Salary surveys show you're underpaid - how do you ask your boss for a pay raise?

* Tips on using salary survey data during performance reviews

The best part of writing this newsletter is getting feedback from readers and hearing about their career and training successes as well as their concerns. One recent correspondence I received was from a reader wanting to know how to use data from salary surveys during performance reviews, particularly if the majority of surveys show the individual to be earning below the average. It's questions such as these that I present to my panel of career experts for their advice. But before we get to that, I wanted to point you to a new blog I've set up especially to enable you to ask any career-related question you have and to be answered by my panel of career and training experts, as well as by your peers.

Check out the blog here where I've posted a question from another reader - a newbie who wanted to know whether to go for Microsoft or Cisco certifications. This resource is for you, so if you have any burning career questions, please e-mail me and I will forward it to my panel of career experts and also post it up on my blog so that your peers can share their expertise as well. And for you experienced pros, please share your advice and experiences with us through the blog.

So back to the earlier mentioned question, the reader wrote: "Based on all the Web sites other than payscale.com, I am way underpaid. Looking at payscale.com, I am paid higher than the average. I don't get this. Anyway, can and should I use these compensation surveys (other than payscale.com), to show my boss I am underpaid? If so, how do I approach this and talk about it with my boss in my review? I don't want to be so forthright as to say 'I need more money', or 'I am way underpaid.' I don't feel that's good business etiquette. Am I right on this? I don't want anything to backfire on me. It's a small company where I work, and my reviews in years past were excellent, but I only received 4% raises (which I think the standard is if you're doing well). I appreciate your help, and any advice."

Sandi Henrikson, regional manager at national recruitment firm Sapphire Technologies U.S., responded: "At 4%, the raises you have received in past years are a little above the standard so that's pretty respectable. If you are looking for a higher raise this year, it is good that you have done your homework. You mentioned that you work for a small organization. Some small businesses are not well educated on current salary rates outside their company or industry, so sharing the survey information may be helpful in enlightening them. However, there are couple things to keep in mind.

"Although compensation surveys are a great way to take a general look at your overall salary, they can be somewhat vague and as you found, inconsistent. Though helpful in determining if your current pay might be out of line, they probably won't be the determining factor in you getting an increase. Highlighting what you personally have brought to the table - your experience, skill, and performance over the year - will be more effective. Be sure to bring up your former reviews and your willingness to take on more responsibilities. In asking for a raise, I would recommend leading with your performance and then bringing up the compensation reports for supporting evidence to show that your requested raise is reasonable.

"Another possibility to consider is that being a smaller firm, your company may not be able to afford the going rate. If this is the case, it is important to take into account all the other perks they may offer you such as flexibility, time off, benefits, bonuses, etc. These can be considered as very valuable to some and may make up for any shortcoming in salary.

"In the end, be prepared to request a REALISTIC salary increase - don't shoot for the moon."

Peter Berlich, CEO of Birchtree Consulting and a member of the (ISC)2 board of directors, is also a blogger for Network World's IT Careers Research Center. This is his response:

"For what it's worth, here's my raw thinking on the situation:

"Differences between surveys can result from different samples. (We are seeing this in our own Workforce Study, the differences can be dramatic.) I wouldn't sweat the statistical base - use them for grading yourself on a larger scale, not more. Your manager (or at least the HR manager) are very likely to have read data of a similar kind when they offered you your current salary.

"Demanding more money 'because others get it as well' has never worked for anybody I know. At best they may view it as irrelevant (after all you're getting paid for your own performance, not that of other people), at worst confrontational. Even if they would privately agree with you it's a gamble whether that would gain you anything."Use the information you obtained to determine your negotiation strategy. They may give you an indication on what a reasonable target figure is. However you still need to argue a raise on the basis of your value to the company - did you become more effective or efficient over the last year? Did you finish a critical project successfully and have another one coming? Those are the points that count. Note also that no matter what your value to the company is, there are limits to how big raises can get, even if both sides would see them as fair. (I'll quote 'budget' and 'setting an example' as keywords.)

"Would you be prepared to leave if they don't grant you a certain raise? That might be your BATNA (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement). However, even if you are, and even if you know you are critical to the organization's success, never hint at it or, worse, use it as a threat. Don't talk yourself into a corner. (Depending on who you're dealing with it might result in immediate termination of your conversation.)

"This last one may be hard to digest: You say you've only just grown into your role. You can be proud of your excellent reviews, but are you sure you're already worth the big bucks with your probably limited experience?

"A lot of hard stuff, I'm sure. Irrespective of our material needs we often see a salary as something with a huge impact on our self respect. So play cool and don't let that get to you. You may consider a couple of practice interviews. Be ready to learn from them."

Berlich posted his response in his blog, click here to see his readers' comments to this issue.

Next week, we'll hear the response from James Del Monte, president of Houston-based JDA Professional Services.

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