pay_raiseNo one likes to put the trash out. Or got to the dentist. Or do their taxes. Asking for a raise is right up there with those unpleasant activities — but you have to be brave if you want to get paid what you’re worth.

Unfortunately, compensation hasn’t increased much in recent years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee compensation went up 1.9% in 2013. This means its more difficult for people to ask for a raise, because there’s less precedent for firms to hand them out as of late.

What Happened to Annual Raises?

Annual salary reviews used to be the standard before the recession. Compensation should at the very least be tied to inflation, which is currently 2.1% in America, and 2.3% in Canada. But these previously expected annual raises, even based on inflation, aren’t enshrined in employment laws. They’re discretionary, which means it is up to individual businesses to have an ongoing dialogue with their employees about increasing compensation.

That being said, there are three situations in when securing a raise will be more commonplace:

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  1. In highly competitive fields, where the cost of not giving a raise is more expensive than giving one.
  2. All-star performers are always going to be in a strong position, almost irrespective of sector.
  3. The retail and food-service industries normally give raises every six months, but these are incremental and aren’t big enough to negate the value of tips.

Outside of those three more common occurrences, asking for a raise means talking to your boss and negotiating for more money. Below are a few tips to help you have that conversation.

How to Ask For a Raise

All A Matter of Time

Some firms have hard and fast rules for when salary upticks can be considered, like the anniversary of when you started employment or during annual performance review season. If you are aiming for a raise at one of those times, then it is wise to start the conversation about three to four months in advance — not the day before you need the money to pay for a vacation or new car.

If it’s not clear when you can expect to have conversations about raises, ask a coworker or consult your employee handbook. 

Record Your Achievements

When asking for a raise, what you are really doing is demonstrating the added value you are generating and asking to be rewarded accordingly. advises against saying, “I’ve done everything I was supposed to do …” because you aren’t in a strong position to negotiate for a raise if all you’ve done is fulfill your job description.

Instead, turn compliments from colleagues and managers, projects that were successful, and new tasks you’ve taken on into work diary. You can then use this record to highlight the gap between your actual duties and the job description.

And don’t feel like you’re bragging when you bring these achievements up to your boss. Managers normally don’t know all of the things high performing staffers do. They’ve got a lot on their plate between doing their job, pleasing their boss, and managing underperforming employees — the smaller, awesome things that you do might not get their full attention.

Once you’ve determined there is a clear case to ask for a raise — which is a essential, as this is a negotiation — you need to decide how much you aim for.

How Much Do I Ask For?

Suzanne Lucas, a former HR professional who writes the EvilHRLady Blog, advises thinking carefully about what kind of percentage increase to pitch at your boss. Too high and you’ll get rejected, but too low and it almost doesn’t seem worth the trouble. “If your company grants employees an annual raise, you’ll probably be aware of the approximate budget, so you should stay in line with that,” Lucas says. “Companies usually budget 5% or less for yearly upticks.”

Besides sticking within what your company typically budgets for raises, usually asking for a dollar amount, rather than a percentage, is easier. Websites like Glassdoor and Payscale are also useful when trying to determine how much to ask for.

What If I’m Denied?

You have the conversation. Depending on how you get on with your boss and how well you perform at work, the direct, no-nonsense approach might be best. Or maybe they will appreciate a little warm up before they’re pitched at.

Regardless of how you bring it up, always leave the room with a figure on the table. Don’t be vague or leave it up to, “whatever you feel like.” If you’ve followed the rest of the steps above, you should know what you’re worth and be ready to talk about it.

If they come back with a lower figure, it isn’t always worth throwing down a counteroffer. “Between 75% to 90% of people who accept a counteroffer leave the company within a year anyway,” says Lucas. “Once someone starts looking for a new job, it’s not just about the money.”

You could be surprised just how much it will help to keep a record of your achievements and to know how much to ask for. That being said, if you get a rejection, always follow up with a question along the lines of: “What could I do so that I’m considered for a raise next time?” Don’t give up on getting that raise. You’ve earned it!

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