buisness man running after a sneaky dollarAsking for a raise is one of those things, like doing your taxes, which you only do when you have to. It isn’t a fun thing, to ask your boss for more money for the same work, but sometimes you just have to be brave.

Corporate war chests, thanks to the recession, are larger than they’ve been in the past, while compensation hasn’t increased much. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employee compensation went up 1.9 percent in 2013. Senior executive compensation increased 17 percent, according to Salveson Stetson Group, an executive search firm.

Don’t Raises Just Happen?

Annual salary reviews used to be the norm, then the recession happened. As a rule, compensation should at the very least be tied to inflation, which is currently 2.1 percent in America, and 2.3 percent in Canada. But these kind of guaranteed raises, even done on a calculation based on the annual average rate of inflation, aren’t mandatory, or enshrined in employment laws. Which means it is up to the individual businesses and the ongoing dialogue between employers and employees.

The three most common times raises can happen are if you are in a highly competitive field where the cost of not giving a raise is more expensive than giving one. All star performers are always going to be in a strong position to ask for a raise, almost irrespective of sector. And the retail and food service industries normally give raises every 6 months, but these are incremental and usually small amounts for most staff.

Other than those three most common occurrences, asking for a raise comes down to talking to your boss and negotiating for more money.

Timing is Everything

Some firms have hard and fast rules for when salary upticks might be considered, like the anniversary of when you started employment, or during annual performance review season. If you are aiming for around then it is wise to start the conversation about 3-4 months in advance, so that it can be considered with enough time.

Ask around and consult the employee handbook is the best way to find when to start this conversation.

Keep A Work Diary

Before asking to talk about your salary, have a record of everything you’ve done in the past year. Compliments from colleagues and managers, projects which were successful, new tasks you’ve taken on. This last tip is a good way of comparing your job description to what you are actually doing. A big gap is already a good case for a raise.

A common reason people feel the need to ask for a raise is when they are feeling overworked, which can be hard to ask for if there’s a culture of overwork, stress of multitasking ingrained in the organization. Sometimes problems in other departments means staff take on workloads they weren’t expecting, which if this becomes permanent is another reason to ask for a raise. More work should result in more pay. Freelancers, who have none of the job security, wouldn’t hesitate to ask for more money. Once you’ve determined there is a clear case to ask for a raise – which is a essential, as this is a negotiation – you need to decide how much you aim for.

Know How Much to Pitch For

The ironic thing about high performing staffers is managers normally don’t know what they do. Managers spend more time sorting out the mistakes and giving feedback to low achievers, and so consequently know more about what they do, giving them less time to find out about the daily workloads of more accomplished employees.

Which is why, when asking for a raise, it’s time to highlight your own achievements.

Suzanne Lucas, a former HR professional who writes the EvilHRLady Blog, then advises doing all you can to find what kind of percentage to pitch at your boss. Too high and you’ll get rejected, but too low and almost doesn’t seem worth the trouble. “If your company grants employees an annual raise, you’ll probably be aware of the approximate budget, so you should stay in line with that,” Lucas says. “Companies usually budget 5% or less for yearly upticks.”

Websites like Glassdoor and Payscale are also useful when trying to determine how much to ask for. Usually a dollar amount, rather than a percentage, is easier to ask for.

What If I’m Turned Down?

You have the conversation. Depending on how you get on with your boss, and of course how well you perform at work, some might like the direct no-nonsense approach, others will appreciate a little warm up before they’re pitched at. Always leave this conversation with an amount on the table.

If they come back with a lower figure it isn’t always worth throwing down a counteroffer. “Between 75% to 90% of people who accept a counteroffer leave the company within a year anyway,” says Lucas. “Once someone starts looking for a new job, it’s not just about the money.”

You could be surprised just how much it will help to keep a record of your achievements, and to know how much to ask for. If, however, you get a rejection always follow up with a question, along the lines of: “What could I do so that I’m considered for a raise next time?” Don’t give up on getting that raise. You’ve earned it!

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