By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/4/2010 7:43:54 AM ET 2010-01-04T12:43:54

The last thing many workers have been thinking about in this dismal job market is how to ask for a promotion or a raise. The popular mind-set: “You’re lucky you still have a job.”

But now it’s time to shake off those recessionary shackles and start thinking seriously about getting what you deserve at work, especially if your employer  is seeing an uptick in business and looking to hire new workers.

“Companies are starting to worry about defections when the economy gets better,” said Laurence Stybel, executive in residence at Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University in Boston. “Once the drumbeat of hiring starts, that’s when you can go to the boss and say, ‘I haven’t had a raise or promotion in two years.’”

Patrick Sweeney, the president and CEO of ODIN Technologies in Ashburn, Va., said his firm hired no new employees last year and had a few layoffs. But this year he plans to add up to 15 new positions.

He also just promoted two employees.

“Both guys were often the last ones at the office at night and among the first here in the morning,” Sweeney said. “More than a great work ethic, they jumped in wherever it was needed, from figuring out complex engineering problems to sweeping up our lab to calling clients on the weekend when they needed help.”

Getting a promotion in this economy is not a lot different than getting one during an economic boom. You still have to show managers you’re willing to work hard and can produce results.

“If you really want to turn yourself into a loser, think about a salary increase as a reward for past good services,” advised Stybel. “You’re trying to extract money from a cheap company, and companies don’t care about the past — they’re obsessed about the future.”

Saving a company big bucks
That focus on producing results is what got Hubert Rivera two promotions in 2009, one of the toughest economic years in recent U.S. history.

Rivera became a vice president for InCharge, a Orlando, Fla.-based nonprofit credit counseling organization, in October after 10 years with the company. That came after a previous promotion in April.

Despite having to cut costs because of the economy, the goal was to maintain service to the firm’s clients. So he took initiative.

“I spoke to my boss back in May of 2009 about ways we could improve our efforts and help the company grow,” Rivera said. “We have been hit hard by the economy and saw reductions in calls and business.”

He put in extra hours and came up with a ways to cut costs but still maintain customer service, including creating an online newsletter and getting customer referrals from banks. “We put our focus together and did a lot of work," he said.

The new initiatives saved the company $826,000.

His strategy for promotion success: “Don’t ever feel you're entitled to your job. Always feel like there is more you can do, and eventually they will notice. If they don’t, maybe you should seek other opportunities.”

Indeed, sometimes employees work hard and get little or no recognition. Last year I received many e-mails from readers who were frustrated after taking on extra work because of layoffs or furloughs and getting nothing in return. Some workers complained that managers dangled future job promotions as a way to get them to do more, but those promotions never came.

Amanda, a bank employee who did not want her full name used for fear of retribution, shared a typical promotion scenario, which I call the “promotion Ponzi scheme”:

“Last April, my current boss told me that he was going to promote me because of the additional responsibilities I've taken on and the excellent job I've been doing. As of today, I have yet to receive that promotion. Every time I ask him about it, his only response is ‘I’m working on it.’”

In this scenario, a worker has two options.

You can simply say nothing and allow it to eat you up every day you’re at work.

Or you can ask for a meeting with the boss to discuss your performance. At that meeting, bring a list that details what you want, including a timeline on when the promised promotion will go through. Be sure to pepper the conversation with comments like: “I enjoy my work and this company very much.”

Don’t be confrontational. Just say: “I want to know if I’m appreciated here. I see others being promoted in other departments, and I want make sure that it’s not my performance that’s keeping me from getting a new title.”

It’s important to keep in mind that any time you confront your boss, you risk creating an uncomfortable situation, especially if the manager is unable to give you a raise or really doesn’t want to.

Get that promotion
If you haven’t approached the promotion topic yet with your boss and think the time might be right, remember to "think like a CEO,” said Sweeney.

“This applies to everything from turning out lights to selling the company at a cocktail party or sports event," he said. "Be fanatical about promoting the company and its products or services.”

“The secret is to create unexpected money for your company before you ask for a piece of it back,” said Larry Myler, CEO of More or Less Inc. and the author of the forthcoming book called “Indispensable By Monday.”

Myler offers two steps. First increase profits by cutting costs, increasing revenues or boosting produtivity. Second, document the financial impact of your actions so your boss can see it in black and white.

Remember it's always a good idea to sing your own praises. Contrary to popular belief, your boss doesn’t know what you’re doing every minute of the day.

Wendy Enelow, director of the Resume Writing Academy, suggested keeping “a running list of your accomplishments" ranging from small process improvements to large projects handled. "Be certain to include any quantifiable achievements, such as increasing sales 22 percent by capturing a new key account or reducing operating costs 11 percent by eliminating repetitive processes," she said.

Ask for a promotion from a point of strength, said Suffolk’s Stybel. Tell your managers you’re getting calls from recruiters, he said, but only if you really are.

You also should be networking, joining trade groups and social networking sites, growing your skills, and building your reputation in your industry outside your company," Stybel said.

When you’re ready to talk to your boss, make an appointment and tell your manager exactly what you want to talk about so there are no surprises, advised Sandra Naiman, author of
“The High Achiever's Secret Codebook: The Unwritten Rules for Success at Work.”

While all this advice may help you get that well-deserved promotion, the biggest hurdle is working up the nerve to ask.

“If you don't ask, you'll never know the answer,” Naiman said.

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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