When people feel underpaid, they frequently make strategic errors in their approach to the problem. This was clearly illustrated by two readers of my newspaper column, who had very different reactions to their dilemma. Here's what they had to say:
- "When I was hired, the salary offer seemed quite low for someone with a Master's degree. I accepted anyway, but now I resent my minimal paycheck. Since the idea of asking for money makes me uncomfortable, I'm hoping my boss will see that I deserve a raise."
- "I'm a top performer, but my pay is low compared to the market. When I pointed this out during my review, nothing happened. This year, if management offers me a 5-percent increase, I'll just say 'Thanks, but I'm worth more than that. What can you do to bring my pay up to market level?'"
While the first employee is waiting for the problem to be magically solved, the second is planning to make aggressive demands. Unfortunately, neither approach is likely to be successful.
If you are also wishing for a pay increase, here are some suggestions that may help:
1. Know the worth of your job. Just as every product has a price, every job has a market value. To discover yours, network with peers at other companies or check out salary comparison websites. But since titles can be misleading, be sure to focus on responsibilities.
2. Research your company's pay practices. Talk with your HR manager to learn more about compensation policies, increase practices, and salary ranges. And if you don't know what's meant by "internal and external pay comparisons", ask for an explanation.
(Read more: Advice from a CEO: Up your game in 2014)
3. Be realistic. Just as you would not pay a Mercedes price for a Chevrolet, a company will not pay a lawyer's salary to a receptionist. When you reach the maximum salary for your job, raises may only occur as the market value increases.
4. Remember that confidence counts! If you don't believe that you're worth more money, you'll have a hard time convincing your boss. So arm yourself with facts about your responsibilities and accomplishments, as well as appropriate pay comparisons.
5. Focus on selling, not begging. The fact that you have five kids or a lot of debt is not the company's problem. People get raises because they add value, so instead of pleading for an increase because you need it, explain why you deserve it.
(Read more: Hate your job? Time to get a plan for 2014)
6. Don't wait for your performance review. While the performance review might seem like a logical time to ask for a raise, that's not always the case. In many companies, salary decisions are made before appraisals are discussed with employees, so get your request in early.
7.Choose your timing wisely. The best time to ask for money is when you have completed a challenging project, solved a major problem, or taken on new responsibilities. But if you missed your goals or had a major screw-up, forget about it. And if your company recently had a sales slump or a layoff, that's clearly a bad time.
8. Consider your boss's personality. Some managers are convinced by assertive sales pitches, while others respond to data-driven presentations. When deciding how to make your case, think about what works best with your particular boss.
(Read more: 10 most stressful and least stressful jobs for 2014)
9. Just do it! Although asking for money makes many people anxious, few managers will be surprised or offended by the request. So gather your facts, rehearse your presentation, and take the plunge. The worst that can happen is your boss says no.
10. If you get turned down, don't stop there. There's no shame in asking for a raise, so if you get a rejection, don't slink away in embarrassment. Instead, consider these possibilities ...
- If your boss doesn't seem convinced, ask what you could do to merit an increase.
- If your boss says this is a bad time, ask when it might be reasonable to renew your request.
- If salary budgets are an issue, try for a bonus. A one-time payment won't affect the pay structure, so it might be easier to get.
- If your responsibilities have increased, ask for a better title. You may not have an immediate raise, but a new title will allow you to make higher-level pay comparisons in the future.
— By Marie McIntyre