so you want to get your request on the table before review time,” she suggests. “If your organization does appraisals in January, for example, you should make your raise request in November.”
Most pros say you shouldn’t be daunted by a downturn when it comes to asking for a raise but still, be smart about the timing. Don’t ask immediately after a round of layoffs, or if your company is about to go bankrupt. And take your boss’s feelings into consideration — maybe if he or she is having a bad day, it can wait until tomorrow — or next week.
If you take away one thing, remember — It can’t hurt to ask.
“There is no harm in asking,” Viscio said. “If you are truly valued at your job and may be a flight risk, you’d be surprised how money can miraculously appear out of nowhere!”
Oh, and if my boss is reading this, can I chat with you for a second? There’s something I’d like to discuss …
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