How to get yourself a raise

IT staff can boost their business value

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Has anyone in your IT department managed to get a raise lately? Statistically, the answer is "probably not." Pay for IT employees, as well as everybody else, has been flat for a few years now, and many analysts don't expect it to get better this year.

In a survey released in November 2009 by the Society for Information Management (SIM), 46% of IT staffers polled said they expected to see no bump in pay in 2010, with another 9% predicting that IT staff salaries in 2010 would actually be lower than they were in 2009.

But that doesn't mean you can't talk your boss into giving you a raise.

"Short of impending financial collapse, even when there are salary freezes, good employees can always get salary increases," declares Erik Van Slyke, founding partner of Solleva Group, a firm that advises companies on change management, new technologies and IT strategies.

If you're a techie who wants a raise despite tough times, industry insiders say you have to build a strong business case and execute the right strategy. Here's how to do just that.

Set the stage

From the moment you take a job, know what you must do to earn raises and promotions, says Nicole Spicer, president of recruitment firm OARIP and a frequent presenter with Women in Technology International.

Have a clear job description, and make sure you and your supervisor agree on what it means to be successful in your position, she says. Then do the job better than expected. Ask for extra assignments. Find ways to help your boss solve whatever problems he or she is facing.

Spicer cites the case of one IT manager in particular who taught Java to colleagues after work and volunteered to mentor junior workers. "He was constantly being promoted and getting significant raises because he was always doing more than the requirements in his job description," Spicer says. Just don't get so swept up that you forget why you're going the extra mile. "People need to track everything they do. We get so busy in our day-to-day jobs that we forget what we've done," she says.

If people offer kudos for a well done job, ask them to email you the compliments and cc your boss, Spicer advises. Gathering that kind of documentation about your outstanding performances and on the job victories will help you build your case for a raise when the time comes, she says.

Benchmark your salary

Even when salaries are stagnant, your pay should be on par with that of other professionals in your region and field of expertise, says Jerry Luftman, executive director and distinguished professor at Stevens Institute of Technology's School of Technology Management.

Look at surveys and job postings to calculate the salary range for your position in your region. Discreetly ask coworkers and colleagues in your professional network what they're hearing about the average salaries and raises for your type of position. Look at your company's financial reports and their official stance on pay practices and policies.

Luftman, who conducted last year's SIM research on salary trends, says all this will help you understand what you should be earning and how big a raise you could reasonably make a case for (or whether you should expect a raise at all). "If you hear that some people are getting raises, then it might be something to pursue," he says.

If not, consider negotiating a raise based on the argument that you've taken on new responsibilities during the recession, suggests Alan Vengel, CEO of Vengel Consulting Group and author of 20 Minutes to a Top Performer. If you're like many other tech workers, consolidations and layoffs have left you doing more, but without an additional bump in pay or a promotion.

If that's the case, ask your boss to recalculate your pay to take into account the job you're actually doing today, again using comparable figures as a benchmark.

Articulate your value

It's natural for IT employees to consider their technical skills their strongest contribution to the corporation, but that's not necessarily what upper management values most, says Solleva Group's Van Slyke.

Stop and think about what your boss values most in your work, and what he or she is trying to accomplish from a business perspective. Having a world class programmer on staff isn't a goal in and of itself. "You have to be masterful in understanding what the other person wants or needs," Van Slyke explains. "You have to pay attention to that if you want to get a raise."

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