Feel uncomfortable asking for a raise? Join the club – just about everyone stresses about how to approach this delicate discussion. But it’s a skill you can master, and definitely one worth working on.
The following five tips will help build your knowledge, your confidence, and your negotiating position.
1.) Be prepared to describe your accomplishments
The basic idea behind asking for a raise is not simply that you want one, but that you have earned one based on the increased value you’ve provided (and continue to provide) for your employer.
So think through all of the ways your efforts have helped improve the organization in the previous months (or years, if raises have been particularly scarce). These usually fall into the category of increasing revenue or reducing expenses, but might also include coming up with a process that improved patient response times, or volunteering to train your fellow nurses on a new technology the hospital’s introducing, or leading a mentoring program that helps new nurses quickly learn their jobs.
If at all possible, look for something you can quantify – for example, by how much were patient response times improved? If this isn’t an option, another alternative is to present any positive comments from others about your efforts, whether from patients, you co-workers, or even management in other departments.
Make a list of your accomplishments, then review and talk through them on your own or with a friend until you know you’re comfortable presenting this information verbally to your boss.
Can’t find any positive contributions to help justify your request for a raise? Then you may want to put off the discussion until you’ve got a few you can point to, even if that means taking the initiative to go beyond your basic job requirements. As you do so, try to concentrate on activities that very concretely support the success of your department or employer.
2.) Learn the “going rate” for your position
It’s important to know what the general salary range is for your position (within the context of the type of organization you work in and your geographic location) for two reasons. First, if you discover that you’re under the going rate, then you have a strong argument for a raise based on the fact that you’re currently underpaid. Second, you should assume that your boss will either know or find out the average salary for your position, and will point out that you’re already at the top of the range (if that’s the case).
You can fairly quickly find out pay ranges at Salary.com and Payscale, Also, check to see if the nursing associations you belong to do annual salary surveys (many do); often this will have more detailed or localized information that can also be helpful. Another source of pay range information is job postings; not all provide this information, but enough do that they can be a good secondary source.
What about asking coworkers for their salary information? Bad idea. Many employers have explicit policies prohibiting salary discussions, and often employees themselves feel discussing salaries is uncomfortable if not downright inappropriate.
In terms of the “going rate” for salary increases, the Society for Human Resource Management projected average base salary increases of 3.1 percent across most large North American employers. Other experts have suggested that merit-based raises (which may be the type you’re asking for) are likely to be in the range of one to five percent.
3.) Identify what you’re going to ask for
Decide how much of a salary increase you’re going to ask for, and based on items one and two above, why you’re going to ask for that amount. You want to have confidence in the amount you’re asking for, and be comfortable defending your numbers. You don’t necessarily need to assume your boss will argue with you, but the calmer you are when making your case and having the numbers to back it up, the more likely your boss will be to take your request seriously.
Also, if you get push-back on, for example, a five percent merit increase because of financial concerns, consider what else your employer could provide you that might be the equivalent of that five percent increase. This might be an additional two weeks of vacation (equivalent to a four percent increase), or professional development support (conference attendance, tuition reimbursement, etc.) equal to the amount of increase you’re asking for.
An actual pay increase will almost always be the better option because future raises will be based on your existing salary. However, if this truly isn’t an option but your boss signals that he or she is willing to consider other approaches to recognizing your value, then you want to have thought through your options in advance.
4.) Rehearse the conversation
Asking for a raise can be as anxiety-producing as giving a speech – and in some ways that makes sense, because basically when asking for a raise you’re presenting a very well-prepared, persuasive set of facts, and then asking your “audience,” your boss, to act on your information.
Rehearsing your key presentation points with a friend or trusted colleague will help you develop a sense of confidence in your delivery, while also giving you an opportunity to brainstorm how you might handle various ways the discussion might play out. Which brings us to tip five.
5.) Prepare for multiple outcomes
This is basically a variation of “if/then” thinking: if my boss says [ABC], then I’ll respond by saying [XYZ]. Your goal is to figure out as many ways as possible your boss is likely to say “no,” and then decide in advance how you’ll handle those responses.
In fact as you rehearse the possible ways the discussion might go, it’s wise to assume that your boss will initially say “no.” In this case, your goal is to understand what would need to change for the answer to move to “yes.” The more feedback you have about why your boss is saying no, the clearer the path will be to getting to yes.
For example, if your boss said “I’d love to give you this three percent raise, but I just don’t have the money in the budget right now,” your response might be along the lines of “I understand, so I’m happy to compromise by agreeing to a four percent raise that will start with the next budget cycle.” (And then get the agreement in writing.)
Or, if your boss said “I’m only authorized to give two percent increases this year,” you might respond with “I understand; what other options might we have for permanently increasing my overall compensation or benefits to come closer to a four percent increase? (This is where the brainstorming you’ve done in tip three will come in handy.)
And if your boss just completely shuts down your request for an increase without offering any good reason or considering alternatives? Then you have the information you need to decide whether to start looking for a new job (where a bump in your salary is likelier to be closer to ten percent).