How to Negotiate a Raise in a Tight Market

Raises will be in the 3% range on average this year. Can you do better?

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After two years at a top architectural firm, Dara felt it was time for a raise. After all, the 30-something had taken the lead on several residential design projects, begun to manage a small team of direct reports, and was the one who suggested an energy-saving design that helped the firm win a big riverfront condo project.

But somehow, she faltered when it came time to ask her boss for $10,000 more a year. Like watching someone in a mirror, Dara found herself downplaying her accolades-ultimately getting only a proverbial pat on the back by her manager and no more money in her pocket.

Even in the strong economy, the onus is on employees to negotiate better pay for themselves.

The good news: According to a recent survey of human resources managers, more than 80% of firms plan to give raises in 2018. The bad news: Nearly three-quarters of them expect those raises to be 3% or less, which often doesn't even amount to a cost-of-living raise. Experts say that even in the current strong economy, the onus is on employees to have to negotiate better pay for themselves, because, as new research shows, employers are growing stronger, tipping the balance of supply and demand toward the companies-which results in a suppression of wages, in some circumstances.

Prepare, prepare, and prepare

The most obvious advice for asking for a raise is often the most forgotten: Write down your best case in terms your bosses will understand quickly before drifting off to other concerns. Managers are more impressed when employees can clearly show how they saved the company money, boosted sales, or exceeded other quantitative metrics. Don't leave off qualitative accomplishments, either. Bosses often appreciate employees who decreased their own stress levels or showed leadership under pressure.

Salary searches

At the same time, employees need to take as deep a dive as possible into seeing where their own salary stands at the company and among competitors. Several sites have them, of course, including this site, which taps into a database of 6 million workers past and present. Meanwhile, diverse candidates should be keeping up with widespread corporate efforts to repair gender and racial pay gaps; women overall, as of last year, earn about 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, while Asian women earn only about 75 cents on the dollar compared to men. Check if your industry has started an informal networking site or social media group where minorities are sharing their salaries to help gauge whether your pay is in-line with other professionals at your level.

Nice and flexible

It may seem too simple, but Chris Voss, a onetime FBI negotiator and current professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, says just being pleasant and nice-not pushy-matters. "If I say something to you with a smile, I know you're more likely to collaborate than if I'm being really direct," he says. "The more easygoing we are, the more reassuring we are, the harder we can push."

That includes being flexible, which in the heat of the moment can be forgotten. Experts say that employees can lobby for other forms of compensation, such as more paid time off, stock options, or flexible work hours. A boss may not be able to grant a fat raise, of course, but getting another week or two of paid vacation can work out nearly the same, math-wise.

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