I worked a corporate job for 18 years and consistently got the highest raises of anybody in my group, even though half the time it was in companies that were actively downsizing.
I learned early on that landing a big raise is a marketing challenge rather than a political or interpersonal one. You must create the impression that your services are unique and rare, regardless of whether that's actually the case.
to do this, you utilize marketing's most fundamental tools:
- Positioning. You frame your contributions for your boss so that she's clear that 1) you're a valuable resource and 2) more important that you know you're valuable and therefore might depart for greener pastures.
- Repetition. As the old saying goes: "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." You can't expect your boss to read your mind and you can't assume that your boss knows that a raise is important to you. Frequent reminders--like those in this post--are in order.
Before I get started, one general rule: never talk about your raise in front of your peers or underlings. Reserve your "squeaks" for times when only your boss can hear them. Here are the exact sentences that worked for me:
1. "If I accomplish these goals, how big a raise will I get?"
When: Say this if you're assigned and accept ambitious goals that serve to advance the boss's career or position.
Why: If you don't ask now, your boss will assume you consider yourself sufficiently compensated for doing whatever you've agreed to do.
Next step: Send an email documenting any commitment that the boss made to you. Remember: a commitment isn't real unless it's been documented.
2. "I'm not being paid enough." (Wryly)
When: When you and your boss are working together on something that's difficult or challenging and nobody else is around. Note: this line is delivered with a touch of humor... but a bit of an edge as well.
Why: To establish a connection in the boss's mind that you know that you're going beyond the call of duty and, moreover, expect to be compensated for it.
Next step: Say: "Oh, well, let's get back to work!" and let the matter drop. Think of this remark as a "shot over the bow" that you expect a raise rather than an attempt to open a discussion of your compensation.
3. "According to [reliable source], people with my job title make $$$$$ more on average."
When: Three months prior to your performance review.
Why: To establish the objective fact that you're underpaid and (more importantly) you know you're underpaid and (implicitly) expect your boss to address the problem..
Next step: Ask: "Any idea of how can we get my compensation in line with the industry average?" Then offering to work together with your boss to get you the compensation you deserve.
Note: your boss may plead "corporate guidelines" or some other BS. The truth: exceptions are always made if enough pressure is applied.
4. "I just made the company $$$$$."
When: Any time you make your company money, especially in sales.
Why: To make certain your boss knows that you're creating massively more value to the company that whatever they're paying you.
Next step: Nothing. The remark stands on its own merits.
5. "I just saved the company $$$$$."
When: Any time you save your company money.
Why: To make certain your boss knows you just helped the company become more profitable.
Next step: Provide proof of how much you saved, using whatever metrics your boss (and your boss's boss) will accept.
6. "I'm not sure how long I can afford to continue working here."
When: Any time that your boss so much as implies or suggests in any way that you're not going to get the raise you deserve.
Why: Because it's true.
Next step: Say: "Well, I'm not looking for another job right now but am I correct in assuming that you'll be a good reference, should I decide to look?" Remember: big raises never go to employees who the boss thinks are unlikely to leave.
Note: Always have at least three future job opportunities under development. Having options is the key to taking intelligent risks.
7. "[long silence]"
When: If you're offered a raise that's smaller than what you expect and deserve.
Why: Your boss probably has a better raise in his or her back pocket. Your shocked silence will result in a higher offer. This really works but only if you keep your mouth shut until the other person says something. I know this works because I made $18,000 in 7 seconds by keeping my mouth shut in this exact manner.
Next step: Accept the higher offer.
Note: Keeping silent can be uncomfortable but definitely worth it. Consider: if you hold your peace for 10 seconds and you get a $1,000 extra in salary, for that 10 seconds you made the equivalent of a yearly salary of $3,155,760,000.00