4 things to do before you ask for a raise

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — no, not the holidays — performance-review season at work! Now is when many employers evaluate their employees’ contributions to the organization’s mission and bottom line, and then make decisions about raises, bonuses, and promotions accordingly. So it’s a great time to ask for a raise.

But if you aren’t able to make a good case for yourself, then you might find that not only is your career becoming stagnant but also that you could be first on the chopping block in the event of corporate (or wider) economic misfortune. Assuming you don’t want to be considered disposable in the eyes of your employer, here are some tactics and strategies to implement before you ask for a raise. They might just help increase your chances of success.

1. Use your initial job interview to set the stage.

Remember how nobody cares about your money more than you do? Well, nobody cares about your career more than you do, either. In fact, in many ways your career and your money are arguably the same thing.

Employer giving performance review

While there are (probably) supervisors out there who will proactively approach you with advancement opportunities appropriate for your skill set, it’s safer to assume that you’ll need to take matters into your own hands.

The best time to set expectations is, of course, before you even have the job. So if you’re still job-hunting, give some serious thought to your career trajectory. Where do you want to be in five or 10 years? How will the jobs you apply for contribute to your end goal? Voice that end goal during the interview process while making sure to be clear about what you can offer immediately.

You can also use the interview to articulate what skills you will gain in the position that will enable you to increase your contribution proportionately. This can help portray you as someone with ambition, and can also help put you at the forefront of your supervisor’s mind when the right opportunity comes along.

2. Use a performance review to re-interview … for the job you really want.

The second-best time to set expectations is, of course, right now. If your employer doesn’t schedule face-to-face meetings as part of the performance-review process, request one. If such meetings are part of the process, come prepared. Don’t complain about opportunities for which you’ve been passed over; instead, point out what knowledge or skill sets you’ve gained or currently possess that are under-utilized — and then express a desire to maximize your contribution accordingly.

In other words, just as you should think of interviewing a prospective employer as a two-way street, so too is the performance-review process. However, it’s important that you don’t just offer to do more work — identify a job title commensurate with the role you are offering to take on and request that the issue be revisited down the road. And don’t be pie-in-the-sky about it — if you think strategically and can anticipate a genuine need, it’s much more likely that you’ll be taken seriously.

Additionally, if you are pursuing or considering a certificate or other credential that would make you more valuable in the eyes of your employer, let them know sooner rather than later. They might be able to support you in your endeavors, for example, by paying the associated costs or adjusting your schedule to accommodate your efforts. Providing a heads-up also gives them a chance to make whatever preparations are necessary to ensure the appropriate promotional opportunity is available for you and set a succession plan in place for your current responsibilities.

5 things that can help you become indispensable at work

  • Think strategically about how to make a positive impact on your employer’s business.
  • Raise your standards for being punctual, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Determine how you can exceed expectations for your performance on the job.
  • Gain industry knowledge and teach others what you learn.
  • Seek opportunities and ask for additional responsibilities.

3. Document your contributions and successes quantitatively.

Maybe you’ve heard of a “brag file” or “glory file.” This strategy actually goes by different names, but the point is that you should keep track of your accomplishments in concrete and measurable terms. Depending on the size of your team, your boss may not notice or remember everything you’re doing right. Preparing a document that outlines your achievements will not only make it easy for him or her to effectively assess your performance, it will also create a permanent record of your professional growth and justify your requests for advancement.

Keeping track of the nuts and bolts of your contributions will also help you apply for positions outside your current company, which you should probably be doing even if you’re happy where you are. There are numerous reasons for this:

  • Switching companies within the same industry may be the most effective way to advance professionally.
  • Interviews provide a forum in which you can explain and contextualize your accomplishments, which is great practice for a performance-review meeting.
  • If you are offered a better position elsewhere, you may be able to leverage that offer into a promotional opportunity with your current company.

One thing to note is that, if you are offered an outside position and attempt to use that offer to open negotiations with your current employer, you have to be prepared to resign gracefully. When I told my former employer I’d been offered another job, the first words out of my supervisor’s mouth were “Congratulations! When’s your last day?” My new job is a better fit for a variety of reasons; but if I’d been bluffing, I would have been s- — out of luck, as they say.

4. Keep your personal life out of it.

Being friendly is one thing, and no one at work expects you to talk about nothing but your job. However, while it is important to build collegial relationships with your co-workers, it’s also important that your performance reviews are just that: reviews of your performance. The fact that your dog needed emergency surgery or that you want to save money in a high-yield savings account for a down payment on a house or start a family aren’t factors that your employer considers when determining whether you merit a salary increase.

In fact, admitting that you are effectively living paycheck to paycheck can backfire big-time. If your employer can smell your desperation, they hold all the cards. While this isn’t a reason to be fake or disingenuous, it is a reason to be careful what you share throughout the year, not just during performance-review season.

On a related note, it’s important not to gossip or complain about work, at work. Doing so can make you seem petty and irresponsible, and who thinks those qualities make you a good candidate for a raise? No one, that’s who.

Final thoughts

Being strategic about creating a professional persona, developing and practicing your skills, and recording and articulating your accomplishments year-round will help you prepare for that crucial hour with your supervisor when performance-review time rolls around. Don’t assume you can wing it or rely strictly on your charm. Preparation is key to success.

How do you prepare for performance reviews? What has worked (or not worked) for you when asking for a raise? Share your strategies and stories in the comments below!

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