The M Dash

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How to Ask for That Raise (And Get Past What’s Holding You Back)

June 16, 2017 | Filed in: Your Career

Are you tired of reading the same “tips” about asking for a raise? Us, too. (Sorry, power poses, but you only get us so far.) Alex Dickinson, a negotiation coach and founder of Ask For It, a company that provides training for conflict management in the workplace, walks us through her five strategies for getting the salary you deserve.

1. Start the Conversation

You want to strike when the iron is hot. One scenario is when you have a great answer to the question, “What have you done for me lately?” If you’ve just finished a big project and gotten a lot of accolades, that’s a good time. Another good time is budget season. At some companies, budget season and performance review season are not the same. If the budget’s already set and you have your review afterwards, there may or may not be money available to give you a raise, no matter how much you deserve one. Timing is important.

You never want to surprise somebody that you care about, particularly when asking for more money. You want to give that person a heads-up that you’d like to discuss your performance and your future at the company. If you feel comfortable, you can say, “I’d love to have a conversation about my compensation.” Whenever possible, you also want to go directly to the decision-maker who will approve your raise. If your boss would have to go get approval from her boss, try to get them in the room together, because she may not advocate for your raise as well as you will—or maybe she’s a great advocate, in which case, have her do so. You have to know the hierarchy at your company, and make the best judgment call on who to ask. Above all, be respectful.

Alex Dickinson // MM.LaFleur

Alex wears the Zulma dress in galaxy blue.

2. Manage Questions About Numbers

I believe that what you used to make or are currently making is irrelevant. The question you want to be prepared to answer is, “How much do you want to make?” And there’s a very straightforward way to determine that number: You need to know what the market rate is for your job. You can look on websites like Glassdoor, but the best research comes from talking to other human beings who do the same job or have done that job and would know from personal experience. I always advise people to talk to six people, three men and three women. To women, I say, “Don’t just ask your female friends, ask your male friends too. If you don’t have male friends, find some or make some.” Women are always shocked at how underpaid they are by comparison after they do that research. Every time, every industry, always—no matter how aware of the wage gap they thought they were. You want to be able to say to your employer that you spoke to people in the industry and know the market rate. It’s much more personal and powerful.

Alex Dickinson // MM.LaFleur

Alex wears the Crawford top in true olive with the Cobble Hill 2.0 skirt in cashew.

3. “Sell” Yourself

Most people think of “selling” yourself as pulling one over on someone, or being dishonest—and that’s uncomfortable. You want to feel that you’re being as straightforward as possible, and to do that, you want to put together objective evidence of your performance. In sales, that might be a sum of money, but many people can’t put a dollar amount on their work; instead, find ways to characterize the value that you have created or saved for your company or your team. Value saved could be, “Joe left, and we didn’t fill his position, so I picked up the slack.” Value created is, “I launched this new initiative, and it brought in this much revenue, or it made our client renew for another year.”

Also, be able to articulate what you uniquely bring to your role. I like to call this your “superpower.” It’s something that comes to you effortlessly, naturally. You don’t ask why Wonder Woman has superhuman strength; she’s a superhero, so she just has it, and we don’t question that. What is that “thing” for you that we don’t question? Maybe you’re a natural educator and are always working with the team on learning new skills. Another way to think of it is, what’s your unfair advantage? Ask your friends or colleagues; email a bunch of people and say you’re researching for a personal project. When you gather evidence about why you deserve a raise, you’ll feel good about delivering it, because you know it’s factual.

Alex Dickinson // MM.LaFleur

Alex wears the Toi dress in viridian.

4. Overcome Self-doubt

You have to be able to answer the question, “Why am I worth it?” before anyone else is going to. I’m a big advocate of keeping it objective, so that there’s no arguing—it’s true that you accomplished x, y, and z, because it’s on paper. I keep records of the most strategic things I accomplish, even just to prove to myself that I am working as hard as I can on my business. If you work for someone else, keep a list so that you can make that case to them.

I’m a certified yoga instructor, and a technique I’ve learned from meditation is to see your thoughts as clouds passing by in the sky. You see them, and you acknowledge them, but you don’t dwell on them, and they keep going. Try to approach self-doubt in a similar way. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and insecure, and like you haven’t accomplished anything, that’s fair—that’s how you’re feeling. But then take a look at the evidence and see if it matches up. If it doesn’t, the feeling will pass. And if you haven’t accomplished much lately, why is that? Are you not being challenged? It becomes a problem you can solve rather than an anxious thought. Looking at evidence helps you respond to those negative feelings.

5. Sprinkle the Secret Sauce

When negotiating, try to think from your counterpart’s point of view. Everyone’s always wrapped up in what they want, which is great, but if you think about what your counterpart wants, you can address their concerns and make it much easier for them to say yes to you.

Photographs by Maria Karas.


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