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Now could be the best time to shake off your recessionary stupor and ask for a raise.
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 6/13/2011 6:52:12 PM ET 2011-06-13T22:52:12

Stephen Smith was more inclined not to ask his manager for a raise, but the social media coordinator for Logos Bible Software recently decided to go for it anyway.

“I knew I was being underpaid and needed to take care of it,” said Smith, 25. He chose to talk to his boss about a raise during a conversation about another work-related matter and resolved that his best approach was to “just be honest.”

“I told them I had another job offer and I asked, ‘What am I worth to this company?’” Smith said. He pointed out all he was producing in his job, including a recent deal that helped generate substantial revenues, and he ended up getting a big double-digit raise.

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Asking for a raise is one of the most difficult things an employee has to do, and given several years of economic woes many workers are glad to put it off. But now could be the best time to shake off your recessionary stupor and ask for what you deserve.

A study by the Society for Human Resources Management that polled employers in the fall of last year found that 25 percent planned to freeze wages in the next six months, compared to 37 percent in 2009. And a recent Towers Watson survey reported that companies plan to pay 3 percent merit pay increases this year, the largest increase since before the financial crisis.

Clearly, corporate wallets are opening up. Indeed, a recent Wall Street Journal report found that the pay of CEOs at major corporations is up 11 percent.

It’s time to get your share. But asking for a raise can be a dicey undertaking. Here are five tips to help you through the process:

1. Timing is key
If your company has just filed for bankruptcy, it’s probably not a great time to ask for a raise. But if your company is doing well, there’s no better time to ask for more money.

“The best time to ask for a raise is shortly after an accomplishment,” said Lauren Herring, president of Impact Group, a career management firm. “Most employees wait for a review period, but the best time to do it is right after you do something really great, or right after you get kudos.”

And don’t underestimate the importance of a good state of mind.

“The manager should be in a position to be interested in, and prepared to, provide you with a raise,” said Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants “Catching him or her in a good mood can only prove helpful to your efforts as well.”

Another factor to consider is whether hiring is going on and how easy it is to find employees like you.

“One indicator that you might be in a good negotiating position is if your current employer is finding it challenging to hire other people to work on your immediate team,” advised Ian Ide, a partner with staffing firm Winter, Wyman’s New York technology unit.

2. What are you worth?
There’s nothing worse than going into a negotiation without knowing what you want. It undermines your request for more money, and it can undermine your courage.

“Confidence is key,” noted Tamryn Hennessy, national director of career development for Rasmussen College. “A frugal manager can smell weakness, so it’s important that you come in prepared for anything. You can accomplish [your aims] by doing your research. Use tools like Salary.com or Payscale.com to know what your position pays in the marketplace.”

And be reasonable with your request.

Robert Stack, president and CEO of Community Options, an advocacy group for the disabled, had an employee come in and offer him this proposal:

“I propose that you increase my pay and give me less responsibility.”

Stack told him he was ridiculous, and that “added responsibility comes with greater pay.” The employee didn’t get a raise and the request hurt his reputation.

In another scenario that worked out better, a human resource employee came to Stack and made a case for her raise by pointing out that she was able to reduce workers compensation claims through better safety and better reporting measures.

“I gave her a significant increase,” Stack said.

3. Sing your praises
The biggest mistake employees make is not keeping managers abreast of how they’re contributing to the company.

It’s OK to send a memo to your managers telling them what you’ve accomplished, said Susan Gallagher, chief operating officer of True Partners Consulting, a tax advisory group. She said the company refers to them as “hero memos.”

“You have to communicate your contributions,” she continued, adding that women in particular have a hard time being vocal when it comes to their successes at work.

And be specific.

“One of our marketing coordinators who had been with the company for about a year came in and asked what we could do for him,” explained Dan Wesley, president of CreditLoan.com

“He pointed out the number of clients he had gained since joining the company, by far the highest among those who were recently hired,” he added. “He also had been very helpful with administrative tasks in the office, always looking to lend a hand to whatever project needed to get done.”

“I granted his request for a raise immediately,” Wesley said.

4. Be charming
When it comes to salary negotiations use your best people skills, advises Matthew Rothenberg, editor of job site TheLadders.com.

“It’s important that you don’t put your boss in a position where he or she will lose face, and it is best to be genuinely interested in your boss and try to see things from their point of view,” he said. “By rehearsing the conversation beforehand, you will avoid confrontation, and the discussion regarding the raise will feel casual, allowing your boss to relax and be more open to hearing what you have to say.”

Asking for a raise can be a lot like asking for a date, explained Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist with GetRaised.com, a site that helps determine if employees are being paid fairly.

“How you feel you’re doing in your job and how your boss feels can be very different,” he said. “Keep the conversation fact based, not emotional.”

Sharing too much personal information is also a no-no.

Seth Rabinowitz, a junior partner at management consulting firm Silicon Associates, had one employee ask him for money because he was having personal problems, which he shared in detail.

Rabinowitz gave him a raise and an advance because, he said, “the human side of me was touched, but it changed our work relationship forever.”

5. Walk away
Sometimes your best efforts will come to nothing and — depending on your financial situation and your own ego — you may have to make some tough choices.

“There may be instances where you decide that you have to just walk away,” said Mary Greenwood, a human resources director and author of “How to Negotiate Like a Pro.”

If the boss is not willing to give you the raise you think you deserve “you may decide that this is not the boss or the company you want to work for anymore,” she added.

But don’t leave your job in anger, and make sure you have a backup plan, Greenwood stressed:

“It is the conventional wisdom that it is harder to find a job when you no longer have one.”

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

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