Slow and Steady Wins the Raise

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There might be times in the business world when flying by the seat of your pants works out just fine.

Asking for a raise with no advance preparation isn't likely to be one of them.

Human resources specialists say doing some research ahead of time will pay off in the end—even if it means putting the talk with your boss on hold for a while.

The timing of the request, experts say is critical for a lot of reasons.

Michelle Hall, vice president of corporate HR and compensation at Meijer Inc., said it's a good idea to tie your request for a raise to a recent accomplishment.

If you've just renegotiated a big contract with great results, "go back and ask for a raise on the heels of that," said Hall, who also serves as a participant on the regional council of Inforum, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing careers for women. "When it's fresh in your leadership's mind, they might be compelled to share some of the value you have created."

Rene Buggs, senior vice president for human resources at Tubelite Inc., said another important consideration is where the company stands in its budget cycle. Companies generally have employees budgeted at their current salaries for a whole fiscal year. If you time your request toward the end of the fiscal year, the increase could be quickly budgeted in at the higher amount.

And be sure you don't make the request on a busy day for your boss, Buggs said. "Put it on a calendar, so you're not just dropping in or interrupting what they're currently doing."

Once you have determined the best timing, you need to make a case for why a raise is justified.

"Don't come and ask for a raise just because you have been at a company a certain number of years," Buggs said. "What changed? Have your responsibilities changed? Has your number of direct reports changed? Why do you deserve a raise?"

You should have a good understanding of the actual salary range in the industry. Research how other companies are compensating employees in a similar role and make sure you're comparing your salary with local businesses, not an average across the country.

"The No. 1 thing I would encourage people to do is really do some fact-checking," Hall said.

Another important thing, Hall said, is for people to think about the value they have created in the role they're in.

"Write down examples of where you have generated value different from what someone else may have delivered."

If you led a project that had an outstanding outcome, or you increased sales in the role you're in, those things can increase your value in the company, Hall said.

As tempting as it might be, the one thing not to do is to bring in an offer from another company and threaten to leave if the offer isn't met.

While it might work, Buggs said, there will always be a seed of doubt as to your loyalty to the company. "Even if you do get a little bump, it's not good for you long term."

There's a better way to make that point. If you've gone on interviews and have gotten an offer, saying something like "'I believe I have this value in the marketplace" is a positive way to structure that conversation, Hall said.

If, after all your preparation, your boss's answer turns out to be "no," try to learn from the experience. That might mean working out a development plan with your boss to achieve certain goals.

"That way, you know what a 'yes' would look like," Buggs said.

"And your boss does, too."

S. I. McGrath is a West Michigan native who writes about local arts, music, business and sports. This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.


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