You may have to negotiate for a raise

WORKING LIFE

November 12, 1995|By Deborah L. Jacobs | Deborah L. Jacobs,CHRONICLE FEATURES

Between budget cuts and downsizings, companies don't always reward good workers with raises. Often, the money goes not to the best troopers, but to the best negotiators.

It's a rug bazaar: You ask for what you think the market will bear, you play up all the value you offer, and then you wait for a reaction. The stakes are high. Push too hard, and the boss might call your bluff. Don't push hard enough, and you may never get what you're worth.

There's no magic formula for figuring out how much you should ask for. But leave room for compromise by proposing a number slightly higher than what you're willing to accept. To avoid losing credibility with outrageous requests, get some background about what the company pays people with similar credentials and responsibilities. (For a free copy of last week's column on how to find out what co-workers earn, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to me c/o this paper.)

One expert suggests that you start with a memo and follow up with a meeting. But another believes that by tipping your hand, you give the boss a chance to come up with reasons to say no.

Whether or not you write before you meet, rehearse what you plan to say, with family or trusted friends outside the company. They can help you come up with answers to any objections the boss may raise.

Unless you're involved in a lawsuit for sex, race or age discrimination (not usually the best way to propel your career), don't mention specific co-workers in your discussions. ("Joe is making $10,000 more than I am and we do the same job.") It's just as effective to say, for example: "I know I'm paid a lot less than some people around here who have the same duties."

If the boss suddenly criticizes your performance, you might say, "I'm sorry that you don't think my work merits a higher level of compensation, and I want to correct that impression. I hope I can meet with you again in a month," suggests Dee Soder, an executive coach in New York. A negative response to repeat requests could mean you should be job-hunting.

These days it's more likely that the boss will give budgetary reasons for turning you down. So you should have in mind alternatives, like a commission, a one-time bonus or a company car. Some privileges cost the company next to nothing, but can make a big difference in your finances or outlook. These include a promotion, a better title, or an extra week's vacation. Flexible hours or permission to work one day a week at home can save you a costly commute.

Try to leave the meeting with a commitment on how you both will follow up. (Don't forget to say, "Thank you for your time.") For the boss, that might mean submitting paperwork to higher-ups. For you, it might mean reaching specific goals as a condition for a future increase.

Then begin your next campaign. Like holiday shopping budgets, asking for a raise is something you should be preparing for all year, rather than waiting until the last minute.

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