Want a Raise? Prepare, as well as Perform

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This isn't the easiest time to ask for a raise. In fact, it's hard to imagine many people even thinking about it right now, unless they've been ignoring anything resembling the news for the past three or four months. But then, when you think about it, you realize events might put some in the uncomfortable position of having to. I think about a friend of mine whose spouse recently lost her job, cutting their family's income nearly in half. And, even in this environment, there are people who've just got a really impressive sense of their value.

Whatever the motivation, remember two things if you want to ask for a raise this year: It's possible, but even if you get one, it's probably not going to be as much as you want. That, at least, is how Dana Mattioli of The Wall Street Journal sees it. Among other things, she notes most raises will got to top performers: "So if you plan to ask for one, make sure you've done an honest self-assessment about whether you've made significant contributions in 2008," she writes.

As always, you want to make a strong case for yourself when you talk to your boss. This year, that means pointing out where you've saved the company money, brought in new business or in general gone beyond the call of duty. The more specific you are - especially in areas that touch the bottom line - the more solid the ground you'll be on.

And there's this, which is a point I think many people don't consider:

Contrary to what many workers might believe, bosses in this climate are eager to hold on to strong workers, so they may be willing to find a way to increase compensation of valuable people, says Jack Chapman, a salary coach in Chicago. "They have fewer people, higher costs and thinner margins, so bosses are really appreciative of people who can step up and contribute," he says.

Whatever you do, and even if your request is turned down, take the long view:

If your request for a raise is turned down this year, take it in stride and consider a longer-term view. In the interim, many experts agree that now is the time to position yourself for promotions and raises once the economy stabilizes. "The market actually affords career opportunities, because businesses are highly focused on solving problems and if you can help solve those problems you become integral to the organization," says Jeff Summer, principal with PricewaterhouseCoopers and lead of the accounting firm's talent-management practice. Mr. Summer advises figuring out what your organization's goals will be in the coming year and aligning your skills to help them adjust to the difficult market.

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