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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAREERS / Benefits Puzzle

In Era of Downsizing, a Few Hints for Getting a Raise

Compensation: There are right and wrong ways to ask for a boost in pay. Here's a sampling of each.

September 09, 1996|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The getting of more money is never easy.

Factor in downsizings and restructurings and it seems that the phrase "big raise" should be shelved along with such anachronistic workplace terms as "fully funded medical benefits" and "generous company pension."

But as stingy as companies appear to be these days, people receive pay increases all the time.

How is this accomplished? It takes research into what the market is shelling out for your skills, detailed explanations of how you have helped the company since your last review and a snappy line of patter.

How you approach a negotiation is crucial, said Jack Chapman, author of "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute" (Tenspeed Press).

"There's a Blondie cartoon where Dagwood says: 'I'm going to get a raise today or know the reason why,' " Chapman said. "At the end, Dagwood says: 'Now I know the reason why' after he's been dressed down by his boss."

Don't let it happen to you. Take advantage of the expert advice offered below on how to go about asking for more money.

* THE WRONG WAY

"Well, it's my 10th anniversary here at old Widgetmaker Inc. and I want a raise this time!"

This is a bad start, said Marilyn Moats Kennedy, a Wilmette, Ill., career counselor and publisher of a monthly newsletter called Kennedy's Career Strategist.

First off, it's keyed to an anniversary, and many companies no longer care about longevity, Kennedy said. Second, the demand immediately puts the supervisor on the defensive.

Kennedy doesn't even like the word "raise." She prefers "adjustment."

"It's my 50th birthday and I want a face lift, so I absolutely need $5,000."

Too personal and too emotional, said Charlene Walker, a career counselor and co-owner of Tustin-based Womens Focus.

"You don't want to take the employer hostage," Walker said. "Because this is an uncomfortable thing, asking for money, [employees] get kind of huffy. They hold their breath before they go in, get beet red and explode."

What's more, the request has nothing to do with your job performance, she said.

"I just found out that everybody in the department is making more than I am."

Too argumentative, Kennedy said. And it invites the boss to deny what office gossip has revealed about salary levels.

"If the grapevine says everyone is getting a raise and your boss says no one is getting an increase, [the boss's version] is never true," Kennedy said.

Another red flag: the boss says "I'll try" to find the money for a raise. It will never be found, she said. A better tack is to research what the market is paying and to prove you are worth that much.

* THE RIGHT WAY

"Thank you for taking the time to see me today."

Starting out in a businesslike tone is always a good idea, Walker said. Chances are that you had to request a special meeting, so the supervisor is taking time away from some other task.

"I want to know what you think of my job performance since my last review."

This invites the supervisor to speak. As he or she does so, revise the script you have prepared in your head in response, Walker said. Be ready with your own evaluation in case the supervisor has little to say.

"I want to tell you about some of the projects I have completed recently and how they have helped the company."

Use specific examples of recent projects that you have successfully completed and how they have helped the company. Take the information in with you on index cards. Rehearse what you plan to say.

If you don't have any spectacular successes to trumpet, Chapman said, look for things that might fall into the "nice going" or "it could have been worse" categories.

For example, maybe retail sales slipped because a big competitor opened down the street, but it could have been much more serious if you hadn't done whatever it was that you did.

Chapman suggests sending the boss a one-page memo outlining your accomplishments in advance.

"I've been doing a review of my job responsibilities and I believe my work has changed and grown in the following ways. . . . I believe my salary needs to reflect that.

"You have to be able to prove that the job has changed in some way," Kennedy said.

"You have to be prepared to hear, 'We think you're worth what we're paying you,' or 'the job isn't worth more,' " she said. "If someone is cleaning your house for $60, what would they have to do to be worth $90, and is it possible? That's hard for some people to comprehend, that their job might not be worth more."

"I think I am worth more to the company than I am being paid, and I think my compensation should reflect that."

Be open to compensation other than cash, Walker said. That could be a title, a better office, a company car, tuition reimbursement, more insurance, more time off or more flexible hours, she said.

"You have to come up with a personal contract detailing what you are willing to take," she said.

"I've got a job offer from XYZ Corp. for significantly more money than I'm making now. This causes me to think that I'm making much less than the market is willing to pay. What can we do about this?"

Kennedy thinks the best way to get a raise during these penny-pinching times is to have a counteroffer from another company.

But if you use this approach, be prepared for the possibility that the boss might be willing to let you accept that competing offer, which is why it had better be more than a negotiating ploy, Kennedy said.

"Never ask a question that you don't want to hear the answer to," she said.

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