Asking for a raise may seem like job suicide in today’s fragile economy, but not asking virtually guarantees you won’t get one. And there’s ample reason to want a salary lift: While employment rates in the U.S. are slowly rising, household income levels are not. At the end of 2012, they were 5% lower than when the recession ended in 2009, according to a report by Sentier Research.
It can be important to try. With companies looking to cut costs, you don’t want to be invisible, or worse yet, expendable. “It’s better to represent yourself than to shrink behind your desk,” says Mara Covell, Managing Director of The Howard-Sloan-Koller Group, a professional search firm in New York. “There’s a danger in hiding. You come off as someone who won’t talk for herself…someone who is passive.”
Seasoned professionals may actually have an advantage in this economy, simply because they have a longer track record to showcase. But longevity itself isn’t a selling point. The most important negotiating tools you can have in this climate are sensitivity and success. You need to be able to gauge the climate at work, anticipate your boss’s reaction, and position yourself as a happy and high-achieving employee. You may also need to bide your time.
Here are some smart strategies for getting a raise in tough times, guidelines that may be new even to seasoned employees with decades of negotiating experience. (See also How to Negotiate a Big Salary Shift.)
Think: “achieved,” not “earned.” It’s not enough to do your job and do it well in this economy. If you want to earn more, you have to accomplish more, says workforce optimization specialist Brian Singer, president of Manifesting Talent, in Minneapolis. Document not just what you’ve done, but what you’ve achieved as a result. “It has to relate directly to profitability and success,” says Singer. If you can’t show it, don’t ask for the raise, he warns, because if you do, “you are looking for a pink slip.”
Watch your tone. Even if you feel overworked and underpaid, you can’t afford to sound disgruntled when you meet with your supervisor. A key objective in asking for a raise is to do no harm. “It’s much better to come in with a tone of loyalty, enthusiasm for the job, and collaboration, as opposed to negativity,” says Covell. “It’s just a conversation: not a threat or a deadline.”