I walked in short on breath and with eyes nearly glazed over with nerves; my boss’ office never looked so impressive. I figured that since my supervisor is a reasonable woman who is good at what she does, leveling with her wouldn’t be too tall of an order. I had never asked for a raise before, and I didn’t know what to expect in the slightest. What I did know, however, is that I was killing myself for a company that paid me $15,000 below average. One of the most difficult realizations to come to in corporate America is the gut-wrenching feeling that you’re being paid much less than what the work you’re putting in is worth. Whether you’re hourly or salaried, if you find yourself barely skirting by while putting in well over 40 hours a week, it may be time to strategize.
However uncomfortable or daunting it may be, this conversation is crucial to improving your negotiation skills and financial well-being. Never forget that you have every right to talk about your salary and advocate for yourself. After some convincing, I finally decided that it was time for me to put it on the line. Here are some things I did to ensure that my first salary discussion went well:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
To win, you must come ready. There is nothing worse than sounding unsure about why you deserve more money. I asked for a time to meet with my boss and was ready even before we set a date on the calendar. Write exactly what you’re going to say, and practice it until you can almost recite it in your sleep. Hell, I practiced mine in the shower. Have it in front of you in the meeting, do whatever is necessary to make sure you sound professional and capable of doing more for the company. I tried to anticipate my boss’ potential responses so I could have those bases covered, too. Even if you need to read off the paper at points during the discussion, you will still appear prepared and demand respect.
2. After initial formalities, I started with the phrase, “If I may, I would like to go through some of the main things that I’ve done while I’ve been here.”
Off the bat, my tone was professional, and I made it clear that I meant business. I felt in control and ready to discuss how hard I was working. Albeit polite, this phrase opens the conversation and sets the stage to showcase what you’ve done for the company, as well as what you can do in the future.
3. I had a list of 4-5 things I had accomplished and the duties I maintain.
I wrote these down verbatim. For example, you can say, “I believe I’ve not only maintained the great relationships that [company name] has with clients, I’ve also gone further as to [whatever you’ve improved].” These points need to be tangible and concrete; I had numbers and examples ready to go. While brevity is important, iterate that you not only have done what is expected of you, but also have completed additional tasks. I was troubleshooting old processes and continuously helping multiple colleagues; this was my time to highlight that.
4. I asked for feedback.
Don’t sit there and rattle off your strong points without conveying your desire to improve. You have to demonstrate that you are continuously getting better for the company and for yourself. For instance, I asked what else I could take on to prove that I could do more for the company, and my boss willingly gave me advice to do better in my field. Displaying your regard for your supervisor’s opinion will take you far; they want to know that you will continue to make their job easier.
5. I was careful with my words.
At this point, I had stated what I’d accomplished and was ready to ask for my salary increase. I took a deep breath and said, without wavering, “I always believe I have something to prove, I’ve worked very hard and will continue to do so. After taking on more and more, I think I’ve earned an increase in salary.” You want your manager to do the driving at this point; wait for them to give you feedback. I didn’t even want to give an exact number because, for all I knew, they could’ve had a higher rate in mind. I stood firm, but also was prepared for pushback, and potentially “no” for an answer.
6. Whatever the outcome, I was ready to respond tactfully.
My boss gave me the raise I wanted, and completely agreed with my request. Even though the review was technically informal, I came prepared and took it seriously. If you get the amount you wanted, show your gratitude, and make it clear that you will continue working hard. If the response isn’t what you had hoped for, reply, “Okay, I’m not happy about the answer but I appreciate your time.” Then you can make your decision whether you want to stick around or start looking for other options.
Ultimately, the conversation ended in my favor, and I knew that I came across at my best. I didn’t magically get a salary increase — I worked really hard and rigorously prepared for my meeting. No one will advocate for you but yourself; if you make less than you want to, make moves to change it. Bottom line: be ready for whatever comes. Have your exact word choice picked out, and pep-talk yourself as much as you need to. Asking for a raise can be unnerving but, positive answer or not, you will learn one of the most valuable skills in the workplace: negotiation.
Paige is a Millennial resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin working full-time at a commercial real estate firm. She believes that your financial health can be approached much like your physical health: you get out what you put in. She wants to help others navigate this learning curve and motivate people to take their health as seriously as their credit score.
Image via Pexels