Compensation can be a touchy subject—especially if you want more of it.
"You should always try to get the most possible, but be honest with yourself about what you deserve for both the type of employee you are, what your history is, and what you've done before," says Mike Jacob, managing partner of Online Resume Builders in Miami.
It's likely that you will have to make a strong case if you want a decent raise. Salary increase budgets for U.S. companies are flat this year, according to a survey by Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm. Mercer forecasts that the average salary increase budget is expected to be 2.9% in 2016, up slightly from the average increase budget of 2.8% last year.
However, raises for top-performing employees, which Mercer estimates to be 7% of the workforce, will be almost twice that of average performers.
To prove to your boss you are a top-performer, you should get a few things in order before you ask for a raise:
Determine Your Target
Increase your chances of getting a raise by coming to the discussion with a concrete percentage increase in mind, one based on facts, not feelings.
First, estimate your market value based on your skills and experience in your industry, says Josh Doody, the Gainesville, Florida-based author of Fearless Salary Negotiation. Use sites such as Glassdoor and PayScale to get a general sense of your market value, he says.
Then, you have to tailor those numbers to your specific job market. "There are many different factors that go into both what you can ask for and what you can expect," Jacob says.
For example, where you live can be a factor. "In more competitive areas, you can ask for slightly higher than the average 3 percent raise as the cost of living is higher," Jacob says. "In smaller, cheaper areas, it is very typical to receive less than 3 percent as the cost of living is much lower."
Your company's size is another factor, as you might be able to ask for more from a Fortune 500 company than a startup. Find out what typical raises are in your organization. Is it 2%? 3%? Knowing the average raise at your employer can help you pin down a precise number to ask for. Some companies, particularly smaller ones, may give raises dependent on overall profit, Jacob says.
Document Your Contribution to the Bottom Line
Broad job market trends are helpful, but they are only a starting point. Your employer needs a reason to give you, specifically, a raise, so be ready to prove that you're worth it.
"You're asking to be paid a higher salary, which means the company needs to make more money to justify that higher expense," Doody says. "You should be able to clearly point to specific things you're doing now to add more value than you did when your salary was last set. For example, you're managing more projects, working with more sophisticated technology, have more direct reports, and things like that."
If you have led an important initiative or increased sales and production, be prepared with hard numbers that prove those results. Instead of just stating that you led a project, share a precise percentage of sales increase or an amount of money you saved the company.
Know When to Ask
Making your case for a raise starts with timing it right. Some employers only hand out raises at a certain time of year for budget reasons. If you request a raise outside of that cycle, acknowledge that you're asking your manager to make an exception.
Present Your Case Effectively
For the pitch, you may want to practice with a friend first, to make sure you know your talking points.
When you're ready, ask for a one-on-one meeting with your manager, Doody says. After your meeting, follow-up with an email that summarizes your case so your boss has something to circulate with other managers for consideration.
"If your raise is granted, then you're all set," he says. "If not, ask your manager if you can set specific goals and a timeline for earning the raise you requested. Either your manager will work with you to make a plan, or you'll be able to see that the raise you're targeting isn't in the cards at your current company. You'll either need to acquire new skills or find another opportunity that will set you up to accomplish your goal."
Taking these four steps can help you turn what could be an uncomfortable conversation into a clear, factual one. And they just might help you negotiate the raise you deserve.