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How to ask for a raise
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"Many companies have lock-step raises," especially for lower-level jobs, says Latz. But as employees begin to rise and distinguish themselves, they can break out of the mold. The trick: Give your boss a reason to separate you from the pack at evaluation time.

Find examples why a general rule doesn't apply to your job. Maybe you've taken on duties that aren't in your job description, or you've managed to bring in more business, or save the company more money than your co-workers.

It's not easy, says Latz, but you need to know if there is any leeway in the policy, and can you use it to your advantage?

Another ugly complication: your prereview research reveals that a co-worker with similar responsibilities is either making quite a bit more money or receiving a sizable increase while you're getting the cost-of-living increase song and dance.

Tread carefully, says Latz. Before you go in the door, you want to have thought out what you are willing to say. "It's a highly sensitive conversation," he says. "Wing it, and you could cause yourself lasting damage."

And always consider your sources. If you gleaned the salary information from a co-worker, could that person have been bragging, trying to make you feel undervalued or hoping you'd use the "facts" to shoot yourself in the foot?

If you determine your information is valid and decide to use it, Latz gives a couple of approaches:

  • Fairly direct: I understand Jack is receiving X, and we have similar performance and duties. Why the discrepancy?
  • More vague: I have heard some of my colleagues received X and had similar performance reviews, what can I do to ensure that I am compensated at that level?

Either approach throws it to the employer to confirm or deny. "But you don't want to be overly aggressive unless you have adequate information and are willing to raise the temperature" of the negotiations, says Latz.

Who's the boss?
One of the employee's most important jobs is to find out what's really important to the boss. The employee needs to "figure out in what coin of the realm they are evaluated," says Bolles. Those are the achievements you want to highlight.

Consider your boss's personality as you prepare your approach, says Latz. If he avoids conflict, then you don't want to be confrontational. If he likes details, supply plenty. "You need to understand and recognize the personal nature of your counterpart," says Latz.

It also helps to know what's going on with his career, says Thomas. Is he up for promotion or in the dog house?

Since the company's financial health is always a factor, do a little research. "Bosses tend to paint a weak picture," says Thomas.

"Are people getting raises? Are people getting fired? Are they bringing in new people? Keep an open mind and read the signs," says Bates.

If the company is publicly held, it's easier. If it's private, you may have to use whatever network you've developed.

If the company is truly hurting, "it's foolish to ask for a raise," Thomas says.

Next: "The worst thing you can do in negotiation is wing it."
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Quiz: Are you ready for a raise?
And if you don't get the raise?
Tips for successful salary negotiations

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