It was Ben Franklin, one of America’s wealthiest forefathers, who penned the famous line: “Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes.” It seems like that truth has become only more certain with time, and our generation is grinding as hard as ever to get our cream.
You’ve put in the long hours at the shop, you got all the coffee they asked you for, you served your customers with a smile on your face and a tune in your heart and you know deep down that it’s time for a raise. You’re overworked, underpaid and, goddamn it, you’re not going to take it anymore! I get it—we’ve all been there, young buck.
But acquiring a pay raise isn’t always easy. It means knowing how to navigate the nuanced art of negotiation and all the tact, skill and strategy that goes into it. Knowing when to ask, how to ask and what to ask for are all parts of the process, yet few people truly know how it’s done. Let’s get to it, then:
Understand Things From Your Boss’ Perspective
I don’t want to start this off on the wrong foot, so before we get down to it, let’s talk about your boss. Very rarely does it occur that an employee asks their boss for a raise and they’re greeted with a smile and a handshake. Far as your boss is concerned, you’re essentially asking them to pay you more money tomorrow to do the same job you’re doing today.
Or maybe you’re trying to turn that three-month internship into a full-time gig. Or maybe you’re trying to grab for that mid-level step up and make sure you get the pay bump that comes with it. Either way you slice that pie, your boss might not be as open to it as you’re hoping.
Plus, there are usually other factors that are simply outside your boss’ control. Your boss still has a boss, and that person has a boss of their own, and the person after that likely has an entire board of bosses to answer to. Businesses do well because they enjoy holding onto their money. When they need to let go of some of it, they like it to be for good reason.
I also hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how cool your boss is, they likely hired you for as little money as they possibly could because it’s their job. If you’re reading this, you’re likely lower down on the totem pole and your career is just getting off the ground. They know your worth as well as you do, and if they have anything to say about it, they’re probably going to do their best to remind you.
At any other time in your career, your boss can be your friend, confidant and mentor. But when it’s raise talk time, they’re the company person, and you’re the pauper. This is almost always going to be an uphill battle for you, so act accordingly and come prepared.
Know When to Ask For One
So much of your approach to a raise is going to rely on tact. You’re not going to be able to walk into your boss’ office, yell, “FUCK YOU, PAY ME!” and expect solid results. The goal is to be able to identify the right moment to ask, and then go in for the kill. Don’t know when the right time is? Here are a couple clues:
When you’re actually underpaid
This is important enough to deserve its own subhead, but time and space are limited, so this’ll have to do. If you’re actually being underpaid for the work you’re doing, you can—and should—ask for compensation. The idea here should be to conduct a ton of research on websites like Glassdoor, Quora and even Reddit to find what the average salary in your field is. You’ll find websites that will give you a national average, as well as a regional one for you to base your demands off of.
Just keep in mind what I said before about tact. Don’t run into your boss’ office yelling about some stuff you saw on the internet. Your boss knows exactly how valuable of an intern/employee you are. Find a way to let them know that you know, too.
When you consistently kick ass at your job
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really important to note. We all have good days at the office, but if you’re consistently kicking ass and over-performing, it’s absolutely appropriate to start sowing the seeds that say, “Hey, yeah, I’m doin’ the damn thing.”
If you’re an intern, the good news is your supervisors are already looking to see what kind of headway you’re making at the company. If you’re continually excelling, it spells only good news for you. The bad news, however, is that because you’re probably working for free (or getting paid dirt), leveraging anything more might be difficult.
If you’re working for a place worth anything, you’re going to, at some point, have to deal with a review. In worker speak, “review” is practically code for “raise.” When it comes down to it, deal with all the constructive criticism that your boss is going to pass your way (remember, it’s their job to convince you they’re paying you what they owe you), but be prepared to sell yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask about compensation. This is the time to make a case.
If the company is experiencing a financial growth spurt
Is your company doing better/more business year-on-year? Are they hiring new people left and right? Is your pool of colleagues getting bigger? You may want to consider approaching your boss about some kind of raise or even promotion.
You put your heart and soul into the business like everyone else, and if your work truly made an impact (and even if it probably didn’t), feel free to look for an avenue to bring it up.
Expect A Three Percent Raise Every Year—At Least
This one should go without saying, and in most places outside the U.S., it does. The fact is, even though you were hired at $X, your general cost of living is going to increase annually with the cost of living, which is generally at least three percent every year, no matter what.
That said, even if your company wants to keep you flat, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a three percent raise annually in order to keep up with the increasing cost of living. If they aren’t giving you at least that, it’s probably best that you run far, far away.
Have Another Offer At The Ready—You May Have to Jump Ship
I wanted to bury this one a little lower down into the story because it’s sobering enough of an idea to scare some of you away. The fact is, if you’re going to ask your boss for a raise, you may risk straining your relationship to the point of no return. If you’re not prepared to at least look at that possibility, you neither want nor need a raise badly enough.
That said, if this is one of those circumstances where you’re being grossly underpaid for your job, or your company just isn’t good about things like due compensation and professional growth, don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the water and see if you like getting wet. When it comes down to it, the only real bargaining chip you have over your employer is your labor, and if someone else is paying you more money to do it elsewhere, it’s your best bet.
The best news for you is that since you’re probably at a point in your career where your job is still entry or junior level, it means there’s a lot of opportunity out there for you to move on. All you have to do is be willing to go grab it.
Don’t Accept the Counter Offer Under Any Circumstances
At this point, we’re not talking about your current job, we’re talking about the new job you're leaving your current job for. If it comes down to a point where you have to toss out the fact that you have another offer (whether subtly or overtly), it may prompt a counter-offer from your employer to stay on.
That might sound like a grand idea. You get what you wanted at the beginning of the conversation without having to take any leaps into the unknown or without having to start from scratch elsewhere.
The issue is that the statistics say otherwise. According to Christopher Elmes of the Capital H Group (a human-capital consulting firm), the average employee who accepts a counter-offer stays with their employer for less than one year. Accepting a counter could potentially mean voluntarily putting a target on your back. Anyway you cut it, it’s a bad move.
If you burn that bridge, burn it all the way and don’t look back, and enjoy the greener pastures and new opportunities while you’re at it!
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