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updated 1/6/2006 1:37:57 PM ET 2006-01-06T18:37:57

You want more money. Great. Who doesn't?

Asking for a raise requires preparation, skill, timing and a fallback plan. It also demands wrapping your mind around a basic fact many employees miss: A pay increase is based on performance and the market for your skills.

"The worst thing you can do is base a request for a raise on personal issues," says Bill Coleman, senior vice president for compensation at Salary.com in Needham, Mass. "Saying, 'I need a raise because I have a gambling problem' is a loser. It's also a bad idea to ask for a raise if the company is having layoffs. Superstars can get a raise because the company must retain its best performers. If you're not sure that you're among the elite, you're not."

Build your case for a raise by making a list of your accomplishments in the previous year. If, for example, you've out performed other sales representatives, have the figures handy to back up your statement. Remind the boss of the new accounts you've landed, or the current customers you've kept from jumping to the competition.

Don't be bashful about listing your accomplishments, but don't be boastful, either. Let the numbers tell the story.

If you're a manager, detail the initiatives you've launched, problems you've solved, and tell your boss how this has boosted morale and plumped the company's bottom line.

Before talking to your boss, learn what your company can afford by reading its quarterly earnings report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission if it's publicly traded, or by gauging its general economic health, if it's in private hands. If there have been layoffs, sharp cutbacks and desks remain empty after people leave, don't ask for the moon and don't expect much, if anything.

There are many salary surveys available online or at the library that break pay down by industry and job title. They're helpful, but often not definitive. Keep regional differences in mind and remember that engineers typically get paid more than English majors, even if they handle the same job.

Summarize your pitch for a raise in a short written statement, and have a trusted colleague read it. This will underscore any points you've missed or not made clearly, and may help anticipate your boss's response.

If you're a good employee in a competitive field, it's unlikely your boss will turn you down cold. But if your boss rejects your request and tells you to continue pulling on the oars, the game's not over.

"If you ask for a raise and don't get it, most people walk away," Coleman says. "That's just the first step. Your response shouldn't be whining, sulking or storming out of the office. You should ask your boss, 'What do I need to do to get the raise I think I deserve?'"

If the response isn't encouraging, it may be time to start looking for another job. No job lasts forever, and you may have exhausted prospects for advancement with your current employer.

If things don't go well with the boss, consider the possibility that your performance and attitude could be limiting your pay. If that's not the case, think about moving on. But don't threaten to quit on the spot, because your boss may wave farewell, and you've got to be prepared to back your statement with action. If you don't have another job lined up, you're sunk.

Timing is everything in love, hitting the curveball and asking for a raise. If you don't receive an annual salary review, make your pitch when your boss has the time to listen. Chances are it won't be first thing Monday morning or late Friday afternoon. Start negotiations slowly — ask to set up a time in a short e-mail. Be patient if you don't get an immediate response. Your boss hasn't forgotten you — and don't assume that everything revolves around you, or should.

Tailor your pitch to your needs and the company's capabilities. More money is always nice, but taxes will gobble a good chunk of any raise, and your company may not be able to give you the salary you want. If money is tight, think about other things, such as education, childcare and health coverage.

If you want to pursue an MBA, you may be able to cut a deal to take time off for class or even get tuition assistance. If you have small children, you may be able to work from home several days a week. You may be able to apply part of the raise to increased health benefits. Unless your job is covered by a union contract that requires everyone to march in lockstep, assume that every reasonable request is on the table.

These pointers will work for large and small companies across all industries, including banks such as Wells Fargo, software companies like Microsoft, semiconductor companies like Intel and food companies such as Tyson.

"A raise should be based on performance and market data establishing the value of your job," Coleman says.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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