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Science Careers Blog

January 23, 2009

Getting a Raise in a Recession, Really

Earlier this week, Dana Mattioli offered some hints in the Wall Street Journal's online careers section on getting a pay raise in these tough times. It's more difficult, says Mattioli, but not impossble.

Mattioli's advice is written mainly for employees of private companies, but her words apply to faculty and staff at universities or research institutes, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Even in the best of times, asking for a raise requires doing a little homework. In the winter of 2009, Mattioli says, it requires even more homework.

Start with documenting your accomplishments and contributions to your organization. Even in the worst times, employers want to retain and reward top performers, so you need to spell out your contributions; don't assume that the decision-makers already know about them. Show how you increased revenues through sales or new grants, brought in new customers, cut costs, or increased productivity.

In some cases your contributions may be subtle, but they can still can make a significant impact. For example, if you improved the way your lab captures and reports on the use of funders' grant money, this can reduce a lab's overhead and make more time available for researchers to do their science, as well as help increase the chances of a follow-on grant.

Mattioli suggests doing another homework assignment: make sure your organization can afford the raise. Check your employer's latest budget or financial reports, if available. Science Careers reported last month how health and education organizations are not in quite the same dire straits as the rest of the economy, so many researchers may be in a somewhat better position than most others.

Another strategy Mattioli recommends, this one more daring, is to ask for a promotion. If your performance and contributions--that you have so well documented--show that you can handle more responsibility and authority, then go for it. Mattioli quotes a human-resources consultant who had a client that wrote himself a promotion with an 8-page document making his case.

Even if your organization is not willing or able to hand out raises, Mattioli says, making your case now can help get your request to the head of the line when the economy improves. She quotes Jeff Summer who heads the talent management practice at the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Summer advises deferred-raise seekers to align their efforts to their organization's recovery goals over the next year. Then be prepared at your next salary review to show how you helped make that recovery happen.
 
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