How to Ask for a Raise

September 2, 2016
Jeff Brown, MD

Now that over 50% of doctors are salaried, knowing how to ask for a raise assumes an unexpectedly large place in our financial planning.

Now that over 50% of doctors are salaried, knowing how to ask for a raise assumes an unexpectedly large place in our financial planning. And, like so many things financial and organizational, in medical training we get little exposure, let alone formal education, in some of these vital skills.

The first time to “ask for a raise” is the brief window when you are initially given a job offer. Your employer has high hopes for you, and if you go in prepared, you will get a positive result. Make sure that you have a written understanding of when reviews are to be done and upon what they will be based. If you can’t get your initial ask, arrange for a review to be made in, say, six months instead of a year.

When that time comes, again, be prepared. Be aware of context; how are things going for the organization as a whole and your department in particular? Perhaps you have just done something really noteworthy and you are taking advantage of that to step forward ahead of schedule. Especially be aware of how your boss’ career is going. Your ability to get a raise will depend in good measure on his/her perception of how your work is bolstering their position.

Keep in mind that any potential raise will come easier out of next year’s budget rather than this year’s, which is already set. As in all aspects of life, professional and otherwise, timing is everything.

You should have a private appointment at a suitable time for both of you and be appropriately dressed. Look and act like someone who deserves a raise. Confident, yet respectful, even humble. These things matter. Next, have a list in writing of your tasks and accomplishments. It really helps if you have some benchmarks, internal and external, for responsibilities met and income status.

Some horse trading is always involved, so ask for a bit more than you expect. Know that nationally raises have recently been in the 3% range, unless you can make a solid case for more, like saving the organization money, or being especially productive.

Be flexible. If a permanent raise isn’t offered, ask for a one-time bonus based on some accomplishment that put you in a good light. Or settle for a perk like more time off. Human nature is such that once a person has said no to a request, they find it more difficult to say no to a second, perhaps lesser, face-saving request.

Always think of these interchanges as a conversation. Friendly, but on point. Importantly, be a good listener and show it. This conversation is all about “us,” not just “me.”

Perhaps what you are seeking is not a raise per se, but a promotion that incorporates a raise. Typically, these come in at least 10%. Your preparation should be similar; you have to make a case that you are the right person to help your boss and the organization, and your timing for such an opening is good.

Lastly, always think through the “what if.” Not just for the promotion or raise, but what if your approach is rebuffed. First, do not react negatively in any way. Stay positive and ask what goals and objectives are to be targeted and ask for specific date (to turn the no to a yes).

If rebuffed, you might want to review what your future is in that organization and if your position is in line with your goals. If not, quietly put together a resume and begin looking for a better fit. Historically docs relocated at a 1% annual rate when they were all self-employed. Recent migration numbers for salaried docs now exceed 10% annually. Such is progress.