Is It Time To Ask For a Raise?

Last Updated Nov 19, 2010 6:01 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I've been with a very new, small financing firm for almost 1 year, and in that time have learned a lot and have been regularly praised for my work. There have been a number of growing pains in the company's first year of operations, including layoffs for employees who weren't quite 'up to snuff' and some financing deals that fell through (so I know the company isn't as profitable as it would like to be).
I'm now at 11 months with the company, and was promised a review at month 9, but considering the company troubles, I was told by my manager that the timing wasn't great and to wait a bit.
My question is, how long should I be waiting for my review (i.e., to have a conversation about pay, which has sat for 7 months at nearly $7000/yr less than what I was led to believe I'd be making when I accepted the job last year). Is there ever a good time to ask for a raise when the company is doing less-than-amazingly?
You know, companies have totally bought into the idea that because they aren't doing well, they can treat their valued employees terribly. I'm not sure how they led you to believe you'd be making $7,000 more than you are now, but that's not very nice of them. It's also not very bright of you to accept a job based on a promise of a future raise. Granted, we all accept jobs that aren't perfect in the hopes that they'll get better. But, when you join a company you need to be willing to do what they want you to do right now for what they are paying you right now. You always have to assume that any promises about the "future" will fall through.

But, is it time to ask for a raise? Well, that depends on three things:
  1. Are you a high performer or not?
  2. Are your coworkers leaving for new jobs?
  3. Are other companies in your industry hiring?
I know, I know. You're a high performer. Everybody thinks that he or she is a high performer--in the top 10 percent, if not the top 5 percent.

Those of you who passed 5th grade math see the problem here. Clearly, 90 percent of us are not in the top 10 percent; we just think we are. Which is why you want a review before you start freaking out about how they should give you a $7000 raise. Even for someone making a good sized base salary of $100,000, that's still a 7% raise, which is a big raise, even in good times. (Of course, for all I know, you're making $350k a year and want the extra $7k because you're dying to buy a new handbag.)

Businesses would be wise to start looking at their top performers now. Yes, I know that your particular business hasn't picked up yet, but who will be doing the hard work of getting it profitable? Let me tell you, it's not the bottom of the barrel. It's the top performers. You know, the ones that have done a bang up job even though they haven't received proper raises for the past few years?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that those top performers are now out looking for new jobs.
Employers who snapped up top talent on the cheap in the depth of the recession should start worrying about defections, recruiters and management watchers say.

Companies that continued to hire during the slump found they were able to nab talented but recently laid-off workers at bargain salaries, or into jobs for which they were overqualified. Now, as the job market slowly loosens up--and those overqualified hires become more frustrated--some of them are considering greener pastures.
I've been warning people for years that you need to treat your best employees right or they'll leave. Well, that time is starting to come and they are going. So, this makes now a pretty good time to ask for a raise.

I know that your particular company is not thrilled with its overall performance right now, but they want to be. If you truly think you are a stellar performer, I'd ask. I'd point out my contributions, what I expect to accomplish in the next year, and how it is in the business's best interest to keep me happy. If your boss balks on any discussion of salary and performance, ask for a performance review anyway.

If some of your coworkers have left recently for new jobs, it shows that, even if your company isn't on top of the world, there are other companies that are hiring. They should not want to be losing their best employees to the competition.

Likewise, even if everyone at your firm is staying put, if your competitors are hiring it's a sign that wages should be going up.

If your review shows you're not a top performer, you will know what you need to work on. If you are a top performer, then ask bring up the following with your boss: "Boss, my evaluation shows that I'm performing above expectation. If this business wants to be successful you need people like me. People who can and do perform well. People who are an asset to the company. Bob and Karen have already left and [competitor] is hiring. I would like to stay here. What steps is the company willing to take to make sure they keep me on board?"

This conversation only works if you are a high performer. If you just think you are, well, it's kind of an embarrassing question to ask. But, if you are a high performer, and a raise doesn't appear to be forthcoming and either you have coworkers leaving or competitors hiring, now is definitely the time to start asking.
Photo by quaziefoto, Flickr cc 2.0

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