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5 Ways to Negotiate the Salary You Want

How to handle the compensation conversation with your boss
5 Ways to Negotiate the Salary You Want

Are you ready for a raise? Making a pitch for a promotion? Negotiating the terms of a new job?

Most people dread these conversations with their boss. When people ask me for advice on handling compensation negotiations, they are often looking for some magic words or secret strategies to make that conversation work out in their favor.

Negotiating compensation is much less about what you say during that particular conversation and much more about getting yourself to a place where you can enter into negotiation feeling confident and capable and balanced. That’s where the real work is.

And that’s where your mentor comes in.

Ready to Grow

Sylvia wanted more from her job, but she wasn’t sure how to go about getting there. She was determined to position herself in line for a promotion (and a raise), but because she was working for the federal government during a budget crunch, she knew she would have to go far above and beyond in order to even be considered for a bonus, let alone a promotion. The problem for Sylvia is that she already felt stretched to the limit. She was good at her job and confident in her abilities, but her life felt scattered. She had too much on her plate at work while also juggling family and faith—how was she supposed to excel enough to advance?

Negotiating compensation is much less about what you say during that particular conversation and much more about getting yourself to a place where you can enter into negotiation feeling confident.

To help make sense of her life, Sylvia sought out a mentor through 4word’s Mentor Program. We matched Sylvia with a mentor who shared her background and her priorities, someone who could help her regain footing and prepare her to take the next step forward. Sylvia’s thinking was narrowly focused on her goal of advancing her career; but she was missing the big picture. Her mentor helped her step back and revisit the basics: understanding how her personal history impacted her current choices and perceptions, rejuvenating her day-to-day relationship with God, and learning and accepting who God created her to be. “It was amazing to discover how much potential God has placed in me, and to start dissipating the idea that I was not 'ready' to grow,” Sylvia wrote to me.

From there, Sylvia was ready to step forward with confidence. She and her mentor talked through the specifics of her job, identifying what was working for her strengths and personality and what wasn’t. They discussed how Sylvia could approach her boss and what she needed to be prepared to address. Then they prayed together, remembering Paul’s promise to the Philippians when he said, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6).

Ultimately, Sylvia’s conversation with her boss went very well. When I asked her what advice she would give to someone preparing for a similar type of discussion, Sylvia said, “I recommend getting a mentor!”

Having the Conversation

Effective mentoring or coaching can change your life. I recommend consulting your mentor (or getting one!) any time you’re contemplating big changes in work or in life. Getting perspective from a mentor can help you earn more money, increase your job satisfaction, and as much as double your chances of getting a promotion.

Once you’ve met with a mentor (if you’ve decided to do so) and you feel ready to ask for the promotion, here’s what you should know about handling the job and salary conversation with your boss:

1. Communicate in person. Email can be alluring in a situation like this, where you might be nervous about saying the wrong thing or afraid of possible rejection. Nevertheless, you should always have these negotiations face-to-face or at least over the phone (if face-to-face isn’t feasible).

The truth is while it may be easier to request something over email, it is also easier to say no over email. Real negotiation requires and benefits from an open, give-and-take interaction between people, something you just can’t accomplish the same way when you’re typing words back and forth. Even if the answer ultimately is no, your boss will have a better impression of you if you address the situation in person, and that sets you up well for the future.

2. Do your homework and get the facts straight. If you’re negotiating your salary with a new company, have W-2s from the last three years so that you know exactly what your total compensation has been and be sure to state the facts correctly. (Some companies will ask to see copies of your W-2s, and you don’t want to—intentionally or unintentionally—misrepresent yourself.) If you’re seeking a raise from your current company, have a written copy of your goals and your related performance for the last three years.

Prepare a list of every significant contribution or accomplishment you’ve made to the team. You don’t necessarily want to go over every item on the list, but it’s a valuable asset and something to refer to as needed. The goal is to discuss your contributions in a straightforward and unemotional way.

Research market compensation for the role you have or want by checking out similar positions at other companies through online resources. If the salary you’re seeking is out of line with the market, consider revising your goals or be sure you have a solid reason why the company should be paying you more. You don’t have to volunteer that you’re asking for something over-market, but know where you stand going in and be well-prepared to answer any questions that come up.

3. Get your timing right. Don’t schedule a meeting for late on a Friday afternoon (when your boss is most likely focused on the weekend) or early Monday morning (when work tends to be busiest). Instead, consider your boss’s schedule and try to identify the best time for him or her to be able to focus on what you have to say. If you can, ask after you have just finished a challenging project or accomplished something significant for the company, while your contribution is still fresh in your boss’s mind.

Even if you really do deserve a raise or a promotion, this may not be the right time for the company. It really is okay if your request gets denied.

I also don’t recommend asking for a raise in the middle of a performance review. Although that is a great time to ask for feedback on your work and guidance on your goals, it's also an easy time for your boss to say no since budgets are typically already determined by then. Most managers are really busy during reviews, so you want to build your case when it's most opportune for both parties. Be proactive and talk to your boss while budgets are still being developed (usually starting in the summer).

4. Stay focused. Keep the conversation tightly focused on your professional contributions and goals. If your spouse just lost his job or your kids’ school tuition just doubled, that has nothing to do with whether or not you deserve a raise. Nor does it matter that your coworker Jennifer or James makes more than you do in a comparable position. These facts may legitimately be weighing on you personally, but it’s not appropriate to make them part of your negotiation.

5. Don’t be discouraged. Even if you really do deserve a raise or a promotion, this may not be the right time for the company. It really is okay if your request gets denied. If you’ve handled the situation professionally and honorably, you’ll leave your boss with a favorable impression, and you’re much more likely to be successful the next time you ask. The important thing is that you’ve asked—you’ve taken that step!

One expert, speaking to Forbes, even recommends preparing a one-page takeaway summary of your pitch to leave with your boss for further consideration. Ask questions that will help you understand your boss’s decision and help you show her that you are committed to achieving your goals. This means asking questions like, “What can I improve on to reach my goals,” or “Do you see potential for me to be promoted in the future?”

Remember, no matter how the conversation goes, God has a plan for you (). God knows your wants and your needs, and he will provide as he sees fit. If you walk away from your career conversation discouraged, take some time to thank God for all the ways he has continued to provide for you, and ask him to lead you toward your next step.

If you get passed over several times for promotions or raises, or if you get the sense that there is no path forward for you at your company, then it may be time to start looking for a new job. There is no sense in staying somewhere where you can’t grow, and there’s no shame in looking for a place where you can. Get excited—this may mean you have a new adventure ahead of you!

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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