You've paid your dues, now it's time to collect.
For even the most confident employees, mustering up the courage to ask for a raise can be a struggle. It's not that they think they don't deserve it (they do). But the unknown of their boss's answer is too great. "[Employees] are worried that they will appear to be presumptuous and pushy and that the answer will be no. And that it's sort of a negative step on a career track to have a setback like that," says G. Richard Shell, academic director of The Wharton School's Executive Negotiation Workshop at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People."
But a careful examination of your role with the company, along with other indicators, can increase the chances of receiving a yes. Here's what to look for:
1. Your boss is on cloud nine. It may seem trivial, but don't discard your boss's current mood. If recent successes have left him or her in a perpetually genial state, your request will get a better reception. On the other hand, if he or she has dealt with a series of professional and personal setbacks, it may not be a good time to add another layer of worry. "Have a high dose of empathy about what's happening in the life and circumstances of the boss at this particular moment," says Jane T. Schroeder, a Milwaukee-based career counselor and coach with a background in human resources.
2. The industry you work in is more prone to salary increases. Entrepreneurial and innovative-based firms are more likely to notice individual contributions, Shell notes. In "sleepy industries," such as a public utility, state government or retail, a raise may be harder to come by due to fluctuating employment, a pay scale dictated by union contracts or other slow-moving standards.
3. The company is financially flourishing. "Hopefully good leaders are using times of prosperity as an opportunity to share that with high-performing, value-adding individuals within the organization," Schroeder says. If you know your company is in the black, ask for a slight pay increase that's comparable with industry standards. According to the consulting firm Mercer, the average base pay increase in 2013 was a modest 2.8 percent.
4. Your division is growing rapidly. Maybe every part of the company isn't expanding in profits, but your division certainly is. The company policy may call for across-the-board pay parity. When you approach your boss, "speak about the contribution you're making to the fastest-growing segment of the company and start asking them to rethink the compensation policy of paying everyone the same no matter what division they're in," Shell says.
5. More lucrative offers come your way. Impressed by the quality of your work, other companies are now dangling a higher salary in front of you. The outside market is setting a new benchmark, one that elevates your worth and forces your employer to "look at you differently," Shell says. Management now has to ask: What would happen if you left? How much trouble would it cause to replace you? How much training would another employee need?
6. Performance reviews and salary discussions are more fluid. While some companies have firm timetables in place for when employees are eligible for raises, yours may not. Research internal policies and talk with other employees who previously held your position to discover whether tenure is a determining factor in pay increases. The issue could rest on "how [you] are perceived and what value [you] are adding to the role," Schroeder says.
7. You have a specialized skill for a specialized problem. Take advantage of your academic and professional background if it might give you an advantage. For example, possessing a Ph.D in physics might make you a valuable commodity at the Wall Street firm where you work, according to Shell. "[You] have the mathematical and analytical capabilities for crunching huge amounts of data, and that's a rare talent at that level," he says. Under those circumstances, an employee might command a high salary without feeling embarrassment for requesting a raise.