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Overdue for a Payout?

When Michelle Merino interviewed for a senior product-designer job at a software company in Portland, Ore., she was promised a creative work environment and quick advancement. So she worked hard to move up the ladder, often staying late and taking work home.

But the stuttering economy and reticent managers didn't help. She was passed up for raises, promotions and even regular employee reviews. Appealing to her boss didn't help.

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"Negotiation isn't always enough when the company isn't paying attention to employee needs. Sometimes you just have to leave to get what you deserve," says Ms. Merino, who took her two years of hard experience to another software company that happily gave her a director position and a big bump in pay.

Now that the economy is picking up and companies are starting to hire again, employees might be able to finally cash in on their years of recessionary sweat and sacrifice.

But a successful pitch for an overdue raise or a promotion may still require proof of real performance, say experts, since companies are now expecting more from their employees. At the same time, companies don't want to lose good employees and will do what it takes to keep them.

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"If you've kept up with rising expectations, that might not be enough to get what you want. Just as you would during good economic periods, you have to justify that raise or promotion by beating the assumptions," says Mike Starich, president of Orion International Consulting, a recruiting firm in Austin, Texas. "Of course, high-performing employees who really are being overlooked have every right to look around at other opportunities."

Back up your pitch with research since hard numbers are tough to dispute. You also want to verify that your performance has been more than historically average, says Mr. Starich. That includes comparing your numbers with colleagues who may be having as good a year as you are, and even peers at other companies. To your past accomplishments, add plans for how you'll do even better in the future. Base your case for a raise on merit, not need, and be sure to pad your figure with some negotiation room.

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Keep detailed work notes so you can remind your boss of what you've done, says Rebecca Weingarten, a career coach based in New York City. "You want to list all of your markers of productivity and income generation, or what you've done to minimize loss, and something that shows how well you've done despite having less to work with."

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Try to understand issues your manager may be facing, such as frozen budgets or workplace politics. It can help to steer the conversation in the right direction and allow you to scale your request. "At the very least, you can try to bargain for some additional perks," says Ms. Weingarten.

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