A year ago, talented IT managers could easily capture a 20 to 30 percent raise without doing cartwheels. All they had to do was threaten to leave. But the halcyon days of 1999 and 2000 are over and may never return. Companies are still doling out raises, but they’re doing so sparingly and selectively. Only the best and brightest stand a chance of conquering a raise, which can be as high as 15 percent or possibly more.

Regardless of the quality of your work performance, you’d be making a big mistake if you told your CFO you deserved a raise simply because you got one last year, warned Valerie Perlewitz, president and CEO of Reliable Integration Services, Inc., a systems integration company in Tysons Corner, VA.

“I can’t think of a worse reason to justify a raise,” she said. “You’ll have to make a much stronger case for yourself.”

One thing is certain: An uncertain economy, a weak technology market, and numerous layoffs have made it more difficult to get a raise.

So how do you ask for a raise that exceeds the national average of 3 to 4 percent? The key to getting a raise is proving you deserve one, according to Perlewitz.

Prove your value by documenting your accomplishments
Just as IT managers monitor the people under them, they must also track their own accomplishments so they can justify getting a raise, Perlewitz advised. She suggested keeping a daily or weekly log of projects and achievements so managers can put together a list of the most important ones that demonstrate their value.

“Many IT managers make the assumption that their bosses know exactly what they did,” Perlewitz said. “In large organizations, busy CEOs or CFOs only remember what you’ve done for them today. They don’t remember details from quarter to quarter because they’re so busy.

“Adding value means more than doing your job well,” Perlewitz explains. “Developing and designing systems or networks that increase productivity or profits is a clear justification of value.”

Turning in an average work performance translates into a cost-of-living raise at Perlewitz’s company. A better-than-average performance brings an 8 to 10 percent raise. An exceptional performance means an extra percentage point or two on top of a 10 percent raise plus a $2,500 bonus.

Consider these additional tips that will increase your chances of getting a decent raise.

Ask for feedback
An excellent way to prove your value and stay in a boss’ sights is to constantly ask for feedback.

“You stand a better chance of getting the raise you want by building a good working relationship with your boss,” said Steve Torres, HR director of the California State Automobile Association in San Francisco.

He suggests that managers request biweekly or monthly meetings with the CEO to evaluate their performance.

“This is an excellent way to find out if you and your boss are on the same wavelength and meeting management’s expectations,” Torres explained. “This is also an excellent way to improve your performance. A decent raise is almost guaranteed if your boss perceives your performance the same way you do.”

Location can affect the amount of a raise
Find out what competitors are paying senior IT managers around the country. 

“Your location has a lot to do with salary levels,” said John Motroni, president of JPM Consulting, an HR consulting company that works exclusively with technology companies in San Jose, CA. “Pay scales in large cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston are usually higher than salaries in Dayton, Jacksonville, or Baton Rouge because the cost of living is much lower.”

Best time to ask for a raise
Timing is critical. The best time to ask for a raise is on Friday either in the late morning or early afternoon.

“This is when the corporate mood is lighter, tensions have eased, and everyone, including senior management, is thinking about the weekend ahead,” said Torres. “You’re also more likely to get your boss’s full attention, which makes it easier to justify a raise.”

Conversely, the worst time to ask for a raise is on a Monday or Tuesday.

“The mood is all business, deadlines have to be met, projects completed, and meetings abound,” Torres said. “If your CFO has problems of his own to contend with, raise negotiations are not likely to be well received.”

What NOT to say when asking for a raise
Every word during your meeting with your CFO should justify your raise with sound business reasons. The following arguments won’t carry any clout:

  • A recently hired IT manager received an above-average raise. “You’re treading on dangerous ground,” said Motroni. “This is an inappropriate and irrelevant issue more likely to trigger anger rather than understanding. It also makes you look bad. All you can do is assume there were sound reasons for the raise that have little to do with you.”
  • You have personal financial troubles. Needing money for college tuition, to make up for your spouse having lost his or her job, or increased mortgage payments have nothing to do with your work performance.
  • You’ll quit if you don’t get a raise. This tactic demonstrates little loyalty to the company and skewed priorities. “Loving your job and doing it well take precedence over your salary,” Motroni said. “Those are the sentiments you must get across.”

Denied a raise: What’s next?
There’s always a chance that your CFO will come back with a 3 to 4 percent raise, rather than the 10 to 15 percent you think you deserve. Or your CEO may not be giving out any raises because the company is going through a rough period. In these circumstances, Motroni advises asking to revisit the issue at another time. You might say, “I understand this is a difficult period for the company. Could we meet again in six months to revisit the issue?” The CFO has nothing to lose.

“If nothing else, he’ll admire your persistence, which is yet another reason to justify a raise,” Motroni added.

Torres’ best advice in this situation is to keep all your bridges intact. “If you don’t get the raise you think you deserve or are denied a raise, make sure you leave your CFO’s office with the same excellent rapport you had when you entered it. There is a good chance you’ll have a similar conversation again in the next year.”

What is the outlook for raises at your company?

Has your CEO already warned managers not to expect much this year? Are you managing employees’ expectations about yearly raises and bonuses? Or is your company planning to award healthy raises despite the bleak economic climate? Tell us how your company is handling raises this year.