As you're undoubtedly aware, businesses are operating with caution these days and watching their bottom lines more closely than ever. Accordingly, employees are feeling the pinch. Expect lean operations to continue for a while longer, but don't assume you have no chance of receiving a salary boost.
Whether you're already employed or negotiating a job offer, all hope for bumping up your compensation is not lost. With the right amount of flexibility and good timing, you can end up getting what you want.
Prove your worth
Don't expect to earn a hefty paycheck based on your merits if you have no proof of your accomplishments. Specificity is the best friend of job seekers and employees. When budgets are already tight, employers won't be willing to hand out more cash than necessary. Businesses are always trying to do more with less, but these days they are forced to.
If you're already employed, your boss might not notice your accomplishments. Smooth operations mean no hiccups or need for finger-pointing; therefore your good work might go unnoticed. You should be able to list specific achievements during your time at the company to be a reminder of your accomplishments. Did you increase sales, make operations more efficient or receive positive feedback from clients? If so, have proof and use it. Quantifiable numbers and direct quotes make a better case than pretty phrases.
For job seekers, the story is the same, except your highlights should span your career. A strong track record throughout your work history gives a hiring manager good reason to expect more from you ... and do more for you.
Know the market
Although you might think you're worth a seven-figure salary, your boss isn't likely to agree, so don't walk into negotiations thinking you can start at $1 million in order to negotiate your way to an $80,000 salary. Your boss probably knows how much other workers in similar positions earn and so should you. Go to salary sites, such as SalaryExpert.com, and see what the standard rate is for your job title in your city or across the country. Putting your salary in context gives you realistic expectations and helps you bargain effectively.
Ask for a six-month review
Sometimes, getting more money right now is not an option. Your boss or hiring manager might not have the authority to negotiate higher salaries for anyone if the budget is frozen. In that case, you can ask to revisit the topic in six months when the company's financial situation could be better.
The other advantage of having a review down the road is that you have six months (or however long) to make good on your promises. All those specific achievements you highlighted are good talk, but this is your last chance to put your words into action. As frustrating as working hard with no financial bonus can be, stay motivated by the idea that you might get an even better reward at the review.
Ask at the right time
Even if you know your worth and have the facts to prove it, you won't get any more money if you don't ask for it. If the company's in the middle of a financial crisis and half of your department's been laid off, however, you might want to wait awhile. Ask at the wrong time and not only will you not receive more money, but your boss will wonder if you're paying attention to your surroundings or if you even care about the company's welfare. If you work in an industry that's still booming and your company's thriving, then you can broach the subject.
Think outside the box
Bosses love to challenge their employees to "think outside the box." When you're looking to stretch your paycheck this year, don't forget the nonmonetary perks. Frozen company budgets might not thaw much this year or at least not for a few more months, so why not negotiate other benefits?
Employers might be willing to offer more vacation time, flexible work hours or the ability to work from home now and then. Logging on to your computer from home means you're still doing your work, but you didn't pay a dime in transportation or lose any time commuting. The numbers on your paycheck might not change, but how you spend those dollars and hours can improve.
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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