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It doesn’t matter if it’s your first job or your tenth -- asking for a raise is always an anxiety-provoking experience. But it might be particularly hard to stomach at your first job -- because how do you know if you’ve leveled up? 

As a rule of thumb, if you’ve been somewhere for awhile -- say a year, give or take -- and you’re consistently doing good work, or you’ve proved you’re more valuable than what you’re currently being paid, you should step up to the plate and ask for more money. Here’s how to assess that at a first job, and then initiate the conversation to get the raise.

Plot your timing wisely.

If you’re at a company that’s institutionalized an annual performance review -- and honors that commitment with employees -- that’s usually going to be your opportunity to renegotiate salary. In fact, it’d be rather unusual for a company like that to give a raise in another context, so you should wait for that meeting. 

If reviews aren’t automatically scheduled, though, then you’ll want to look for a good moment to ask for a performance review: when you’ve finished a big project, when you have a little downtime (for jobs that have busy seasons), when things are going well and your boss is happy.

Gather your facts.

In Hollywood, the raise conversation looks pretty straightforward -- you say, “I want a raise,” and then you receive it. But in real life, this is a conversation you need to prepare for, especially if this is your first job. 

Start by making a list of all of your significant accomplishments, especially those for which you went above and beyond. If you had a pre-employment conversation with your boss about eventual raises and what it takes to unlock that money, you’ll want to refresh your memory on that, too, so that you can point to how you’ve met or exceeded expectations associated with the next compensation level. 

If you have a clear set of metrics to meet, dial into them, and spell out how you’ve achieved them. 

And finally, do a little internet sleuthing to determine how much the average person in your position in your industry with your experience level makes -- that’s a good number to gut check whether what you’re asking for is reasonable, and it gives you a starting point to start considering what number to request.

Quantify your value.

As you look over your list of accomplishments, think about how you can tie your work to the monetary value you’ve added to the company. 

Have you reduced man-hours required to do something because you reconfigured a process? Has your social media prowess brought in new customers and followers? Have you simply worked faster and better than expectations? All of those either save or earn the company money, and bolster your case for a raise.

Prepare your case.

If you’ve never asked for a raise before, you might want to practice articulating your case to a mentor who can give you some advice on how to refine it. Run through clearly stating your accomplishments and value, and get some feedback on how convincing you are.

Initiate the conversation.

Schedule a performance review with your supervisor, and then begin the meeting by clearly stating your intentions. “I’d like to talk about my performance, discuss my future with this company and what I should be working toward, and review my compensation.”

Lay out your case, and express enthusiasm for your future with the company.

Review your accomplishments, and talk about your goals. Part of securing a raise is signaling that you want to stay with your company, so show your excitement for that prospect. Ask for feedback on your career path, and come to agreement on what you should be working toward.

Behave confidently.

The best raise conversations are truly conversations, but don’t back down from your worth. State your facts, counter any knocks on your accomplishments with examples of how you’ve overperformed, and avoid weak language, like, “I just think…” or “Maybe I’m wrong, but…”

State your desired salary.

When you make the ask, make sure you ask for a hard number.

Be prepared to answer questions.

Your supervisor may have questions about your performance or your goals. Be prepared to dig into your accomplishments a little more deeply, or answer questions about what role you’d like to assume next. 

And don’t be thrown off -- hold your ground. Remember, your manager may need to make your case to another higher-up, in which case they need all the data they can get.

Be prepared to negotiate.

Maybe your manager says you’ve asked for a number that’s too high. Ask him or her to tell you what’s reasonable. Maybe he or she says the company isn’t giving raises at all right now. Ask how long that freeze will last, and consider negotiating for other perks, like a flexible schedule or more vacation time. Maybe he or she tells you raises only come with promotions. 

Ask what you need to do to get that promotion. And if you believe from your research that you’re vastly underpaid, be prepared to make a hardline case that while you see a future with this company, you cannot continue to step up your work without a bump in compensation.

Whether you get the raise or not, set a plan for next steps.

The best possible outcome of this conversation is that you get the raise you asked for, and you have a clear plan in place with your manager to reach the next promotion or compensation threshold. But even if you don’t get the raise right now, aim to plot a course to get you there. 

If you have clear metrics to meet for your next step, whatever that is, it’ll be easier to have this conversation in the future.

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