Asking your boss for a salary bump can be uncomfortable in the best of times, and downright nerve-racking in today's uncertain economic climate.
But the numbers don't lie: Income growth is slowing to a snail's pace for Americans, making it harder to make ends meet. Nationally, personal income growth ticked down to 1.1 percent, on average, in the second quarter of 2011, down from 2.1 percent in the first quarter, according to estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But is it the right time to ask for a raise? Should you even broach the subject in this economy?
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"Honestly, it's just like a young couple: Is it time to get married? Is it time to buy a house? Is it time to have a baby? No, it's never 'the time,'" says Michael McIntyre, president and CEO of Benefits America and author of The Authentic Salesman. "You've just got to do it anyway."
While McIntyre encourages professionals to take a leap and ask for a raise, he doesn't recommend barging into your boss's office unprepared. Asking for a raise takes common sense and confidence, but most of all, it takes preparation and practice. U.S. News talked to the experts to find out the best ways to make chatting with your boss about a raise successful.
Get some peer feedback. Before marching into your boss's office and demanding a raise, feel out the waters. What do your subordinates think about you? How do your peers perceive your work and attitude at the office?
Do an informal survey of your colleagues over coffee or lunch to learn your strengths and potential weaknesses before having a compensation conversation with your boss. "Sometimes we are so clouded by our own judgment, we don't know what we don't know," McIntyre says. "That's why you need to have someone outside of you, looking at you, to get a reality check."
The people you work with are often the best barometer of performance—if rave reviews come your way, move forward with plans to ask for a raise. If your peers are lukewarm or wishy-washy, it might be a sign you need to step back and reevaluate.
Find out how the company is doing. For the same reasons you should poll colleagues about your performance, you should also find out how your company is faring. Financial information about public companies is relatively accessible, but instinct and common sense are usually the best tools to use when deciding whether to ask for a raise.
"You have to read the tea leaves a little," McIntyre says. "If you see the stock going up and dividends being paid out, [and] people being hired, that's a good sign. On the opposite end of that, if you see people being laid off and you see on CNBC your CEO being handcuffed, obviously it's not a good time to ask for a raise."
Come up with a number. Your desired salary shouldn't be an arbitrary amount, experts say. Do some market research and find out what other professionals in your field make, on average, and consider the supply-demand dynamic of your local job market when coming up with a number.
"You need to be well-prepared when it comes to the metrics of the industry," says Gautam Godhwani, CEO of SimplyHired.com. Godhwani recommends checking out several salary information sites, including Salary.com and SimplyHired.com, to get a good idea of the typical salary range for your field.
"You are in a much better position to negotiate when you have not only a sense about salary, but a sense about overall market demand as well," Godhwani says. "It's certainly plausible that there's some unique skill sets that workers have that might be the basis for getting a good solid raise, even in this market," he adds.