"I haven’t had a raise in a while” won’t get you anywhere.

Human Resources Thinks Your Salary Should Be?

“I haven’t had a raise in a while” won’t get you anywhere. Follow these tips from 20-year HR veteran Lee Miller on how to ask for a raise.

What goes through the mind of a human-resources executive when you ask for a raise? How does he evaluate your request? Knowing what HR managers are thinking and the process they go through when you request a raise in salary or benefits can help you decide when to ask and how to negotiate. I spent 20 years working as a senior human-resources executive, including several years as head of human resources at Barneys New York, USA Networks and TV Guide. During the course of those 20 years, I was asked many times to evaluate whether or not someone was worth the money.

Once you’ve spoken with your boss and secured her support for your raise, here are some tips on the HR process of approving your salary and steps you can take to improve your chances of getting the raise you want:

Timing is everything

If you know how HR approaches salary increases, you’ll understand that you can’t just wake up one morning and ask for a raise. You must prepare well in advance and lay the groundwork first. If raises are given at a set time each year, (for example, in conjunction with annual reviews), you need to broach the subject well ahead of time. Once recommendations for raises have been submitted for approval, it is too late. That often occurs months before reviews are actually administered.

Justify your case

Once you’ve mapped the appropriate time for your request, you need to prove why you deserve a raise. Not just any reason will do, though. “I have not had a raise in a long time” is not a reason that will resonate with an HR executive. Neither is, “My son will be starting college next fall, and I have to come up with money for tuition.” Those are reasons you want a raise, not reasons the company should want to give you one.
Keep in mind that HR probably played some role in setting your current salary. So in order to garner its support for giving you a raise, something needs to have changed since your current salary was determined. Here are some examples of valid reasons that can justify a salary increase.

“I just completed my MBA.”

“I have been your top producer over the past six months.”

“I took over additional responsibilities when Joe left three months ago and have handled them without a hitch.”

Do the homework

Suggesting that your salary has fallen below the external market is also a legitimate reason for HR to support your request. However, if you are going to base your request for a raise on market conditions, you need to have the data to support that claim. Because the market tends to be amorphous and job titles vary from company to company, salary data will be carefully scrutinized by HR. In addition to survey data, periodically checking job posts in your industry is an excellent way to determine the current market value for your position.

You can also appeal to fairness in terms of the salaries being paid to others at the company. However, HR was probably initially involved in those decisions; unless the people responsible for initially setting your salary are no longer there, getting HR to admit that it was complicit in unfair behavior will be difficult, if not impossible. It is more likely than not, if you present the issue in that way, that HR will point to difference in skills, experience or performance to justify its prior decision, actually reducing the likelihood that your salary will be increased.

Usually a better approach – one that avoids the need to attack past decisions – is to base your request for a salary increase on changes that have occurred since your current compensation was set. If, for example, recent hires in similar positions have been brought in at higher salaries, you can argue that the market for this position has changed since you were hired. The fact that an employer has to pay higher salaries to recruit from the outside can be used to demonstrate that your salary has fallen out of step with the market. You can use that information along with other compensation data to show that your salary is no longer competitive. Look at the job boards on which your company normally posts openings to see salaries being offered to new hires.

Address other offers with HR

A strong rationale for requesting a raise is, “I have another job offer.” That not only is strong evidence that you are being paid below your market worth, but it triggers a self-interested response from HR. If you leave to accept a higher paying job elsewhere, HR will have to recruit a replacement. That entails a substantial amount of work on its part, along with the expenditure of time and money to train that replacement. And, in the end, the company may still have to pay even more money to attract a suitable replacement.

However, the company will not respond favorably to being informed of another job offer if it perceives you are using it as a threat. No one likes to be threatened. You may even be asked to leave immediately once you inform the company you are considering another offer. That risk can be reduced if you approach the subject properly.
No matter what you say, the threat of departure is implicit when you use another offer. It is generally best, though, not actually to threaten to leave if you don’t get the salary increase you are seeking. Let your company know you have received another offer but that you are not really interested in accepting it because you like the company and your current position. Note that the offer reinforces your previously held belief that your compensation is below market, and ask for your company’s help in rectifying that disparity. That way you avoid the perception that you are presenting them with an ultimatum.

Lee E. Miller

Lee E. Miller is managing director of NegotiationPlus.com and an adjunct professor at Columbia University, New York. He is a career coach, corporate trainer, negotiating strategist and professional speaker. He is the author of Get More Money on Your Next Job … In Any Economy (McGraw Hill, 2009) and A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating (McGraw Hill, 2010), which he cowrote with Jessica Miller, his eldest daughter.

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