It’s the holy grail of negotiating for yourself at work—walking into your boss’s office and knowing you will come out with a raise.
It is actually possible. And no, there isn’t a magic phrase or action. It takes more than minimal effort.
But putting in the time to understand what it takes, and then doing it, will get you that raise.
Understand your workplace’s financial dynamics
Long before you walk into that office, you need to know if your boss can give that raise in the first place. Your boss may not be able to give anyone a raise—even if you were the most productive and talented employee in the office.
How do you find out? Understand the financial health of the organization. Are they laying off staff? Does your boss have any room in the budget for unexpected raises? If you’re an invaluable employee, bad financial situations don’t necessarily preclude you getting a raise (more on that below). Even a tight budget has room for tweaks. But you need to understand the constraints your boss faces before you walk in that room.
You may discover you can’t reasonably ask for a raise this week, but you might be able to the next month or the month after.
What does it take?
Even in downturns, people still get raises. You need to discover if there are discrete criteria for getting a raise in your company, even in a challenging financial environment. Here’s how to do that:
Come out and ask your boss what it would take to get a raise. The conversation may take you out of your comfort zone, but it’s great practice for your career and life. Who better to tell you the criteria than the person measuring you against the standard?
There are also some additional benefits to asking beyond improving your ability to have difficult conversations. One, it signals to your boss that you’re someone who takes your career seriously; and two, it shows that you want to succeed.
Use your powers of observation. Who has gotten a raise in the past year? This is often a closely guarded secret and, yet, people talk. If you discover those who received raises, put on your analytical hat. What seems to be their “secret”? What do they get done? What projects or roles do they take on?
Build a list of criteria based on your observations and analysis. But make sure to get confirmation that this is what you will get measured against to ensure that raise.
Find out what it takes to be invaluable
Invaluable people can walk into their boss’s office and get what they want. Being invaluable varies from workplace to workplace. Figure out what your workplace values. What do the “powers that be” value? What does your boss value?
(Note: you have to make sure your boss knows you’re invaluable.)
Another way? It’s usually not too hard to spot the superstar in the office. Being the superstar doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re invaluable or that you’ll automatically get a raise, but it’s a pretty secure place.
Observe these rare birds closely. What can you see that they do differently? How do they behave? What do they achieve?
Now that you’ve figured out what gets people a raise, you have to work to meet those criteria. This is prep work of a different sort than researching the market and building an argument; in this instance, you’re doing the work to show you meet or exceed the standard.
Apart from the specific criteria you’ve discovered, this also often involves going above and beyond your job description and working really hard. It may also involve mingling with (and impressing) the right sort of people.
Do you really want it?
Take a hard look in the mirror. Are you willing to do what it takes to get that raise? You may not want to invest your time and energy in those things. Really assess your personal values here. Consider if that level of effort is worth it to you.
The good news is that if you decide to do so, you’ll not only get that raise; you’ll also become even more marketable going forward.
Katie Slater is a recovering finance attorney who now coaches people on their professional development and leadership. Find out more about her and read more of her thoughts at http://careerinfusioncoaching.com, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CareerInfusion and on Twitter @careerinfusion.