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By Laura T. Coffey
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/15/2007 7:33:58 PM ET 2007-01-16T00:33:58

You know you deserve it. You know you should bring it up. But can you think of anything more stressful than approaching your boss and asking for a raise? The following tips will help you maintain your composure, time the conversation well and distinguish yourself a favorable way.

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1. Know what’s fair and reasonable. Before barging in and asking for a raise, do some research about common pay levels in your field both locally and nationally. It’s also important to understand your company’s financial picture at this moment in time. If the firm is more flush with cash at other times of the year, ask then.

2. Know where to look. To gather information about your profession’s salary range, check trade journals, salary-related Web sites with cost-of-living calculators, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Also try contacting recruiters and local representatives of professional associations.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. To help calm your nerves, spend quality time rehearsing a brief presentation that stresses positive, measurable facts about your performance. Consider practicing your presentation with someone you trust.

4. Do a “clout check.” How’s your clout with your employer right this minute? If you’ve just had a bad run in your performance, this probably isn’t the best time to make the pitch for a raise. But if you’re on a winning streak, or you’ve just been offered another job elsewhere, there’s no time like the present.

5. Ask yourself where you want to be. One key detail to bear in mind if you decide to use an outside job offer as a negotiating tactic: You must be willing to leave. Your employer may take the bait and try to entice you to stay – or not.

6. Know when it’s too early to ask. You almost definitely should be with a company for at least a year before broaching the subject of a raise. Wait until you’ve built up enough expertise, knowledge and customer relationships to be perceived as indispensable.

7. Step up. Take the initiative to learn new skills and assume added responsibilities without being asked. Such steps could distinguish you and put you in line for higher pay.

8. Help out with your performance appraisal. Bosses hate doing those, so make the process as easy as possible – especially if raises are doled out only during annual review season. Write up a memo or an e-mail message outlining your key accomplishments over the past year. Tailor what you write to fit the review form used at your company.

9. Have a specific goal in mind. After doing your research and assessing your situation, decide on a target raise percentage that seems reasonable. It won’t guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you want, but it could be a great source of clarity during your conversation with your boss.

10. Consider negotiating for perks. Maybe a pay raise won’t fly at the moment – in part because it would involve extra taxes and workers’ compensation for your employer. But you can ask for other things, including an extra week of vacation, extra personal days, education benefits or increased car or cell phone allowances.

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