These days, most employees are feeling lucky just to have a job, so the prospect of asking for a raise may seem like pure chutzpah at best and career suicide at worst. But that's not quite true. Even in these dismal economic times, it's possible to ask for more money and get it.
So it's worth starting to plan for your next raise now.
Global HR consulting firm AON Hewitt said workers across the board can expect raises of 2.9 percent in 2012. That's actually an improvement from last year (about 2.7 percent) and a big jump from the record low of 1.8 percent in 2009.
Of course, those are averages. Not everyone will get a raise, but some will — and here's how to increase your odds of being one of them.
Figure out what you're worth
Before asking for more money, a worker must know how much he or she is worth on the open market. If you're way below scale, that may give you some negotiating room. Sites such as www.salarysurveys.milliman.com give detailed comparisons by region and industry. Others, such as PayScale.com and Salary.com "ask a few questions about your past experience and education and can give a good ballpark number," said Suki Shah, CEO and co-founder at GetHired.com. "It also may be worth checking out CNN's Cost of Living calculator, which tells you how much your current salary is worth in another city, so if you are moving, you can request appropriate compensation."
Schedule a review
Before requesting a raise, ask the boss to sit down and give you a formal review. This is a chance for you to lay out the specifics of your accomplishments, the success you've had and the contributions you have made to the firm. These successes will be the basis of your raise, and a formal review gives you the chance to lay them on the table for consideration. At this point, you're not talking about a raise, but rather showing a readiness to give even more to the company.
"Frame the conversation as a way for you to improve in your position at the company and help the bottom line," Shah said. What you get later likely will be based on what you give now.
Take a course
Not everyone knows how to negotiate. It's a learned skill, and there are multiple avenues to learn it. Negotiating salary can be especially challenging for veterans, who have spent their whole careers having pay and benefits defined for them. "Look at books first," said Greg Szymanski, human resources director at Seattle contracting firm Geonerco. "Try Amazon and look at user reviews. If the author is getting consistently high marks by many readers, take that seriously."
Established organizations such as the American Association of University Women deliver courses in negotiation. Harvard University offers training that may last from a day to a week. Consultants, such as the Stitt Feld Handy Group, offer coursework online.
Consider price, content and reviews by past participants before signing on for any such program.
Time it right
Do not catch the boss by surprise. An unexpected visit likely will not receive a warm welcome when the visitor has dropped by to ask for a raise. A blindside may draw a knee-jerk rejection, and in any case, it's in the employee's interest to give the boss a chance to prepare. If your portfolio is full of noteworthy accomplishments, you'll want the boss to have it handy when you start your pitch.
The best time for the big meeting? When you're ahead.
"You hit a home run. You just hit the project out of the park and the fans are cheering. Negotiate for better terms while you are still considered a superstar," said Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Northampton, Mass.-based Human Resource Solutions.
Make the pitch
The moment of truth arrives. Remember that competitive salary data you compiled? Shelve it for now. Don't ask, "See how much I could be making elsewhere?" It's best to hang on to this data until someone from HR objects that you already are making all you should be. Then pull out the competitive numbers.
Instead, begin with a candid demonstration of your worth, because that's what this is all about: What have you done for us lately? Refer to that performance review, describe your accomplishments and tie them back to the company's success.
The backbone of any effort to secure a raise comes down to your ability to show the boss the value you bring to the table.
According to a survey by Towers Watson Data Services, workers who receive the highest performance ratings earn median salary increases of 4.5 percent — a whopping 80 percent more than workers with average ratings (2.5 percent) and miles beyond those with below-average performance ratings (1.4 percent).
How to get a raise? Work hard, succeed and be ready to demonstrate your worth to the company. You'll make more money when they make more money. That's basic business sense.