You’ve worked hard, separated yourself from the pack, and feel you have earned a salary increase, but now you need to ask for it. Negotiating a raise is no easy task and is intimidating no matter how much experience you have. An employer will not simply hand over a significant increase when asked nicely, so how do you best approach the topic?
Timing Is Everything
Understand how and when raises are typically determined at your firm or company. In many cases, salary increases are communicated during annual review, and it may seem natural to use that meeting to negotiate. However, in most situations the annual review meeting is too late. By then, the budget for the following year is set, and even if your supervisor or partner agrees with you, they may have very little room to move beyond what was decided prior to the review meeting. At other companies, the review meeting may be exactly when such a discussion is expected, with final budgets established shortly after. Ask people at your firm who have been there longer—a mentor, or even your review partner or supervisor. Be clear that you’re just hoping to understand the way things work, not trying to have the discussion at that moment.
Do Your Homework
Research can help you learn what similar employers are paying those at your level. While your market may be different from others with more information available (salary ranges are rather different in Minneapolis compared with Washington, D.C.), it will help you craft your pitch if you can speak to outside data indicating what you are worth. Relationships with headhunters and outside recruiters can be a big asset. They have great information about the salaries paid to those in positions similar to yours.
Toot Your Horn Loud and Proud
Many people are uncomfortable telling others how great they are, but you are your best advocate. Only you know the extent of your accomplishments. What extra activities are you doing that make you worth the extra expense as opposed to another associate? Maybe you brought in business during your third year, when your firm doesn’t expect it until year five. Or you go to monthly bar association events, giving your company needed exposure in a new area. Perhaps you were published, and people now know to call your firm when they require assistance in your practice area. Are you doing pro bono work in the community on the firm’s behalf? All of these are great ways to set yourself apart and show that you are adding value at a level beyond the expectations of your role at the firm or company. Bringing supporting documentation (e.g., articles, a list of accomplishments) to the discussion helps ensure that you don’t omit anything and that your supervisors can easily pass on the good word to other decision makers.
Don't Use Other Offers as Leverage
It’s easy to think the best way to settle on the number you want is to get another offer and present it to your supervisor, but this is rarely a good idea. First, it tells your employer that even if you accept a counteroffer, you are actively looking at other employment opportunities and may leave at any time. Second, if your firm doesn’t counter, you must be ready to leave and take the outside offer.
It’s important to have a strong pitch as to why you deserve a raise, but you don’t want to come across as entitled. It may seem counterintuitive, but junior partners frequently earn less than senior associates at law firms when you take into account the buy-in for partnership—a fact not often advertised, but still true. Not only that, but while you may be billing enough hours to bring in enough revenue to pay your salary, from an employer’s perspective, you cost more than just a salary. There are benefits and general overhead costs (staff, office space, equipment, etc.) that are worth understanding before you begin a compensation discussion.
Go for It!
Depending on your employer, you may need to set a meeting with someone specific to discuss your salary, or a more informal process might be preferred. Bottom line: you’re doing amazing things, and you want to ensure that your employer knows it and fairly compensates you for it. But it won’t happen until you ask for it!