Settling into your first “real” job can take some time – there’s a steep learning curve while you adjust to the ways of the working world.
As an entry-level worker, one of the more difficult lessons that you’ll need to learn is about how to manage your salary expectations.
A fair salary should reflect your value to the organization you work for.
Your worth as an employee is based on many factors: your level of responsibility, work experience, level of education, skill set and accomplishments, any awards or extra credentials you’ve earned and the contributions you make to the overall success of the company.
Your salary will also usually be determined, at least in part, by the industry you work in, your location and your employment benefits (if any).
So how are you to know what you should be earning?
1. Do your homework
Research similar positions, within similar industries and in similar geographic areas, to determine the average pay for the kind of work you do.
Pay close attention to job descriptions – the salaries you research should be for positions with duties and a level of responsibility akin to yours – and keep track of the market data you collect to use later in your negotiations. Certain websites, like PayScale.com, are a good starting point because they provide average salaries for a range of positions and industries.
2. Evaluate your performance
What have you brought to your position and to the organization you work for?
What have you done well? What have you learned since taking on your position?
How do you go above and beyond what’s expected of you?
Knowing how to answer these questions is key to being able to demonstrate that you deserve a raise. Keep an ongoing record of your accomplishments and any positive feedback you receive regarding the work you do to help you prove your value to your employer.
You’ll also want to think about the ways in which you still have room to grow and why the company should continue to invest in you. Be honest with yourself when answering these questions and develop an argument for why it’s in your employer’s interest to adjust your compensation.
3. Anticipate potential counter-arguments
Think about the possible reasons you may be declined a raise. For example, your boss might say that they don’t have the money in the budget right now, to which you could respond by offering a creative (read: non-monetary) solution, such as extra paid vacation days, professional development funding or other benefits.
Be sure to present these alternatives in a collaborative way.
4. Ask for a (timely) meeting
If possible, find out when your employer does salary reviews or makes budget decisions and ask for a meeting a to discuss your professional goals a few months prior.
If this isn’t possible, you can still increase your chances of success by scheduling the meeting after you’ve done something well or during a relatively low-stress period. If things are particularly busy, focus on doing excellent, dependable work instead of agitating for a raise – this contribution will be valuable later.
5. Practice the “ask”
Prepare what you plan to say in your meeting and maybe even ask a friend to pretend to be your boss in a mock negotiation.
Practice talking yourself up in the same way you might do before a job interview. You may find it tough to go on about your strengths without feeling conceited, but this is one of the rare instances where modesty may do more harm than good.
To keep yourself from sounding (or feeling) arrogant, make sure to connect your suggested value to your employer back to specific tasks and accomplishments.
6. State your case
You’re finally ready to have “the talk.”
Tell your employer that you asked for this meeting to discuss your compensation because you believe you deserve a raise.
Share the research you’ve done about typical salary ranges for comparable positions and talk about your strong performance so far and how you bring value to your position.
Be respectful but confident. Emphasize that you look forward to continuing to grow with the organization. Explain why you have earned a raise, not why you need one.
7. Be prepared for the outcome
Hopefully, you and your employer can come to an agreement about a reasonable adjustment to your salary. If you don’t get what you feel you deserve though, it might be time to find a new position where your employer will recognize your true value.