There’s a lot at stake when you walk through your boss’s door to start the “talk.” You know the one: negotiating more money. We’re going to talk about how to ask for a raise.
That single conversation is too important for you to just blindly walk in and hope that it all works out. That’s like blindfolding yourself and then trying to shoot a free throw … with Shaquille O’Neal standing in front of you — likely not gonna happen!
But do it right, and a successful negotiation of, say, $5,000 on top of your salary can add up to an extra $68,000 over 10 years. Talk about a Big Win.
There are a ton of resources here at IWT (like here, here, and oh, here) to give you the best chance of success at getting paid what you deserve in your current or new job, including an Ultimate Guide on Getting a Raise and Boosting Your Salary. And usually we emphasize that the number-one mistake you can make when negotiating more money is that…
…YOU NEVER ASK IN THE FIRST PLACE!
Maybe you just accept the first offer that gets thrown at you because you’re afraid the opportunity will slip away…
Or you simply sit there and pray that your boss will notice your good work and give you what you think you deserve (hint: they won’t, or at least typically not what you could get).
In fact, not bothering to ask is only one of four cardinal sins of negotiating your salary, according to our head honcho Ramit Sethi. He was interviewed on national publication CNBC about four mistakes that can really cripple the average person’s annual earnings and morale, and they are:
- You don’t negotiate at all (we covered this just now)
- You don’t plan ahead
- You take advice from the wrong people
- You give up after the first attempt
Ramit sharing his hot take on negotiation via CNBC.
But look: It’s one thing to learn how to negotiate in theory, but it’s another to actually put rubber to the road and test-drive these or anyone’s tips in the real world.
“You think you’re going to walk in and suddenly become a master negotiator?” Ramit says in the CNBC article. Maybe if you’re actually a Jedi who has powers of mind control … Otherwise, you’re up against someone who’s navigated negotiations with dozens or hundreds of people, perhaps for years.
If that’s the case, just what does it take to get a raise? More important, what does it look like in the real world?
We asked our IWT readers to share how they applied negotiation principles to get a raise of $5,000 or more in their new or existing position. Out of the dozen or so readers who were willing to share their stories, we noticed five commonalities that boosted their chance of success.
“When you start to hear other people telling you their negotiation stories, I think you’re going to be confident in negotiating for what you deserve and what you are worth.” — Ramit
1. They hit a point where they weren’t afraid to ask for more
It’s no surprise that when you don’t ask, you never get what you want. This, of course, includes getting more money. Interestingly, some of our readers wrote in and confided in us that they knew they were being underpaid and yet they still didn’t speak up. It’s easy to point fingers and scream, “The answer is so simple: Just say something or leave!”
But there are a lot of forces at play here. In particular: Invisible scripts, our term for the mental frameworks that are so embedded in our everyday thinking that we often don’t notice we have these thoughts. They could hold us back from being willing to grow, including asking for more money.
“I needed to leave, but had a lot of invisible scripts like, ‘I have no real skills, so I can’t work in any other field’ and ‘If I get paid more, I’ll become a greedy corporate schmuck like the rest of soulless business-types out there,’” wrote one reader.
We’ve all felt or thought something like this, and that’s OK. The first step is to be aware of these thought patterns that might keep you from walking into your boss’s door or even pushing back on the first offer.
What do you notice yourself saying in your head when faced with asking for a raise? Is it things like, “I don’t have the experience or skills to prove my value to the company” or “There’s no way I can ask for more than $8,000”?
Be aware of them and ask, “Is that really true?” Challenge it and find the solution to change it.
2. They did their homework and knew what they were worth
If there was a way to tattoo “DO YOUR HOMEWORK” on your arms, we would. Doing all of the prep work before you walk into these conversations is incredibly important.
You should start by pulling salary data on what you should be earning, according to the number of years of experience and your skill set. Places like Glassdoor, PayScale, and LinkedIn are all great places to research average responsibilities and salary range. Compare your current level of experience to this data and think about what your current skill set and experience can bring to the company.
“If you can communicate this effectively, with practice, then you can walk in and have a good shot at negotiating your salary,” Ramit tells CNBC.
Doing your homework and practicing works, as these reader stories can attest to:
“I successfully negotiated a $33,500 raise with an additional $5,500 in continued education benefits (yearly flight training reimbursement) last May. My strategy was not complicated. I reviewed IWT’s negotiation guide, created a document detailing my achievements at the company in the past three years, waited for opportune timing, and then held my CEO’s feet to the fire.
I’ve worked at my company for just over three years now and since day one have positioned myself to be indispensable. I started out as a mechanical engineer and now run the entire engineering department. In the last three years I’ve negotiated a total of $58,500 in raises for myself.”
Amazing. Here’s another:
“I was able to negotiate a salary raise of $6,000 last year. I was very firm from the beginning of the interview process what my ideal salary range was, and when they tried to come in under that with their initial offer, I came back armed with numbers of what it would ‘cost’ for me to walk away from my previous company (monetary value of the accrued sick leave I wouldn’t get paid out for, the disparity in health coverage between the two companies, etc).
And I had also researched other individuals in my current role (thanks LinkedIn!) to see the years of experience they had before coming to the company and pointed out I was more seasoned than a large percentage of them. After that they came up $6,000 on the offer!”
3. They came prepared to negotiate
We have a secret weapon here that we like to teach people. It’s called The Briefcase Technique, and it’s a powerful way to signal to your potential employer or boss that “you know your shit, and you’re invaluable.”
Ramit breaking down the almighty Briefcase Technique.
Check out this story from a reader who 2X’d her salary in a mere one and a half years (which is incredible!) when she incorporated The Briefcase Technique:
“I negotiated $8,000 upon taking my current job and $5,000 more just three months after. Soon after applying, I had my first interview with the team. Prepped multiple hours for it. Prepared documents on salary. Prepared my Briefcase Technique. But the Content Manager wasn’t present. To me, that meant I would have another interview with her. So I decided not to present my briefcase to people who wouldn’t care and there was no need to talk salary yet.
Expecting a call back for another interview, I instead got an email with an offer: $37,000. It felt good to have an offer, but my research showed that I deserved $50-60k. I also never got the chance to send my briefcase materials, so I replied, saying:
‘I’ve taken a look at the offer letter and wanted to first say thank you! I am thrilled to be considered!!
I want to be transparent though, it looks like we’re pretty far apart on salary, which is understandable as the range wasn’t posted, and we never really had that discussion.
I’m still very excited about the position, working with you, and COMPANY, but from my research it looks like the range for similar positions are in the $48K-60K ballpark — and actually towards the higher end for someone with my qualifications.
I’d like to discuss that range.
Also, I put together a few ideas I’ve been thinking about for COMPANY. They’ve been on my mind since our last few conversations and I realized we never had the chance to discuss them.
Specifically, these are about expanding and engaging the user base, and I wanted to share these with you no matter what happens as I hope they may provide some value to the marketing teams.’”
Pause. This is a great move to show confidence and value. We’d like to point out this reader’s next savvy move, which was negotiate other terms, like working from home one day per week and scheduling another review for more money after 90 days. The story continues:
“The 90 days were up in December and I spent all that time preparing: coming up with and testing solutions to our process bottlenecks and recording results, as well as what my boss and coworkers were saying about me. I prepared all my best info into a sexy report and practiced the negotiation with my fiancé. He was super harsh in our practices, so I was prepared for the worst.
My meeting with my boss was so much easier than the practices. She was so impressed with my materials that she showed it to at least three other people on the executive team. Though I’d asked for $60k, she offered me $50,000 after our conversation: an 11% raise.”
Don’t focus on the numbers or the timeline here. Instead, focus on how prepared she was — so much that she went in expecting to play hard ball. Her potential employer felt this too, and as Ramit has said before, you’ve done something wrong much earlier in the interview process or in your performance if the other party is not willing to negotiate.
Show that you are a Top Performer, and Top Performers know exactly what they can bring to the table.
4. They stood their ground
In negotiations, it’s easy to shrink away and give in, but being firm and unwavering in what you want is key.
“I successfully negotiated a $15,000 raise last year from $45 to $60k.
Part of this big raise was that I was being very underpaid. For the meeting, I brought in my notes that showed the amount of funding I had secured for the company, the amount of overtime I had taken on, and the amount of travel I had to do (much of it unpaid). I was initially offered a $10k raise, but told them that amount would not work for me as the hours required did not make sense at that rate. I wasn’t bluffing, I would not have continued to work there at that rate.
I was calm and firm and direct in what I brought to the role.
One of my bosses responded well, the other did not. I wrote up all the research for him and gave him a copy. I knew I was underpaid and wouldn’t settle for less. They came around and it worked out!”
The reality is, bosses are not there to be your friend. They’re there to make sure they have the best employees, and it’s on you to make sure they know you know exactly how you drive results for them.
5. They understood increases took time and were persistent
This is perhaps a crucial point that is sorely misrepresented in all of the negotiation resources out there: That it often takes time.
Time to develop your skill set and experience.
Time to prove that your contributions are valuable.
Time to practice your negotiation skills.
You can’t expect to get a $15,000 raise in a jiffy. It might work out for some people — just like some people could win the lottery — but it’s not the norm. Here’s a reader who spent four years making active moves in increasing his salary:
“I took my income from $52k in 2014 to $110k+$15k bonus by early 2018.
I took a new position in 2014 and bumped myself from $52k to $64k in that job change. I did research on the role and company to get the highest starting salary for my role that they have paid. I did a lot of prep for the interviews. Within the year I moved up to $72k based on being a Top Performer in the company.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to open a new office for the firm. I negotiated a raise to $85K on that move, with some pushback from the CEO. I ramped more slowly after that: $92k in 2016, $100k in 2017, and then $110k in 2018.
I have since moved on to a contract role that I got in a week and have a good rate that puts me over $150k. Through the process I have focused on growing my own skills, and understanding customer needs, and communicating clearly on technical topics.”
Taken altogether, keep in mind that when you’re trying to negotiate your salary it’ll take practice, and likely it’ll take time. Even a bump of $5,000 or even being able to push back after the first “no” can be a huge victory and a small step toward more successful future negotiations. Revel in any win — big or small.
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