Deserve More Than the Average 3-Percent Raise? Here’s How to Ask for It

"Now’s a great time to say your piece before companies square away budgets for the rest of the year and 2018."

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The economy may be improving, but big raises and bonuses are still hard to come by. For 2018, a recent Aon survey found most of us can expect just a 3-percent bump—if that—about the same that we’ve seen for the past several years. (So-called “lesser performers” may come up totally empty-handed, as more companies move toward merit-based compensation strategies.)

And the hits keep coming: Spending on variable pay, like bonuses, is expected to make up just 12.5 percent of payroll, the lowest level since 2013.

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But I thought the job market was looking good?

It is. As of August, the unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent, the lowest since 2007. And employers have even been reporting that they’re having trouble filling jobs. You’d think that means employers, in turn, would want to retain us with bigger raises and bonuses.

“But companies remain under pressure to increase productivity and minimize costs,” Aon’s Ken Abosch said in a statement. “As a result, we continue to see relatively flat salary increase budgets... with most organizations continuing to tie the majority of their compensation budgets to pay incentives that reward for performance and business results.”

So I have to settle for 3 percent?

Never settle, friend. If you feel you’ve earned a bigger paycheck, you’ve got to ask for it—especially considering how tightly employers are clutching the purse strings. In fact, now’s a great time to say your piece before companies square away budgets for the rest of the year and 2018.

How do I ask?

With confidence—and numbers to back you up. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping a running list of all the awesome work you’ve done. If not, take time to review your mental highlight reel. It’s not just about being prepared to talk about your achievements, says Kim Seeling Smith, founder of HR consulting firm Ignite Global. “Also try to quantify how those achievements have added to the company’s bottom line.”

Another number you need in your arsenal: your worth on the open market. Get an idea by checking compensation sites like Payscale, Glassdoor and Salary.com. Seeing what other people in similar positions are earning can help you ensure you’re fairly compensated.

Seeling Smith also recommends researching which skills are in greatest demand in your field and at your company. For example, in the tech world, IT executives rank database management, Windows administration and desktop support among the top skills they’re looking for in employees. If highly sought-after talents are in your wheelhouse, make sure to emphasize the value you bring.

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What if the boss says no?

No doesn’t mean never. It’s possible you didn’t present a strong enough case. Or your manager may just be unable to pay up now—like if the budget’s already set or there’s a company-wide pay freeze. So, it’s worth asking.

Either way, “negotiate a specific time for a further review and work with the manager to determine key metrics, which, if achieved, will result in an increase or bonus,” says Seeling Smith. “If possible, this agreement should be put in writing.”

And if you’ve made a good case, and your boss really doesn’t have a good reason for denying you more cash? It may be time to update your resume.