Effective Communication

Are You Getting Paid Enough?

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Now that we’re in the middle of the year, it seems a good time to step back and ask: Are you getting paid enough?

Companies surveyed late last year by Towers Watson said they expected to dole out raises averaging 3% in 2014. That was about the same amount as in the previous two years. With inflation likely to run between 1.3% to 1.8% this year, that doesn’t leave much extra cash in your wallet.

If you are not making the money you want or feel you deserve, you have a few options. One, if course, is to find a higher-paying job. Moving to a new company often results in a bigger salary boost, with increases of 10 to 20 percent pretty standard. Senior executives who changed jobs last year averaged a 17% bump in compensation, according to executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group. Over time, people who change jobs every few years often end up earning more than those who stayed in the same company for decades.

Changing companies does come with risk. The devil you know is, well, what you know. Even in the best circumstances, you’ll face a learning curve at a new place as well as leaving behind colleagues you like at the old one.

And there’s the risk of being labeled a job hopper. Though that perception may be changing, particularly among younger workers and in the tech and start-up worlds, some hiring managers won’t even consider resumes of people who frequently change jobs. The question then becomes: how often is too often?

If you do decide to stay–at least for now–and you want to do better than that 3% average, start preparing your case for a raise.

The best preparation, of course, is to be a high performer. In 2013, employees rated as “stars” averaged raises of 4.3% to 4.5%, while average performers got 2.6% raises, according to Towers Watson.

How to Ask for a Raise

It can be a difficult conversation, but you owe it to yourself–and your career–to confidently ask for what you want.  Following a few tips can up the odds that you’ll get a better raise. And if not, at least you will have a clear idea of where you stand.

Time it Right

If you are a recent hire and don’t know when  your company typically awards raises and bonuses, find out. Often, it is during an annual review or at the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean you wait until your review to bring up the subject. In most cases, your manager will have a certain amount of money to distribute among the team. You want to talk to them before they makes those decisions. Otherwise, they might have to go back to their manager to make a case for you–and that is far from ideal.

If there is no standard time raises are distributed, then ask your manager. Being shy doesn’t pay the bills.

Once you know when your manager will make a decision, you can plan when you will have the conversation. Next step: step back a few weeks or, ideally, months before that conversation and start laying the groundwork (for many people, that means starting to prepare as soon as you are back from summer vacation).

Prepare Your Case

You may want to believe you are a star performer, or that your accomplishments speak for themselves. Even if you are lucky enough to work in such an ideal workplace, it doesn’t hurt to remind your manager when it counts.

Your case is based on the simple idea that you are worth more to your company than you used to be because you have accomplished more. Keeping that simple definition in mind will help you keep focused on what information you need to convey to your boss. And will stop you from making the common mistake of saying that you need money or that you are struggling to keep the job you happen to love because you are not earning enough. Talking about your overall financial situation is a failing strategy–and it is inappropriate, as well.

Start keeping your “brag” file–a list of what you have done and the results you have gotten. Meeting expectations is great, but that is not enough in most cases to shift your status from average employee to star performer.

Make note of tasks and projects you initiated, results that exceeded targets, and the company-wide efforts you made. Save any emails from colleagues praising something you have done and jot down comments people make to you. You don’t want to pull out a list of testimonials during your meeting, but you can refer to them during the conversation.

Plus, reading them over right before your meeting is a great confidence-booster.

The more you know about how your salary compares to other employees at your company and those in similar positions at other companies, the better. That information can help you feel more confident about your case, and give you a sense of the amount of salary you can command.

Generally, though, you will have less firepower with it than you will with keeping the focus on you. Why? Because it is easier for your manager to list the reasons why some other company can pay more–it is larger, has more funding, the CEO isn’t as cost-conscious, etc. In the same way, unless you and your colleague have the same experience, started at the same time, and do the exact same tasks, the same laundry list of reasons your case is different can apply.

Your best weapon is you and your results. Make that case as strongly as possible. And if you don’t get the raise you are hoping for, don’t skulk back to your office. Ask your manager what you need to do to get where you want to be. Ask when you can talk about it again.

Still don’t like what you hear? Then ask yourself if it is time to move on.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.