If you're unhappy with your current salary, then it absolutely pays to sit your manager down and ask for a raise. Chances are, the salary you're able to command at your next job will be based on your present earnings, at least to some extent, so if you have reason to believe you're being underpaid, you shouldn't hesitate to make your case.
Some people who want more money will simply approach their managers with the figure they're looking for and hope their bosses agree. Others, however, will intentionally ask for more than they know they deserve so that there's room to negotiate downward. The question is: Is the latter approach the best way to go?
How much should you ask for?
Imagine you're currently earning $50,000 a year, and after doing your research, you discover you should be making $55,000 based on what the average person with your job title earns in your area. If you go in and ask for $55,000, your boss might come back with a number that's somewhere in between your target salary and your actual salary -- say, $52,000. While that still gets you a boost, it doesn't get you what you want.
On the other hand, if you go in asking for too much money, your manager might shut the conversation down and refuse to negotiate with you at all. For example, asking for $65,000 might be unrealistic given your job title and skills, and if you go in asking for that thinking it'll leave more room for negotiation, your boss might dismiss your request altogether. And that certainly won't do you any good.
It pays to be realistic
So what's the solution? It's OK to ask for a little more money than what you think you deserve, but don't go overboard. If you present a number that's clearly out of reach for someone at your level, your manager may not take your request seriously.
Going back to our example, you might sit down with your boss and ask for a $57,000 salary. If he attempts to negotiate downward, you'll still end up with the $55,000 you want, or something close. But if you go in asking for $65,000, which is a good $10,000 more than what the typical worker with your job title earns, a few things might happen.
First, your boss might peg you as greedy, which won't work in your favor. Next, your boss might assume that you haven't done your research, which also won't bode well for you. Third, your boss might be so downright appalled at your audacity that he kicks you out of his office.
Okay, that third scenario is a little extreme, but the point is that you need to come off as reasonable, so don't shoot too high with your number. At the same time, bring along the salary data you've gathered so that if your boss asks you to back up your numbers, you'll be able to on the spot.
Not only that, but also come in prepared with some concrete reasons why you deserve a salary that's slightly higher than the average one for your job title. Maybe you just saved your company a ton of money by implementing a new inventory management system. That's a valid reason to ask for an increase that takes your salary to a higher number than what the average person with your title makes.
There's nothing wrong with overshooting your target salary when negotiating a raise because this gives you room to go back and forth with your manager. Just be sure not to go overboard, and to build a strong case for that boost to begin with. That way, you'll be more likely to come out a winner.