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How to ask for a raise during a recession

Meridith Levinson | Dec. 17, 2008
Asking for a raise when the economy is bad can make you look out of touch with reality and insensitive to your employer's business challenges.

Even Kilmartin thinks that if you have specialized skills-for example, if you're the only person in your company who knows a mission-critical system and if your company will suffer if it loses you-you might be in a good position to ask for a raise.

And if you can quantify the value of specific work you've done to the company's bottom line, you're in an even better position, says Sisemore. Performance reviews that show you're exceeding expectations also help you make a case.

One other critical factor to consider when deciding whether or not to ask for a raise in a recession is your employer's position: Is it struggling to meet its numbers? Has it had to lay off staff? Has it instituted a hiring freeze?

"If they believe the company is having a hard time, an employee may still decide not to ask for a raise, even if their wage is low compared to market value," says Payscale's Lee. He notes that an employee might opt to wait to ask for a raise until the economy rebounds, knowing the company's fortunes are going to change. "They may decide, 'I'll forgo extra income now because I recognize where the company is and I want to be part of this company's future," he says.

If you decide to ask for a raise, the best way to go about it is matter-of-factly, says Lee. Provide your boss with firm data that shows that your salary is below the market rate and with evidence of the value you bring to your company, says Lee. The conversation, he adds, should be about your skills and experience in the context of the market rate-not about how wonderful you are, how much your boss likes you or how much your employer cares about you.

"Employers as well should be aware of what the market rate is, and not begrudge employees for finding out they're being paid less than market wages," says Lee.


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