Getting a Raise: Your Experiences

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In my first article, I was pretty grim when it came to getting a raise, and in a way that kind of haunts me. Much of the reason for this, however, is because I have not had much luck with getting any kind of raise outside of the regular cycles or greater than the basic 2% inflation adjustment. I found that there are others out there for whom the situation has been equally or monumentally more grim, but there are still others who have found some success at getting the raise they deserve. Obviously, I don’t have the biggest sample size, but I think it is probably best to take our lessons where we can, set up provisional rules for success, and hone them down over time when better information emerges.

I want to thank the individuals who helped me gather data. I have removed their names and the names of their employers because sometimes businesses are really weird about what happens on the Internet. These tips are their tips. If you want to express your gratitude, I will be sure to pass it on.

  1. Ask for Opportunities to Grow

Sometimes you’re in a situation where it is clear that the business values its employees and sees them as the driving force in the company’s overall success. Sometimes you’re not, but we’re not here to talk about those situations. We covered most of the details about this in the previous post, but it never hurts to express interest in taking on more opportunities and just seeing where it goes. According to one of the people I interviewed, “a good employer listens and utilizes you to your full potential.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a good early step toward getting a raise. In fact, if you have a particularly caring and observant employer you won’t even have to ask — maybe you’ll find an offer waiting for you unexpectedly some day.

  1. Schedule a Formal Meeting

Nothing says, “I’m serious about getting a raise” quite like scheduling a formal meeting with the appropriate supervisor, manager or human resources representative. In fact, for one of the people I interviewed, the formal meeting is the centerpiece of the methodology that has gotten him multiple raises at multiple jobs. I think people might undervalue this idea, and that is exactly why we should be discussing it. If you just stop by your boss’s office and say, “I need a raise,” it could easily be interpreted as witty office banter. Your genial boss might say, “Don’t we all, buddy,” and laugh it off. Setting a specific date and time for meeting is much more intentional, and it makes the topic of the meeting far more impactful.

If putting a meeting on the calendar makes your request serious, asking for a specific amount makes it doubly serious. You’re not always going to get the full requested amount, but if you make a serious offer and back it up with good reasoning you stand a better chance of getting some kind of raise.

  1. Know Your Value

You may know your own personal worth and your boss may even know to some degree, but you’re going to need to find a way to make your worth quantifiable. In a perfect scenario, there would be a balanced equation when it comes to the relationship between your skills and your pay. If you don’t want to come off as greedy or out of line, you really want to prove that there is an inequality in this relationship, that your skills are greater in value than what you are currently getting paid. There are plenty of ways to make this clear, but I think the best way was suggested by one of the people I interviewed. She suggested that you base your argument off of the official job description for your position. When you sign on for a position you ratify two things, a job description and a starting wage, and these serve as a contract for employment. If you find that responsibilities have been added over time that were not on this original job description, you may have grounds for setting the scales right and getting a pay increase.

  1. Be Prepared to Walk Away?

The people I talked to are divided on this issue, and so am I. If you are ready to quit your job because you are not getting the raise that you want, you are adding extra value. If they give you the raise they don’t have to waste time and money hiring and training your replacement. On the other hand, I know there are plenty of employers who have a “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” attitude. If you are willing to quit your job then they don’t want you around anymore anyways. I think the take home message is that there is risk either way. If you are ready to walk, they may entice you to stay or they may just let you go. If you are not, they may not take you serious or they may just see you as a misunderstood team player. I cannot recommend one or the other.

* * *

There are a couple of conclusions I reached after speaking with a variety of people about what it takes to get a raise that don’t fit into simple numbered lists of imperatives. You are more likely to get a raise at higher income levels. You would be more likely to have success if your starting annual take-home pay was $50,000 rather than $25,000, for example. Similarly, raises seem to favor people working at local businesses rather than national or multi-national corporations. One of the people I interviewed noted that she had more problems at a small regional chain than she ever did at her current local employer. This doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get a raise of over 2% if you’re working near minimum wage at a mega corporation. The odds just aren’t in your favor as much as they might be for an Executive Vice President at an up-and-coming local business. None of these statistics are meant to be discouraging. Ultimately, you’re probably better off trying than not trying. Of all the stories I’ve heard about asking for a raise, I haven’t yet heard a story where someone was fired, demoted, docked pay, or retaliated against in any way for having the audacity to ask for a better wage. In fact, I have a strong belief that even if this were to happen there are labor organizations that would be happy to turn the issue into a lawsuit. If you view a request for a raise as either success or practice, then you’re probably going to be better off in the long run. Just be smart about it and ask for help. I’ve already learned quite a bit myself just in writing these posts, and I haven’t even heard that many stories yet.

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