There are few career-related conversation topics more touchy than what a person makes. If you've ever tried asking a friend or trusted colleague his or her salary only to be greeted by awkward silence or a dismissive laugh, you understand.
But knowing if you're being paid well enough is important, for obvious reasons. And that's especially true for women, who still aren't paid the same as men.
To figure out how your salary compares to your peers, try job and salary site Glassdoor's tool "Know Your Worth."
To use it, enter your salary, job title and location, all of which is kept anonymous. Glassdoor then compares your salary to others in your area to see how you stack up, as well as what you could be making, based on estimates from recent job postings.
For example, a marketing coordinator in New York who enters a salary of $40,000 is making about 14 percent less than the average of $45,720 for similar professionals in her area, according to 538 reports submitted to "Know Your Worth." She could be making closer to $49,000 at other companies, the tool shows.
"Despite the increase in workplace transparency since Glassdoor launched in 2008, it's still incredibly hard to know if you're being paid fairly," says Robert Hohman, Glassdoor co-founder and CEO, "as company pay practices are still largely opaque and talking about pay remains taboo."
While experts recommend seeking advice from mentors in addition to doing online research, using this tool can provide a helpful way to figure out where you stand on the pay scale.
If you feel your work has been consistently strong and that you are being underpaid, ask for a raise. Not many people do it because it's scary. In fact, only half of job seekers negotiate their salary.
These five steps can help make the process less intimidating.
1. Approach your boss months before raise decisions are made
"Raise decisions often don't happen in isolation," says Rachel Kim, career strategist and coach at personal loan and finance company SoFi, "so it's good to have some time for you to build your case as well as for your boss to advocate for you as well."
"When you're ready to finally make the ask, schedule a meeting with your manager and make it clear that it will be about discussing your compensation and growth," says Kim, who helped organize SoFi's "Raise Week" initiative encouraging professionals to ask for a raise.
2. Prepare for the meeting
Bring examples of how your work has benefited the company or exceeded expectations. Did you spearhead a new project? Successfully complete assignments ahead of time? Jot these wins down.
And mentally prepare, says negotiation expert Keld Jensen who recommends a series of actions to take before the meeting. Spend some time thinking about what your boss wants, what you want and what you're going to do if you don't succeed, he says. This will help you make the most compelling argument.
3. Use the right language
"First, express appreciation for the opportunity to discuss your progress as well as your future with the team and company," says Kim. "Share what you've learned, how you've grown, some big and small win stories as well as any numbers that back up how you've added value to the bottom line."
Using language that expresses shared goals and common interests will also help you make your case. This is especially important for women, who studies show have the added burden of having to appear unselfish when asking for a raise.
Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Professor Hannah Riley Bowles, who specializes in gender and negotiations, says that to negotiate successfully, women have to "come across as being nice" and be "concerned about others."
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book "Lean In" that using pronouns such as "we" and "our" can make your boss more open to your request.
4. Make the ask
After sharing evidence of your performance, state your request.
Kim recommends saying: "Given what I've shared, I'm hoping that we can open up the dialogue about increasing compensation by X percent to (the higher salary). What do you think?"
5. Don't just ask for money
If your company cannot offer you a raise, consider negotiating more vacation days, time to work from home or to be added on projects that excite you, says Jensen, author of more than 20 books on the subject, including "The Trust Factor" and "Negotiating Partnerships."
"Most people are negotiating on too few variables," he says.
Asking for more paid time off or flexibility in your schedule, he says, provides great benefit to you and little cost to the employer, making it a strong bet.
Research shows that 75 percent of raise requests result in some kind of salary bump. The odds are in your favor. Even if you don't succeed, you'll get valuable feedback on what you need to do in order to get a raise in the future.
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