If you feel like you’re not getting paid enough for your work, but the idea of asking for a raise makes your stomach turn, Nita Singh Kaushal’s advice will be invaluable. The negotiation expert and author of Communicating Your Value has helped thousands of people better understand their worth and communicate it effectively to their managers and bosses by making compelling arguments for why that raise is well-deserved and necessary. Here, Kaushal shares her best tips for asking for a raise, whether you’re a corporate type, a part time worker, or even a freelancer.
Being a rule follower can hurt you
Are you the kind of person who assumes that asking for a raise is in bad taste and you’ll get one when your manager is ready to give you one? Or maybe you’re in a job that your parents pushed you towards, but you aren’t happy with what you’re doing? We follow rules and ’stay the course’ even when it hurts us because that’s how most of us have been conditioned. “No one told me that I was supposed to negotiate my first paycheck, or that I should be asking for raises,” says Kaushal. “I was dissatisfied with my job for years, largely because I didn’t know that I should be asking for what I wanted. I didn't know that I had to be proactive and find mentors, or ask for the projects that would be interesting to me or would help me advance. Realizing that I was not satisfied with how things were going, but that I had the ability to change things in my life was an epiphany for me."
Let people know what you’re doing
If you’ve always assumed that your boss would eventually notice your efforts around the office and give you a raise, Kaushal has a reality check for you. Some people are lucky enough to have managers who will notice your contributions, but most of us don’t. You have to let your manager know what you’re contributing. “When I started working in the STEM field after college, I didn't know how to broadcast my professional efforts,” says Kaushal. "I saw the same patterns at play in many of the people, especially the women, around me.”
Being helpful is good, having no boundaries isn't
Letting your boss know how valuable you are is important, but doing their dirty work shouldn’t be part of that process. Organizing the staff holiday party or doing the coffee run at the weekly meetings might seem like helpful ways to get noticed, but sometimes, that extra work can be a ‘helpfulness trap’ that takes you away from making important contributions and taking on bigger projects. That can hurt you when it comes to establishing your value in the workplace. “Make sure that if you are doing that work, you’re not missing out on other projects you’d rather be doing,” says Kaushal. "Unfortunately, for women in particular, being helpful, being nice, trying to be a team player, tends to lead to doing a lot of the busy work that receives little to no credit but takes a lot of time. Work to firmly establish boundaries, and also advocate for where you want to go in business. Build a case that your time is better spent doing X, because of your expertise, rather than doing Y menial task.”
Prepare for your negotiation
Conversations with your boss can be extremely nerve-wracking, especially when money is involved. “The number one piece of advice I can give is to take the time to plan out this conversation,” says Kaushal. “Anytime you’re asking for something, especially if it’s a raise that you need, is naturally an emotional, reactive, and personal conversation. We're not always at our best when we're feeling emotional, and it’s easy to start getting upset and angry, especially if you feel like a raise has been a long time coming. But as valid as those emotions can be, you really have to plan out what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. That can really change the direction of the whole conversation, and often leads to a better outcome.” She notes that writing out a script may help you plan what you’ll say, but try to avoid reading off a paper when you’re actually in the meeting.
Present it as a win-win
Asking for a raise is a negotiation with your boss. Anytime you’re negotiating, it’s wise to think about what the other side is getting out of the deal. Kaushal says the best negotiating tactic is to focus on how both parties win if you get the raise. “People are scared of negotiations because they think it's going to be a hostile situation, that it's 'you versus the other person,’” she says. “As a result, this is going to affect your delivery in that meeting. I want you to go into your negotiation with a reason that you getting the raise, the extra help you need, or the bonus is also a win for the company.” “While it's valid and true that you may need more money to live your life, employers simply are not incentivized to give raises based on that,” says Kaushal. “From their point of view, they need to be able to make a business case that the work that you're doing deserves a raise. With that in mind, how can you help them? You need to showcase how you’re currently bringing value to the company, and ideally, how you’re invested in staying for the long term — but in a way that’s sustainable for you.” Kaushal is quick to note, however, that this isn’t about offering to do extra work in order to get your raise — this is about showing your boss the objective value you bring to the company, whether in the form of efficiency, dollars made in sales, or a project that went off without a hitch. It’s tempting, but don’t focus on why you need a raise.
Keep track of your wins
Because of the win-win approach, it’s important that you begin to track your workplace wins. Some people, like those in sales, will have an easy time showcasing exactly what they bring to the company, while others, like those in human resources, may struggle to figure out what metric shows their value. Kaushal suggests creating a dashboard, which can be a spreadsheet or a document, that tracks your wins for the company. You’ll have to figure out what exactly to keep track of, but start this list as soon as possible — don’t wait until you’re planning to ask for a raise, because by then, you may have forgotten all the important work you’ve done.
Share those wins
Rather than having to face your boss once every couple of years for a salary negotiation, imagine having a meeting with her every week, month, or quarter, where you discuss the work you’ve been doing, and how you’ve impacted the company. “We want to believe that our bosses are mind readers who know exactly what we're doing at all times,” says Kaushal. “But even bosses with the best of intentions are busy and have a lot of other things going on. When you can come to a meeting and show them exactly what you’ve been doing, and ask for regular feedback, they’ll have a better sense of your value at the company. The more data-specific you can be, the better: If you can show a manager that you signed up X more customers, or that revenue is up Z percent because you saved the company Y percent on something, that’s helpful for them.”
Request criticism and feedback
This is a hard one: No one wants to put themselves in the position of being criticized, but being able to handle critique not only makes you appear to be a better team player and employee, it also helps you improve in the workplace at a much faster pace. “The ability to ask for constructive feedback is key not only for your development personally and professionally, but because it establishes a stronger trust and bond with your colleagues,” says Kaushal. "They recognize you as somebody who has leadership initiative.” She notes that, of course, it’s important to realize that not every boss or teammate has your best interests at heart and some criticism may be unwarranted. So don’t take this suggestion to mean that you should be OK with a boss attacking your abilities or character — if you feel like a criticism is inappropriate, seek help from HR.
Virtual meetings count, too
One final tip: If you’re working remotely, you may need to do your negotiations remotely as well, and there are a few best practices to follow here. You have advantages and disadvantages with remote negotiations: With video conferencing, you’ll be able to have your notes on hand to refer to, which makes these meetings easier. You’re less likely to get emotional, because the video creates distance. But you’re also in a more impersonal environment, and as we all know, the critical moment of your meeting may likely to be interrupted by a connection drop or delivery. If you are negotiating remotely, Kaushal suggests pushing for a video meeting rather than over the phone, in order to make the meeting as personal as possible. “Face to face is always better,” she says. "I discourage negotiating over email or text — things get lost in translation. Even phone calls can be hard to interpret. For such an important conversation, try to have it live and as personal as possible. Focus on your tone and your content, and you’ll do great."