Not negotiating salary when you accept a job offer can cost you up to $1 million over the course of your career. Still, many workers hesitate to ask for more money, either when they negotiate a new offer or at review time once they’re on the job. In fact, 57% of workers have never asked for a raise in their current field, according to PayScale.
Why don’t more people ask for raises? In most cases, it comes down to fear. Seriously: 28% say that discomfort talking about salary is the reason they haven’t asked for a raise, and 8% say they’re afraid they’ll actually be fired. So if fear is holding you back, the upside is that you’re in good company.
Still, you’d probably rather have that million bucks than a lot of new friends with the same fears. Here’s how to overcome your discomfort and get the salary you deserve:
1. Give yourself a reality check.
We’ve all read stories about job seekers who lost an offer because they tried to ask for a (perfectly reasonable) bump in pay. But it’s important to know that most hiring managers won’t pull an offer based on a candidate attempting to negotiate. In fact, they probably expect you bargain a bit, and build that expectation into their offer.
The other thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t ask, you won’t get – and if you do, you probably will. PayScale’s data show that 75% of people who ask for more money get some kind of a raise.
2. Make sure your expectations are reasonable.
Before you go into any negotiation, you need to determine your asking salary range. The lower number is crucial: Many employers will start their negotiations with that, which means that you better be happy with it (or you’ll be unhappy about the job before you even take it).
Even if you’re already working for the company, and just angling for a better raise, you should have a number in mind. But regardless of the exact situation, it’s important for you to have accurate information about appropriate compensation for your job title, skills, experience, and location.
Too many people get their numbers from friends and colleagues, not realizing that they’re not necessarily getting the whole picture. People have been known to exaggerate, for one thing. Even if they’re scrupulously honest, it’s pretty rare for two people to have the exact same CV. Your former coworker might have an additional certification that you overlooked. Then again, you might have two more years of experience in the field.
The best approach is to set your price based on data, not watercooler chatter. There are several sources online that can provide you with appropriate salary ranges for your specific situation (not someone else’s).
3. Ask the right way.
Remember those stories we talked about earlier, where someone asks for a bigger starting salary and gets the boot instead? Some of those are probably the result of an unreasonable hiring manager, but others are because candidates asked in a way that was inappropriate – or at least, not the way things are done in their field.
For example, a few years ago, a candidate for a teaching position at a college lost her job offer after asking for what this academic blogger termed “the usual deal sweeteners.” At the time, there was a fair amount of debate about whether the candidate lost the job because of a) sexism, b) a bad fit with the hiring college, or c) a misunderstanding of academic culture. There’s really no way to tell; however, it’s worth noting that it’s important to understand the corporate culture you’re operating in before you ask for more money or perks.
Beyond that, it’s important to ask respectfully and to build your case on data, not emotions. (Sadly, this is especially true if you’re female, and therefore more likely to be seen as emotional even when you’re being anything but.)
Finally, remember that it’s not about what you need, it’s about what you deserve – or at least, what you can convince them to pay you. If your landlord raises the rent, that stinks, but it doesn’t obligate your employer to pay you more; leave your own expenses out of it.
4. Write a script.
Sound silly? Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting that you go into your meeting holding a stack of index cards like you’re running for class president. But having a rough idea of what you want to say will help you make your case, as well as allay any pre-negotiation jitters.
Just don’t get locked in. During the meeting, you’ll likely learn some things about the way your company thinks about compensation and what’s available to you in terms of raises and promotions. Be ready to change your approach when you learn something new.
5. Pick the right time.
Don’t sandbag your manager at your regular one-on-one or pop into her office unannounced. Ask to schedule a meeting specifically to discuss compensation. It might seem more nerve-wracking to know that your raise is the primary topic of conversation at this upcoming meeting, but in fact, having that out there will make it easier to discuss. No need for smooth transitions when the only item on the agenda is your raise.
It’s also worth mentioning that your annual review isn’t always the best time to ask for more money. By the time your manager sits down with you at the end of the year, percentages are likely set (probably in the 3% range).
Instead, use that time to talk about your goals for the coming year – the ones tied to the company’s ultimate goals, yes, but also your goals for your career. What do you need to do to get to the next level, the one with the better job title and the bigger paycheck? The annual review is a great time to ask. And once you and your boss are used to talking about money, future conversations will be easier.