how much should you ask for when you ask for a raise?

A reader writes:

I am thinking of having a salary review meeting to discuss a raise. I know to come armed with my list of accomplishments, what I bring to the company, etc. (all the good advice from your previous salary posts). But should I also be prepared to name a specific number/percentage, and if so, is it wise to ask for higher than what I actually want, so there is room for negotiation?

Furthermore, is it possible to price yourself too high? I do know, from research and from speaking with others in my industry, that I have been paid pretty well. However, in November last year, my role changed greatly and I was given much more responsibility and now lead higher-profile projects; I was told that my ability to take on this extra work saved my company having to hire another person. I didn’t get a raise then, and I can’t help but feel that a raise is appropriate now after 9-10 months of proving myself in this role . But knowing that I do feel I’m fairly well paid (or was, before my workload increased), I’m worried that asking for more money to go along with my increased workload will appear greedy or pushy. I don’t want my company to think I am too expensive to keep around.

Does everyone get this freaked out with salary stuff, or is it just me?!

Nearly everyone does. There’s a sub-group of people who are impressively comfortable with it, but they’re decidedly in the minority. You are the normal one, and they are some sort of mutant.

Okay, so taking these questions one at a time:

Should you ask for a specific amount when you ask for a raise?  There’s no one right answer to this. Some people are very clear that they believe they deserve $X, and anything less than $X is going to leave them unhappy. Other people don’t have a specific amount in mind and just know that they have a case for more. In the first situation, it’s fine to name a figure … and in the second situation, it’s fine not to, and to simply ask for your salary to be revisited. (Although be prepared to be asked what figure you have in mind.)

Personally, I’ve always named a figure. I want to be clear about what I want (especially if what I want happens to be somewhat high, as raises go), and I don’t want the employer to come back with something laughably small. But if you genuinely aren’t sure, it’s not a faux paus not to start out with a specific number (although, again, you may find the conversation quickly going there anyway).

Is it possible to price yourself too high?  Yes. If you ask for something absurdly high (like a 50% increase, say), it’s not just a matter of being told no — your manager will probably start thinking of you as naive, unreasonable, and unrealistic, and that impression isn’t going to be confined just to salary — she’ll see you that way in general. And that’s really not good.

So you’ve got to ask for something that you can support — based on your value to the company, within their particular pay structure. That’s the hard part, unfortunately — it’s not as simple as “always ask for X percent.” It varies by situation.

Should you ask for more than you really want in order to leave room for negotiation?  Again, it varies. Some companies and managers are negotiators and will always offer less than you ask for. Others are straight-shooters and expect you to be too. So you’ve got to know the culture and how your manager operates. (And I’ll acknowledge a bias for straight-shooting and avoiding games on this — my approach to this stuff is to just ask for what you want, which makes me less equipped to offer advice on the other route. In my experience, though, if they value you enough and you’re not making outlandish requests, straight-shooting works.)

Good luck!  Let us know what comes of it.

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