Even in tough economic times, it is reasonable to hope for - even to expect in some circumstances - a wage increase in your job. If the boss doesn't do it on her own, you may need to make a case for it. Providing for a family is a challenge; you deserve to be paid a fair salary. The following is a simple, step-by-step plan to help you ask your boss for the raise you deserve.

Deserve the raise

People always believe they deserve a raise. Before you go ask for a raise, be sure you really are doing more than is required of you.

Focus on results

Everyone can make the argument, "I'm working harder than Sally and Bob and they make more than I do; I deserve a raise." The argument sounds more like a whine than a defensible case. Rather than focus on your inputs (hours, ideas, and effort) focus on the outputs (results, outcomes, and achievements). Don't just identify your accomplishments ("I successfully completed project A.") Define the results, ("I just successfully completed project A which saved the company $50,000.")

Make the pitch

Once your case is ready, you really deserve a raise and you can quantify your value in terms of dollars, make an appointment with your boss to be sure you've got her undivided, focused attention. You know your boss better than I do, but being prepared is vital. Don't over prepare. A 42 slide PowerPoint presentation is way over the top. Be prepared to make a three to five minute verbal pitch, no memos, no slides, outlining the results you've achieved - well in excess of your total compensation package.

Don't demand a specific number

The biggest reason not to demand a raise of a specific amount is that your boss may be willing to do much more than you hoped or expected. If you ask for too much, you may frustrate your boss who would like to give you a raise, but can't deliver on your demand.

Be patient

Regardless of what your boss intends to do, she'll likely say something along the lines of, "Let me see what I can do." This may be to get you out of her office and it may be because she really needs to talk to the powers that be to see what she can do for you. Don't pester her. Wait up to 30 days for her to get back to you.

Show appreciation

Whatever raise your boss provides, show appreciation. You never know the political sacrifices she may have made on your behalf, even if the raise is disappointing. Remember that in a high unemployment world, your family will be very glad you got any raise at all.

Find an alternative

If the raise you are offered is inadequate, seek out an alternative by quietly testing the market. Pass your resume around, network, apply for a few open positions. If you get a bona fide offer that you really could take, you may want to give your boss one last chance to boost you up to the level of the offer. This often works.

Don't bluff

If you tell your boss you have an offer when you don't, be prepared to pack up your stuff and go home. Odds are good your boss will sniff out the bluff and her reaction may be very bad for your career.

Being underpaid isn't all bad

If you are underpaid and both you and your boss know it, there is one big advantage: in bad times, you will be the last person fired. Being the highest paid person in your department is like having a target painted on your chest. Not only will you be held to a higher standard of performance, you could be the first one to go in tough times.

For more guidance about asking for a raise, consider reading the book, Indispensable by Monday.

Bosses rarely appreciate their employees enough. You know that's true. It's also true that most employees don't appreciate their jobs enough. Be glad you've got one. Your family is.

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