Money is always a tricky topic to broach with your boss. If you think you're being underpaid, finding out what you're worth and doing something about it can improve your personal bottom line.
"If you don't ask, you don't get," says Sunny Bates, author of the book, How to Earn What You're Worth: Leveraging Your Goals and Talents to Land Your Dream Job, "But you have to build a case for yourself."
Here are some steps to help get you there:
Do Your Homework
Find out how you stack up against others. "The better informed you are, the more you're empowered to ask for what you believe you deserve," says Bates.
Check online salary calculators to determine much others in your same position are being paid. Jack Chapman, career and salary coach and author of the book, Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute, suggests using four or five different sources. Start with payscale.com, which has a running database of people's earnings, he says. Another useful site is indeed.com, a search engine for jobs that provides useful salary information. Glassdoor.com also has anonymous, employee-reported salary information.
But be sure to factor in particulars like your company's margins and geographic location, says Rick Smith, author of the book, The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great.
Keep Co-workers Out of It
Tempting as it may seem, talking about salary with coworkers is a dangerous move, says Chapman. Worse still is mentioning those conversations to the boss. Just because you work the same job as someone, does not mean you will get the same salary. Making that kind of demand puts your manager in an uncomfortable spot, says Chapman.
If you do want to talk with someone at your company, Smith suggests approaching someone more senior to you, like a mentor, and asking a broader question like: If I get promoted, what are the pay ranges for those types of jobs? Going behind your boss's back to talk about your current pay with others is a big no-no, however, so make sure you're tactful about it.
Don't Play the Victim
Too often people approach their managers with a request for higher pay by focusing on their need for more money. "The classic mistake in negotiating is the victim approach," says Chapman. "That doesn't go far with bosses because their job is to pay you for your work, not monitor your finances."
Instead focus on the company and your boss's best interests, says Gregory Northcraft, professor of business administration at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and co-author of the book Get Paid What You're Worth. "If you want a raise, what you have to do is figure out how to make it in your boss's best interest to give you that," he says.
How Much Are You Worth?
Start thinking carefully about what it is that makes you worthy of reward.
That means not just doing market research, but determining your value to the company -- a factor that, let's face it -- varies from employee to employee. "Find out where you are in terms of level and responsibility," says Bates. "How core is your job? How core is your role? How core are you for what you are doing for the company?"
Spend some time figuring out how to quantify your worth. How much money were you able to save the company last year for example? "You can go to your boss and say, 'I've saved the company $300,000. I should be paid above average,'" says Chapman.
Think Beyond Salary
Often your manager's hands are tied when it comes to paying you more. Don't forget to consider other rewards, what Smith calls these "silent benefits," or ones that won't be announced to everyone around you. "Look for incremental things you can ask for that don't cause a precedent issue within the organization," he says.
For example, you don't want to ask for six weeks vacation in the summer because that would disrupt the flow of work and make it seem like everyone ought to get as much vacation time. But, if you can negotiate leaving on Fridays at noon, that adds up to two weeks extra vacation per year. Maybe there's a transportation expense or conference you can get the company to pay for.
"Often, what you can get is cash equivalents...rather than money," says Chapman.
Negotiating a bonus rather than a pay increase is also easier, says Chapman, particularly if you're talking about a future raise. "Getting a piece of the pie when it's imaginary pie is a lot easier," he says.
While broaching the subject of pay is never easy, making sure you're well-informed, figuring out your value to the company, and framing your argument to your boss in a way that underscores the benefits to the organization rather than simply yourself will take you a long way. Think broadly. Getting what you deserve for your work doesn't simply mean earning more money. "The more broadly you can want, the easier it is for [your boss] to satisfy you," says Northcraft.
Write to Jane Porter here.