Human Resources

Salary Talk 101: Tips for Negotiating a Raise

The country may still be knee-deep in a post-recession economy, but it looks like employers are slowly warming up to the idea of offering more raises. According to The Huffington Post, surveys suggest that the average raise in 2014 is an estimated 2.9 percent. This may not sound like much — another article from The Huffington Post notes that the average hovered between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent from 2000 to 2008 — but with rising consumer prices and inflation, even a modest increase matters. The trick is knowing when (and how) to ask for it.

Timing is everything: When to ask for a raise

As with marriage proposals or home buying, timing can make or break one’s raise. U.S. News and World Report advises workers to look at how things are going in their industries in general, and within their organizations specifically. Are they experiencing a lot of growth? Are their companies growing or investing in their groups? Are their industries more prone to salary increases? Workers should also consider their own personal stock, so to speak. Do they have special skills or talents that are difficult to replace? Are they receiving more lucrative offers from elsewhere? None of these conditions guarantees a raise, but they sure can help. Of course, how one asks for more money is just as important as when.

The how-tos of salary negotiation

The key to a successful salary negotiation often hinges on how well one knows his or her boss and the company’s overall culture. Some employers are more formal and rigid when it comes to how and when they offer raises; others are more fluid. Either way, how one asks matters, and it pays to be prepared. The following tips can help:

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  1. Do some market research. Before setting up a meeting to talk salary with an employer, it helps to know how one’s current salary compares with those in similar positions. Factors like position, education and experience matter, as do location and the size of an organization. There are a number of websites that offer this type of data at little or no charge.
  2. Be honest. Raise-hungry workers benefit from approaching negotiations with an honest evaluation of both their worth and the state of the company. They should enter a meeting with a list of their accomplishments — the more the better — and the ability to defend them.
  3. Set a date. It is helpful to know if the company has a fixed window for salary increases so that one can schedule a meeting appropriately. In companies that are a bit more flexible, it can be helpful to schedule negotiations after a particularly good financial report or personal accomplishment.
  4. Steer the discussion. In this post-recession economy, managers may still be under a lot of pressure to reel in costs, so some might not approach the discussion openly or happily. In a column she penned for The Huffington Post, Kim Keating, founder and managing director of Keating Advisors, advises workers who feel tension to guide the conversation in a more positive, less difficult direction. It may be more productive to ask a manager how salary increases are typically handled and how one might go about making it to that next rung of the salary ladder than to ask for a specific raise.
  5. Prepare for the worst. Not all employers can offer salary increases year over year, but that doesn’t mean the discussion is over. More on that next.

If at first you don’t succeed… try asking for something else

It can be disheartening to prepare for the big salary talk only to be shot down for budgetary reasons, but that does not mean one should suck it up and move on. In fact, in a column for Forbes, Keld Jenson of MarketWatch Center for Negotiation suggests walking into a room expecting a salary increase means one has set his or her sights too narrowly. If more money is not an option, are other perks or benefits on the table for discussion? Jenson recommends considering other ways companies can reward solid employee performances, like additional vacation time, sick days, or paid education and training. What about performance-based bonuses or the freedom to telecommute a couple days a week? A company cell phone? It pays to be creative and flexible. If, in the end, one finds the metaphorical door closed, U.S. News and World Report advises workers to remain professional, diplomatic and tactful — which might just set the stage for a more productive discussion down the line.

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