Jill L. Ferguson

A quirky Someecard.com cartoon popped up in my inbox. It featured a male in a suit and tie sitting in a desk chair, one foot crossed onto his knee, and said, “As your supervisor, I have no idea what you do, but I know you can do better, so I’m rating your performance for the year as ‘adequate’.”

The cartoon made me chuckle in recognition and reminded me that we do so much every day in our jobs, and only we can keep track of what we are doing and how it contributes to our company’s growth, well-being and bottom line. And why, in the weeks before performance review time, it is so important for us to pull that information together and put it in a format we, and our managers, can use.

How to negotiate a raise during review.

Here are five steps you should take:

1. Provide evidence of your accomplishments.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommends that you collect two kinds of “evidence.” First, in a file, keep track of your work and accomplishments throughout the year so you can easily jar your memory as to what and how much you did. 

HBR says to include “money-saving efficiencies you implemented, results from a project you’ve just overseen, positive customer testimonials, or praise from higher-ups”, and second, to use salary database sites like the one on Fairygodboss.com to understand what the going pay rates are in your industry and with your job title or level.

Laura Browne, corporate trainer and co-author of Raise Rules for Women How to Make More Money at Work, said, “When you ask for a raise at your performance review, think of it as an opportunity to give your boss the information needed to convince their boss or HR that you deserve a raise. Typically managers can't make the decisions by themselves. Give them examples of business results you've accomplished and comments from others about your effectiveness.”

2. Tie the accomplishments to the value they add(ed).

Career Coach Jessica Smith, who runs the podcast Coaching with Jessness, advised, “You need to prepare how your work has been of value: to your role, the department you reside in, and holistically for the company. An easy way to evaluate this piece is to ask yourself, ‘How was the business positively impacted because of what I've completed/accomplished?’”

Some roles and tasks lend to more quantification than others. In sales, it is relatively easy to know how many new customers have come aboard and how much sales have increased. Roles in HR and in marketing, for example, may be more difficult to quantify.

3. Have a figure (or how much you want) in mind.

Part of the HBR advice about paying attention to and keeping track of industry pay scales is so you can know where your salary or bonuses fall in relation to others and how much “wiggle room” you might have. Know your market value (and what your company values) so you can explain your value and how that ties into what the company values.

And don’t forget to think about other perks. Things like flex-time, working remotely, educational opportunities and reimbursements, transportation or daycare reimbursement, additional vacation time and many other forms of compensation can be negotiated if you are capped on salary or if your boss isn’t able to give you what you want at this moment.

4. Practice talking about your accomplishments (and asking for a raise) with a trusted friend.

Performance appraisal time is stressful, regardless if you work at a small company or a large corporation. Practice the meeting and what you will say, including what criticisms you think your boss may have. Prepare answers that don’t seem defensive. Then practice how you will negotiate for the raise. Even practicing in a mirror at home will help you work out the wording and will boost your confidence.

Smith said she never forgot the advice that one of her bosses gave her: You don’t get what you don’t ask for. “In our next feedback meeting, you better believe I was asking about pay!” she said.  

5. Understand that how you respond to the review is mentally scored.

The review is a chance for us to know where we can improve. Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, co-authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, said that your acceptance of feedback improves your likability and indicates that you’re a team player. This can improve your compensation.

But don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, especially the question, “What else can I do?” even if your score was exceptional. This shows that you’re always striving to grow and want to help the company excel, too.  And, at the end of the review, once you’ve been through all of the ways you have contributed, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

What not to do

Equally important as knowing what to say and do during a salary negotiation is knowing what not to say and do. This is by no means a complete list of topics and statements to avoid, but some of them are:

• Using personal issues, such as financial woes, student loans or family responsibilities, as a justification for why you need a raise; your raise will be based on performance and work-related issues only.

• Apologizing for asking for a raise. If you deserve it, own it! Apologizing displays a lack of confidence, which you never want to do when negotiating a raise.

• Comparing your salary or wages to a colleague's. While it's fine (encouraged even) to point to industry averages or general employee data from your company, you should avoid saying, "I know so-and-so makes such-and-such, and I've done X thing better than her." You don't know anyone's complete circumstances other than your own, and salaries are private information. What's more, you'll appear petty.

• Getting emotional. Raising your voice, crying, yelling, showing a temper or getting visibly upset are all examples of unprofessional behavior that you have to avoid if you want to be treated like a reasonable adult. In order to be taken seriously, you need to do your absolute best to keep your cool, even if the conversation isn't going the way you wanted it to.

How to respond to a raise rejection.

It can be disappointing to be turned down for a raise, especially when you know you've put in the effort and deserve it. So, how do you respond? Here are some suggestions:

• First things first, thank your manager for taking the time to hear you out. Of course, she knows you're not pleased with the outcome of the conversation, but she will appreciate that you're taking the high road.

• Try to understand why the response was what it was. Ask whether there were factors other than your performance at play. Also, ask for feedback on what you can do toward getting a different response in the near future. Try to get concrete, actionable answers here. 

• Ask when you can revisit the issue and follow up. Being ultra-polite, of course, discuss when a better time to negotiate a raise might be. If your manager expects certain changes, propose a specific date for a follow-up meeting. 

• Make a plan. Based on your manager's feedback, determine what steps you need to take and establish benchmark goals to reach.

• Keep track of your accomplishments. You want to have concrete achievements to point to when you meet with your manager again, so you can show improvement and more reasons why you're contributing to the company, going above and beyond — and ultimately deserve this raise.

 Special Note: Fairygodboss.com understands that in many companies, by the time the performance appraisal comes around, raises have already been decided and often by a committee. We also acknowledge that some large companies, like many in the Silicon Valley, have decoupled the timing of salary increases and performance reviews. Browne said because of these two things, she normally suggests people ask for a raise before performance appraisal time. The steps above are still the same, as we should always know what we contribute and our worth, regardless of when we ask for a raise.


About the Career Expert:

Former professor Jill L. Ferguson is an award-winning author of seven books, including co-author of Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work, and thousands of published articles. She is also an artist, business and higher education consultant, entrepreneur and founder of Women's Wellness Weekends.