Money is tight everywhere. Even people doing well are feeling the impact of local, national, and global slowdowns in the economy. That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean no one is getting merit increases, promotions, and salary adjustments. Whether you work for a company that has a very structured compensation review process or are employed in a more entrepreneurial setting where salaries are handled in a less formal manner, you have to have a strategy and approach to making sure you are getting what you have rightfully earned without jeopardizing what you have.

Here are a few points to consider prior to any conversation about money:

Stress how you contributed to either saving money, making money, finding time, or giving the organization recognition or prestige. Let the numbers and facts speak first and powerfully.

Take a full-year view. It’s human nature to ask “what have you done for me lately.” Remind those with power what happened in Q1 and Q2 as well as during the last 90 days.

Focus on what makes you unique or invaluable aka hard to replace. It’s a passive threat but keeps people on notice that they would have a hard time finding another you.

Cite accolades, special relationships, and connections with customers, clients, or vendors. They have measureable value.

Know your worth on the outside, what others would be willing to pay you. Take headhunters’ calls and ask about salaries in your field. Some groups talk money. There are a number of lawyer chat rooms that definitely dish about dollars. Look at job postings, go to and read information about salaries in your field. If your job has a comparable position in government, those salaries are in the public domain.

Discuss compensation with your immediate supervisor before salary decisions are finalized. Feel him/her out and ask if your expectations are realistic and what would increase your chances of getting a raise.

Ask your boss to advocate for you at compensation time. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when you discuss me at the compensation review but since I can’t, I was hoping you’d be my advocate.” This technique only works if you have built a positive and honest relationship over time.

Talk “total compensation” not just salary. Think bonus, perks, compensation review in six months. If time off is important, ask for that. Maybe they’ll pick up some of your commuting expense, let you work from home a day or two a week. Smaller or privately held companies have more flexibility but every organization has some wiggle room, it just may not be with dollars.

Dedicate enough quality time to working on your self-evaluation. They are read and you wouldn’t be the first person to see his or her words verbatim on the final review. Write it in a few sittings, so you get a complete picture. Invest the time in you.

A change in title, position, or responsibility often triggers an increase in salary. If you are doing more or something different from last year, aim to have a salary adjustment made. It gets you past the “no increases” hurdle.

Inequity can sometimes bring an increase. If you are doing the same job as someone else and he or she is positioned at a higher level, or you get the sense he or she is being better compensated, say so and ask if the situation could be reviewed. Often it works, at worst, it makes others aware for the future.

No one is entitled to a salary increase; they must be earned, proven with tangible results and compatible with the organization’s current fiscal status.

Compensation awards are not objective or ever final. These are human decisions driven by guidelines that can be questioned if done with the right set of facts and an, “I’m curious” tone.

Never dwell on the number of hours or how hard you work. No one pays for effort, only results. Talking about expended energy makes you sound like a temporary or hourly worker, not an executive.

Never threaten to leave if you don’t get what you want. Someone might just call you on your bluff.

Never reveal you have compared salaries with co-workers, it is considered a no-no, though many people do it.

Never plead for money for personal reasons. Because your kid is in college, your bills are higher, or your lifestyle has changed is not their business or concern. It also doesn’t entitle you to a raise. Revealing such personal information could also tarnish your star.

Take the opposite side of the bargaining table. How would you see your performance and what is it worth?

Sometimes keeping your job is the reward. Unfortunately, in many industries having a position is all you are going to get at the moment. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be praised for your work or keep increasing your value, or that you even should be happy with the news; it’s just realistic. There are times to reap and times to sow, and even times just to pull weeds. Know where you and your company stand at the moment, and tailor you pitch to the times.

Compensation is a delicate and loaded subject. Most people hate talking about money and salary reviews are directly related to the subject. Prepare for the conversation; load up on facts related to your contribution and the results of your efforts. Focus on what you bring to the team that is unique or high value. Be aware, and let others know you know your worth in the open market. Take a curious tone rather than a combative approach. Shelve your sense of entitlement and stress the business decision perspective. Be realistic, professional, and open to compromise, and you have a better chance of getting what you have earned.

If this whole compensation thing makes you a little queasy, angry, anxious, or befuddled — join the club. It is an area where everyone at the table seems a bit out of sorts. When working with my coaching clients, I find many of them don’t really know how to approach the decision makers about salary, titles, or other forms of remuneration — that’s where a coaching conversation can become valuable.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.