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How to Get the Raise You Want

Jeanine Skowronski

The recession has ended (officially at least), the job market is showing small signs of improvement, and according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder.com, some hiring managers are willing to start negotiating salary increases with their employees.

Sounds like the perfect time to ask for a raise, right? Not so fast. According to career experts, employees may still want to think twice before approaching their bosses about a wage hike.

"Check with your HR department to see what their schedule for raises is," Allison Nawoj, corporate communications director of CareerBuilder, tells MainStreet. "Some companies start the process very early in the year, others wait until later in the year. Some won't be offering raises at all."

Just because the economy has improved doesn't mean that your company's financial status has, Nawoj says. Moreover, she advises anyone working at a company that is still in the red not to expect -- or aggressively pursue -- one. Nick Jimenez, executive vice president of recruitment site Climber.com, agrees.

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"The days of being average and getting a 3% to 5% raise are over," Jimenez says. "Unless you're exceptional, you're not going to get a raise."

In other words, mediocre employees need not apply -- especially when you consider that a botched salary negotiation can be easily misconstrued. According to Jimenez, recruiters who use Climber.com say that what they value most in an employee these days is loyalty and an overall positive attitude. Demanding a raise, he says, especially when you don't have the job performance to back it up, can come across as negative and, as such, garner some unwanted attention if the raise isn't awarded.

"They're going to be watching you to see how that affects your attitude and productivity," he says.

Having said that, however, Jimenez asserts that employees who have gone above or beyond during the course of the fiscal year are likely to get what they are entitled to, so if you have performed exceptionally, you should request a yearly review or evaluation.

"Companies will absolutely reward top performers that are loyal to the company," he says, as they look to retain their best employees.

Of course, even overachievers still need to tread carefully when seeking a salary bump. Here are some suggestions for how you can increase your chances.

Know your worth. Before you even request a sit-down or go into an annual evaluation with your employer, you'll need to do some research. Nawoj suggests monitoring jobs sites and patrolling postings to see what other companies pay someone in your position. You can also consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find out what constitutes a comparable salary in your field. This will not only provide a good bargaining chip should your salary, in fact, be below market value, but it will also prevent you from bringing an unrealistic number to the table when you meet with your employer.

Quantify your worth and, thus, the raise. "You need to be able to show your employer how your performance translates numbers-wise," Nawoj says. The simplest way to do this is to document your successes. Those in sales should keep copies of profit and loss statements, revenue contributions and earning reports that outline their monetary contributions to the company. However, even those who work in a position that doesn't directly drive profits will benefit from bringing a written list of accomplishments to the negotiating table. This can include accolades they may have received over the course of the year, a list of projects they may have completed and skills they may have developed.

"If you've had the opportunity to get involved and work cross-functionally, you may want to draw attention to the fact that you now perform duties outside of your original position," Jimenez says.

Don't demand, ask nicely. According to Jimenez, it is reasonable to request a meeting to discuss your salary, but you should never issue your employer an ultimatum. In other words, don't tell them you will quit if you are denied the extra money. This can cost you the raise and it can affect your work environment later on, if your employer should (rightfully) get the impression you're not happy with your job.

"You should also avoid making blanket statements like 'I work hard' or 'I put in the hours' because everyone is expected to do that," he explains. "You have to have a positive attitude and be open to the dialogue."

If at first you don't succeed, find out how to try again. Getting passed up for a raise doesn't mean you will never get one. In fact, you should use the opportunity to find out what exactly you can do to qualify. "Ask your employer the things that they will need to see that will allow you to get a raise in the future," Jimenez says. Also, ask when your next review will be and feel free to request a six-month follow-up if evaluations are annual and you think timely feedback will help your chances the next time around.