How to achieve a Mutually successful Salary Review – 7 key steps
So, unless you have been hiding under a warming blanket for the last few years, you know that your services as a Veterinary Professional are in high demand*. Lately, even more so with the recent pandemic, rising trends in pet ownership and growing consumer interest in high-quality veterinary care. And nearly all forecasts indicate that this customer demand is only going to increase over the coming few years*. But, before you head out for an innocent coffee with that recruitment consultant who has been so persuasively persistent of late to “test the market”, the smart thing to do first is to have “that chat” with your current boss. Here are the seven key steps you need to guide you towards achieving a mutually successful outcome…
Where To Start
The veterinary industry is filled with really nice people like you who love animals and who are always willing to go the extra mile for their care. By your very nature, however, many of you tend to be more focused on the job that you love and the animals you’re able to care for, rather than the money you’re making. Sound familiar?
And yet we all have financial obligations, bills to pay or that still looming student debt, and you have aspirations too, be it travel or buying a home or your first practice. The fact that you love your job and the animals that you care for doesn’t have to mean that you have to let the opportunity for a salary increase pass you by – it’s time to make it happen.
Exploring these essential steps will help you overcome any confrontational sensitivities about asking for and negotiating a raise whilst minimizing your stress and, very importantly, achieving a mutually beneficial outcome for you and your boss…
Step One: Prepare a Strategy
You wouldn’t go into a complex surgery without doing your research and homework, and you shouldn’t go into a conversation about a raise unprepared. Instead, take the time to create a strategy! Think through some of these important questions:
- How much of a raise do you want? Be very specific – then add 50% for negotiating wiggle room
- How much are you making currently? Don’t know? This shouldn’t matter as it is more about how much you contribute to the practice in terms of experience, expertise, example, leadership, and yes, those ugly words, revenue or sales, but your current salary does of course act as a baseline for whom you are negotiating with.
- What do you need to do to prove that 1) you deserve a raise and 2) you’re worth the additional amount? Two related but separate issues.
- Start practising self-confidence – look in the mirror every day for a week and say out loud “I love my job, I am great at my job and I know I am worth (insert new $’s here)”
Preparing a strategy and a step-by-step tactical plan will help you move more efficiently through the process, ensuring that you know what to do next. It can also help ensure that you have the conversation about your raise at the right moment.
Step Two: Start Early
Start thinking about how to approach asking for a raise three months before you want to broach the subject. What can you do to make yourself more useful (and more visible) around your practice? You might, for example, write up a procedure without being asked, spend a few minutes extra nurturing other team members or offer to take on jobs that others in the practice don’t want to deal with. When you practically demonstrate that you’re willing to go the extra mile for your practice, you’ll put yourself in a much better position to get the raise you’re hoping for. Note that the outcome you want is a raise, so it’s important to make your extra efforts visible – that is, to ensure that everyone else sees it, too, especially your boss.
Start subtly highlighting your visibility and efforts about two months before you go in to ask for a raise. This will reinforce that you’re a good team member through your work ethic and sense of responsibility, not just because you’re hoping to make a good impression just before you ask for extra money – but it doesn’t hurt to polish things up a little. So, it’s not really about the raise itself, it’s also about self-improvement generally and your investment in doing so will pay off in many ways.
Step Three: Know Your Market
Have a conversation or three with your peers about what they’re making. This will give you a better idea of what the market in your area can support and what you can afford to ask for in a raise. It’s not wise to discuss this with other vets in your clinic, so you might need to chat with peers who work at other local clinics. Keep in mind that local is the keyword here. What your market can support may differ from what is normal in another city or state. Make sure to take into consideration experience, the type of animals they work with (exotic pet specialists, for example, may be able to draw a higher salary than someone who works primarily with cats and dogs), and other factors that could influence salary.
And yes, about a month before you want “that chat”, start looking online at similar jobs and what they are paying. The suggestion is not that you should be looking to move (although that is another way to get a raise), but to arm you with knowledge and examples that you can draw when framing your negotiations.
Step Four: Have a Goal in Mind
When you head in to negotiate, make sure you know what you’re asking for! ‘I want a raise’ is a great starting place, but that doesn’t tell anyone what you want (or need). Consider how much you want (or need) your current salary to increase, including how much you believe you’re worth based on those important market conversations. Then, ask for an increase of approximately 50% more than you’re hoping to get. If you’re immediately granted that amount, great! In most cases, however, you’ll find that you need to negotiate that salary increase to somewhere near your market value. Be prepared to discuss the amount you want as well as why you feel you deserve that salary increase.
Be specific, very specific, and set a total salary that you aspire to achieve. Negotiating Tip: Always discuss the new total, not the amount of increase, and choose a slightly odd number eg $81,000 or $127,000. A subtle but important and effective tactic.
Bear in mind, nowadays it’s not just about more money – although that is highly important, it’s also about all the other benefits; flexible scheduling, continuing education, your actual, real working hours, having a three-day or four-day work week, or even working part-time, vacation time and work-life balance, even a weekly Yoga class. And as your confidence gains, it might be time to discuss profit sharing, bonuses, and a pathway to partnership.
Step Five: Prepare Your Arguments
You have a strategy in mind for going after this raise. Now, sit down and take the time to prepare your arguments: that important list of qualities that explains why you deserve an increase in your salary. What have you accomplished for your practice? What have you done that no one else has? Take into consideration:
- Those extra efforts you have been working towards, above and beyond doing your job
- Commitment and reliability
- Any specialty skills you have that aren’t shared by others in your practice
- Special accomplishments you’ve recently managed: new certifications, new knowledge or skills, or lifesaving measures or cases that you’re particularly proud of
Preparing the list ahead of time will help prevent you from feeling as though you’ve been put on the spot when you’re sitting in front of your boss–not to mention making you calmer and better prepared for the conversation.
Step Six: Choose the Right Time And Place
Timing is critical when you’re asking for a raise. Choose a low-stress time when things typically aren’t too busy around your practice. Early in the day, when stress levels haven’t had a chance to increase, may be best, since you want to be sure that your boss is in a great mood. Note that the time of the year can matter, too: if you know that your practice has slow periods – for example, over the winter or during the holidays when families tend to be busier and might not schedule routine vet care – it might not be the best time to negotiate for a raise. Choose a time when the business is buoyant and billings are flowing in; you will be surprised how much of a difference this makes.
Ensure that you set a meeting well ahead of time so that your boss isn’t blindsided by the sudden request for an appointment, and let them know clearly what the subject matter will be and that you want an hour of their time. This will put both of you in the best possible position for the discussion. And try to have at least two non-salary meetings with your boss in the few weeks leading up to when you start negotiations. You will start to build a rapport and a conversation familiarity that will be helpful once discussions commence.
And choose the “where” as wisely as you chose the “when”. You certainly want it to be in a private space where interruptions are unlikely. Off-site can be advantageous, but not in a coffee shop or over lunch, you need to keep things business-like and focused.
Step Seven: Practice Makes Perfect
Find a friendly associate who knows the industry, a mentor is great too if you have one (you should). And role-play your salary review meeting, working step by step through your meeting plan towards your goal.
In particular, you need to practice:
- How to ask for your raise – the very specific wording you are going to use
- How to overcome objections – anticipate what they might be and be prepared
- Know when to talk and when to keep quiet – let them do the talking
- How to bring the discussion to a mutually beneficial close
Some larger organizations have a clear and structured process regarding salary reviews. The art for you in these situations is not to get bulldozed or railroaded by the process. The same steps apply, but they might be spread across several weeks and with multiple people. Be patient, be determined, and be proud of your valuable experience and expertise.
Success in negotiating the best outcome to improve your salary and benefits is undoubtedly driven by developing a sound strategy and a practical, tactical plan and always aiming for a mutually beneficial result. But it is also all about why it is well-deserved and what it will mean to you, your lifestyle, and your friends and family. You work hard. Everyone in the veterinary space does. And you love what you do.
But you also have a responsibility to yourself – it’s not selfish, it’s about establishing your self-worth. And you are indeed worth it!
Negotiating for a raise doesn’t have to be one of the scariest things you do all year. With a solid strategy in mind, you can move forward with your plans and get the salary and benefits increase you want and need, all without having to stress about it!
PS – Rinse and repeat next year – this should be an annual event in your diary and life plan.
* According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the USA and similar bodies in the UK, Australia, and worldwide, opportunities for Veterinarians are set to climb by 19 per cent through 2026, while roles for Veterinary Nurses and Veterinary Technicians will increase by 20 per cent in that same time frame.
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