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Thursday, 1 May 2008

How to Ask for a Raise When Times Are Hard

by Tara Weiss

When the economy is in a downturn, employees hunker down and avoid drawing attention to themselves. Asking for a raise? Out of the question.

Not true. If your company is filing for bankruptcy, that's one thing. But work goes on and the best performers—especially the ones who bring on new clients and save their firm money—are justified in asking for a salary hike. The trick is showing your manager how much you're worth.

"The need to reward good employees doesn't change if the economy is in a recession or an upturn," says Doug Arms, chief talent officer for Ajilon Professional Staffing. "Companies make employee investments at different times, and some do it purposely during a recession so they're prepared to come out of it stronger. Employers need to consider what would happen if their best employees leave. The search process is painful since it's so hard to find a good match."

Like with any salary negotiation, find out what people in your market and your position are making. There are several ways to get that information. First, consult a recruiter that specializes in your industry. "Nobody has a better finger on the pulse than a recruiter," says Arms. "They know exactly what your competitors are paying."

You can also find this data on Web sites like PayScale.com. More than 10 million people were surveyed to build the salary database. To find out what you're worth, click on the "Evaluate salary for current job" option. Users must answer 20 questions related to their experience and job responsibilities to find out what others are getting paid.

Once you know your market value, request a conversation with your manager about salary. Don't threaten that you'll leave if you don't get a raise, and stay away from mentioning financial hardship. Instead, remind your manager of the strong contributions you've made. During an economic downturn, highlight new clients you've brought to the firm and cost-saving measures you've enacted. Include the key projects you've completed and goals you've met.

"Yes, your employer might be losing money because of a downturn," says Sherrie Campbell, a workplace expert from PayScale.com. "But if you can prove that you're vital to getting the company through the recession, then a raise is assured."

Next, present your manager with the research you collected on what others in your market are making. If you completed the PayScale salary survey, bring it with you. If you contacted recruiters, mention that. But you want to take a conversational tone instead of a confrontational one. Bring it up as if it's a discussion in which you're presenting research.

"Don't say, 'You're underpaying me,'" says Arms. "Say something like, 'Over the last year we had very specific targets in the organization that I had a vital role in assisting the company with. That, combined with the research I've done on current market conditions, makes me feel that my position here is worth the fair market value. I'd like to have a conversation to discuss my value to the organization.'"

Don't expect to get rejected but be prepared just in case. One route is to consider perks outside of salary. For instance, many people consider additional vacation time just as valuable as money. Other options include health benefits, reimbursement for commuting and professional training in a job-related skill. If you are denied the raise, tell your manager, 'I appreciate that finances are tough now. Can we discuss non-salary perks?'

Another way to deal with rejection is to ask what you can do in the next six months to make this conversation successful the next time. Ask the boss to be as specific as possible.

Says Campbell: "It lets the boss know you're serious and that you're willing to improve to get this raise."

Copyrighted, Forbes.com. All rights reserved.

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