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6 Steps to Earning a Big Fat Raise

moneysign.jpgDuring my 7 years as a software engineer and architect, I was the master of the big raise. In an office where salary increases averaged 6%, my raises routinely pegged the double digit percentages. Further boosting my salary, I sometimes landed multiple raises in the same year via promotion. The end result was a near doubling of my base salary, without job hopping, butt kissing, or self-degradation.

A friend recently asked me, “John, how could a system that craps on me every year yield such high returns for you?”

That’s when I explained to him my 6 step process for maximizing raises and promotions.

Step 1: Find Out Who Controls Your Raises

key4.JPGOnce you understand who controls your raises, make that relationship your #1 priority. If your boss isn’t happy, advancement will be severely limited.

In many organizations, salary increases require approval from department heads or other management figures. If you can establish a positive, professional relationship with these gatekeepers, do so — it will grease the skids the next time your boss acts on your behalf.

Step 2: Find Out What Makes Your Boss Happy

key4.JPGLook around at the people within your company who get big raises. What do they do that others don’t? Whatever it is, learn from it. You don’t have to emulate them, but observation can help you understand the rules of the game.

It’s easy for people to view the company’s top performers as useless brown-nosers. But a person who brown-noses without providing utility isn’t likely to score the biggest raises.

Every company culture (and boss) rewards different characteristics. Some reward political skills, others punctuality. Some reward intelligence, others team leadership. Most reward a combination of things. To find out what your boss is looking for, try asking him — It’s not top secret.

Of course, asking will only get you so far because your boss (like most people) may not be aware of everything that makes him tick. This is where personal observations come in handy.

Step 3: Set Clear Goal Expectations with Your Boss

key4.JPGWork with your boss to establish mutually agreeable goals. Remember, your goals should make your boss’ life easier, since any goal that helps your boss will provide an easy sales-pitch for your promotion or raise come evaluation time.

Does your boss need numbers crunched for a big report? Is he looking for ideas to make his department run smoother? Find out what your boss needs, then document it in writing as one of your goals for the coming year.

As you work with your boss to create goals, keep salary expectations out of it — you’ll have plenty of time to discuss money once you’ve proven you can meet your objectives.  

Step 4: Achieve Your Goals with Flying Colors

Put your best effort into achieving your goals.

key4.JPGPeriodically throughout the year, ask your boss if you’re proving yourself as a top performer. If you’re not, ask what you can do better; then do that. And once you’ve done it, let your boss know.  Remember, your boss is your customer — Work hard and provide excellent customer service.  

Step 5: Plant the Money Seeds

A couple of months before your boss submits a final recommendation for this year’s raises, let him know you’re looking for a good raise.  

key4.JPGFlat-out asking for a raise can be tricky.  Everyone knows you work for the money, but some bosses anger if you ask for more. If you’ve established yourself as a top performer, your boss may be receptive to a better-than-average raise, but you don’t want to come across as greedy, unrealistic, or selfish. In other words, plant your salary expectations tactfully – but do plant them!

After I established myself as a top performer at my last job, I walked into my boss’s office holding a printout from that showed the median income for my position.  I kept the paper out of sight until my boss brought up the subject of this year’s raises, at which point I carefully revealed the sheet to him, placing it on his desk.

I said, “I don’t normally like to talk about money, but I just wanted to show you this graph, which shows I may be underpaid for the utility I’m providing.”

He looked at the graph intently.

I quickly followed up by saying, “Listen, I respect whatever raise you give me.  I just wanted to show you this salary graph so you could consider it.”

This conversation let him know I wanted a big raise – and it was a conversation I had earned by establishing my reputation as a top performer. As a direct result of this simple conversation, I earned a double digit raise — the first of many.

key4.JPGAnother tip: When it gets close to time for your boss to decide your raise, ask him when he’ll be making his decision. This lets him know you’re thinking about it, which lets him know you think it’s important.

Step 6: Handle Your Raise Appropriately

If you don’t get the raise you want, you can politely let your boss know you were hoping for more (which might help you next time around), but remain professional.

If you’re still not getting what you want after a few evaluation cycles (involving continuous improvement on your part), consider going someplace else because you may be able to find a job that better matches your propensities, talents, and personality.

A Final Note: Understand Your Market Worth

If you work in an industry where an income of $12/hr. is considered high, you have little chance of convincing your boss you are worth $25/hr.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for a raise; it just means you can’t use salary statistics as support and should understand the financial realities of your industry.  


18 Responses to “6 Steps to Earning a Big Fat Raise”

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  • Paula says:

    Hi John,
    I really enjoyed your logic and experience in written word. WOW! You gave me some great pointers.
    I’m going to try very hard to do alot of what you have pointed out, but here in Germany as a civilian working for the military, we have more then one boss. Trying to please them all is extremely tough. Sometimes I feel as if I’m hitting my head against the wall and I’m about to throw in the towel.

    Thank you again and God bless,
    Paula J. Guzman

  • JohnPlace says:

    Hi Paula,

    Do you have one boss who is responsible for suggesting your raise percentage? Or is it truly a collaboration among several bosses?

    At my last job, I had maybe 10 bosses (one project manager for every project I was on + others), but only one manager was responsible for my raise.

    If your situation is like mine, focus on your primary manager. If your situation is different (as in, if raises truly are a collaboration), this will be more challenging.

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