We’ve been going through a pretty rough economy these last few years, but you’ve been working hard, so why not ask for that raise? It may or may not work, but if you do decide to ask (and you should), you should be prepared to ask for it in the right way.

If you’ve been pulling your weight (and possibly the weight of the two empty cubicles next to you), you’re worth a little extra cash to your company. Of course, if you’re like most people, asking for that raise is easier said than done. Some estimates indicate that 70 percent of the workforce is not comfortable requesting a fatter paycheck.

You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for just that. If you do, you could end up being rewarded with way more than just the standard 3 or 5 percent boost.

Do Your Research

The first key to being comfortable asking for your much-deserved raise is to do your research. Before you schedule the meeting, you should be very clear about expectations of you at work. You need to know what your boss thinks is an outstanding performance for someone in your position, and what your exact job duties and goals are.

Once you know that, it’s time to figure out what you’re worth. Research what other people in your industry and position generally make. You can check sites like Salary.com, SalaryExpert.com and the Labor Department to compare what you’re making with others in similar roles.

Finally, research your company’s financial health. When you’ve got your ducks in a row, but before you schedule your meeting, see what public records you can track down where your company may have reported its financial standing. It’s good to know how things are going before you start asking for more money.

Document Your Accomplishments

If you’re going to confidently request a raise and expect your request to be seriously considered, you have to be prepared to discuss your accomplishments. With specifics. You have to remember that even though you know you’ve done something, your boss may not have as clear a recollection. Or, with the rate of turnover, your management team might be full of people who don’t really know what you've done because they weren’t there when the contributions were made.

Before you walk into that meeting, you should be able to identify all the ways your work has increased the bottom line, or helped others increase the bottom line. You need to know what your strengths are and how they add to your company's revenue. A detailed list of the ways your skill set is an integral part of the organization’s stability and growth will go a long way to getting you paid more. Think about it, if your boss needs to justify the new expenditure to someone, you’ve just given him all the ammunition he needs.

Time It Right

Even if you’ve done your research and listed all your accomplishments, correct timing can make a big difference in how your request is received. Use your knowledge of your company’s financial well-being as a gauge for when to ask for a raise. If the firm just had a down quarter or if layoffs seem around the corner, then wait for a better time. If there have been recent cutbacks, you’ll want to wait for the dust to settle before asking for more money. But in a cutback environment you’ll be doing more work for less, and when the time is right you can use that fact to your benefit.

A good time to request a hike in pay is when the company is already considering raises for others. If there’s a specific time during the fiscal year when your organization reviews salaries, that’s the time to make your appeal. If a big growth spurt or profit has been posted, or a major achievement is announced, it's time to spring into action. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your accomplishments and review your position.

Be Prepared

Once you’ve got your meeting scheduled, you need to show with all your specifics ready. You need to have an exact amount in mind to ask for, so when the question comes up you don’t stammer. Having done your research, you’ll be able to back up your request with real data. Have your documented achievements, strengths and fulfillment of your job requirements at the ready. And you should be able to share that documentation with your boss in case he needs to use it to make your case up the chain of command.

It’s also helpful to have endorsements from other people in the company—those whom you have worked with directly and can vouch for your efforts. It’s also a good idea to rehearse before your meeting. Sit down with your friend and attempt to negotiate the raise. Having had the conversation already will help you feel more comfortable when the real time comes.

Remember Not to …

There are also a few “don’ts” when it comes to sitting down with your boss and asking for a raise. First of all, a sob story should not be part of your presentation. Explaining how a raise will help you with personal problems or making payments for things is the wrong approach. You need to keep it strictly business, focusing on your contributions to the company.

Don't be aggressive with your boss. You can be assertive, but stay calm and don’t push too far, too hard. Making your boss feel like she’s been backed into a corner will not help your cause.

And finally, don’t threaten your boss. Saying you’re going to leave if you don’t get a raise is the quickest way to end up with no income rather than a bigger one. If you start talking about other interviews, job offers or conversations with talent scouts, you may get a swift “Perhaps you should consider those options” response from your boss.


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