Enterprise Software

My salary's too low: Should I ask for a raise?

So you feel like your salary isn't up to par with industry standards. Before you plot your case for a raise, use these tips to check your facts and gather your evidence.

By Molly Joss

Q. I did some market research on salaries for my level of training and certification, and I discovered that I’m being compensated at the midrange of the spectrum. I’ve been with my current employer for three years and have a good work history. Due to the nature of government contracts, I’ve worked for many companies in the last six years, and I really don’t want to start over with another company.

With increasing expenses, I need a raise; but with the economy the way it is, I’m afraid to broach the topic. Though I’ve been treated fairly well overall, an individual who is not known for being overly generous privately owns the company. Do you have any suggestions? Should I look elsewhere or live with the situation as it is?

A. There’s an old adage: Those who don’t ask don’t get. So if you want more money, by all means ask for it. But don’t run down the hall to talk to your boss about a raise just yet. Let’s step back and get some perspective so you can decide if you really want to ask for a raise right now.

You said you’ve done some research into salaries, and you’re in the middle of the range. Go back and look at what’s buried in the fine print of those surveys to see what those numbers are based on. Many salary surveys are based on self-reported numbers, not actual salary data. So you may be seeing what people wish they were making rather than what they actually see on their paychecks.

Or, you may find out that the range is based on the earnings of people who have held those jobs for five years or more. You’ve only been in your current position for three years, so you may be making a good salary for the time you’ve been on the job.

To get a reality check, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Web site. Of all the salary stats for IT jobs that I’ve seen, the bureau’s seem to be the most realistic. The bureau’s numbers are based on payroll records, not on somebody’s wildest dreams. This link takes you directly to the bureau’s information on computer programming, data processing, and related computer services.

Check out the data on wages, earnings, and benefits, and look for the earnings for your type of job in your part of the world. Salaries differ from region to region.

Do the research to satisfy your own curiosity, and then act if you feel it’s justified. But even if you confirm your suspicions, you may not get your raise. The fact that A) other people in the same kind of job make more money, or B) you need (or want) more money probably won’t impress your boss. If you offer these reasons to management, the response may well be "too bad, maybe you should work elsewhere" or "maybe you should cut back on your expenses."

Of course, if you’ve been in your job three years and haven’t had a performance review or a salary increase, then something may be amiss. Either the owner is really stingy or isn’t managing the company properly. Find out whether other employees in your department are getting reviews or raises on a regular basis. If they aren’t, you may want to look for another opportunity soon because you’re not in a good long-term situation, despite being treated well in other ways.

If you do ask for a raise after you’ve done the research I’ve suggested, gather every bit of evidence you can muster to prove you’re a valuable employee. For example, put together a folder of e-mail messages from other employees thanking you for your help; gather letters from customers praising you; assemble records of how you worked overtime to complete a project, and so on. Use those as the basis of your request, and you might get some extra money.

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