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The first step to getting a raise: Deserve it

''If your goal is to make as much money as you possibly can, that is called greed, not goal setting.'' Marilyn Moats Kennedy, ''Salary Strategies''

A lot has been written lately on the subject of salary increases, much of which reads like how-to manuals for greed. Employers, however - unlike how-to authors - rarely confuse clever negotiating techniques with genuine worth, so the first step to getting a raise must be: Deserve it.

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But the process of obtaining a better salary doesn't stop there, say the experts. Simply assuming more work, making yourself more efficient and productive, or taking the initiative in your company - particularly if you are a woman - will not ''ensure an automatic boost up the ladder,'' writes the staff of Catalyst, a national nonprofit group that studies issues affecting working women.

They offer the ''wisdom of the Working Woman's Law: If unchecked, work will flow to the most competent woman in every office.''

If you feel you deserve a raise - if your work has been outstanding, and particularly if your company is dependent on you to do a particular project - go ahead and ask for one. But pick a good time to ask, writes Steven Kravette in ''Get a Raise in 60 Days.''

''Be really sure you have chosen a moment when your boss can be fully available to listen to you. If she has a board meeting in 20 minutes or your company's stock just dropped 47 points, another moment on another day might be better,'' he says.

The people at Catalyst give this example: ''Your company has just landed an important new account, and your boss wants you to help serve that account. The time to speak up (about your raise) is before you start staying until 9 o'clock every night. In fact, the time to speak up is usually just before you accept more responsibilities.''

Many companies normally pass out raises after regular periodic reviews, but Mr. Kravette thinks that should not hinder you from asking for a raise before your next scheduled review. Do not, however, ask by trying to demean or overthrow the company's raise policies, he says. In a survey Mr. Kravette conducted on salary negotiations, employers told him the one element that would consistently keep them from granting a raise was insubordination.

If you've made the decision to ask for a raise, begin by doing your homework. ''You should prepare for salary negotiations with the same diligent preparation you would give to a formal presentation in front of a group of people,'' write the staff of Catalyst.

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You need, say the experts, a realistic grasp of how well your company is doing and what the overall picture is on raises. Also, find out the range of salaries paid to people in your field to see where you fit; if you're toward the bottom, use this as a factor in your negotiating. That information may be found in local or national want ads, or from personnel agencies, the United States Department of Labor (phone your local office to see if they have any surveys in your field), or salary surveys published by magazines, trade and professional journals, or by the Chamber of Commerce.

Once you get this information, decide on how much of a raise to ask for (typically, a bit higher than one you'll accept), and go in to talk with your boss. Bring along a mental list of your accomplishments since your last raise - your increased productivity, the big project you completed on time, your excellent attendance record or on-time record, the creative solutions you've applied to the company's problems, the extra responsibilities you've taken on that have yet to be translated into dollars or promotion.

Then be prepared to negotiate, listening to your employer's counteroffers and restating your reasons for deserving the raise. Most experts think you should not automatically agree to the first offer your employer makes; if you can't respond immediately, say you need time to think it over.

You might also consider trading off higher pay for benefits - another week's vacation, a company car, a wider use of the company expense account. To evaluate any benefits offered, ''you must figure what it would cost to buy each if you were solely responsible for paying for it yourself,'' says Ms. Kennedy. ''This is not the same as the amount the organization pays, because it almost always gets a group rate for which you aren't eligible,'' she says.

Ms. Kennedy says she's noted ''a psychology of fear among people when they talk about money and salary negotiation. At seminars we hear people talking about being 'grateful' for a raise because, 'I could be replaced in a minute.' ''

Don't buy it, she says: ''Given the generally declining level of productivity across the board in this country, if you are more productive than the average worker, you are not lucky to be employed. You are earning what you are paid, probably more.''

What do you do if, after all this negotiating, the answer to your request for a raise is no? Before you quit, say the folks at Catalyst, ask yourself:

* Is the reason for the rejection valid?

* Was careful deliberation given to the request before their decision?

* Did you make a compelling enough case for the raise?

* Do you really need a regular paycheck right now?

If some of your answers are yes, they advise, ''calm down and stay put'' - and quietly start looking for another job. Then, once you get an offer, start negotiating with the new firm for a higher salary.

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