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Negotiate a Raise in a Shaky Economy

Negotiate a Raise in a Shaky Economy

The economy may be sluggish, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeking a raise, salary negotiation experts say.

“Even in a down economy, getting the salary you want is still a function of relative power,” says Maryanne Wegerbauer, author of Next-Day Salary Negotiation: Prepare Tonight to Get Your Best Pay Tomorrow. “But it becomes more critical for people to document what they’ve contributed to the organization’s success.”

How do you tie what you do in your job to the big corporate picture? Start with any planning and review documents that list your goals and objectives, and then make a list of how you achieved each one and furthered company goals despite market challenges.

Next, share plaudits such as thank-you notes from peers, acknowledgements from clients and praise from other managers.

Finally, arm yourself with salary data. Find out what others in your job earn locally and then see if your industry’s trade association publishes salary data to gauge current compensation levels. “It’s important to get information together about current compensation, so you can make your case based on facts,” says Ian Ide, partner and manager of Winter, Wyman & Co.’s New York Technology Group.

If you’re moving to a new job and negotiating salary with future employers, consider the total value of the benefits packages you’re offered. “There can be substantial differences in vacation, health insurance contributions and bonuses,” Ide says. A company unwilling to increase salaries in a down market may still consider additional benefits such as a one-time sign-on bonus, he adds.

In a tough economy, the biggest advantage you can have when negotiating salary is another offer. “Make your job search as active as possible as quickly as possible,” Ide says. “If you have another offer coming in, the prospective employer is more likely to be as competitive as possible.”

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

For those seeking higher pay for doing the same job, come at the negotiation with the mind-set of a buyer rather than a seller, says Michael Zwell, PhD, author of Six-Figure Salary Negotiation: Industry Insiders Get You the Money You Deserve.

“In a recession, valued employees are even more valued,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities for folks that are good. Don’t be threatening or arrogant, but recognize that you have a lot of value and you deserve to be compensated for your contributions.”

If your company is laying off and you escape the axe, take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to your company. Look for holes and gaps left by departing workers, even if they don’t occur in your area.

One of Zwell’s clients, who works at a firm that laid off 10 percent of its workforce in mid-2008, did just that. “Within a few days of the layoff, he went to his boss and said, ‘I think we should have a meeting and go over all the responsibilities of the people who were laid off and decide how we’re going to cover those,’” Zwell explains. A suggestion like that shows you’re a valuable employee and significant contributor who’s ready to pitch in and get the remaining work done -- exactly the kind of person who deserves a raise.

When No Means No

In some cases, the economy really will prevent your boss from giving you a raise. “If you absolutely meet a brick wall, ask the boss if he or she will consider a second meeting six months down the road or an accelerated annual review,” Wegerbauer says.

If you can’t get a raise, take the long-term view and think about how your company can help you take the next step on your career path. Can your employer pay for additional education, training or career-development courses that will raise your value despite the economy?

Have a Plan B ready -- something you can ask for while the boss is feeling bad about not giving you the raise you deserve. Can you have a one-time bonus that won’t influence future salary? Can you work from home a few days a week? Can you take on a new leadership role?

If you keep abreast of your company’s financials, you’ll know whether profits exist to fund your raise. After all, this may be a recession, but it’s not a depression. “A lot of companies are doing well,” Zwell says. “There are a few industries that are really hurting, but most aren’t hurting. Good people will always be in demand.”

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