Money

How to Get a Raise This Year—Even If Your Boss Won't Budge

You've got three options. Choose wisely.

by Raj Chander; illustrated by Kitron Neuschatz
Apr 9 2018, 7:21pm

Whether you view it as the ultimate status symbol or the root of all evil, money matters. It sucks not making enough, especially if it’s a constant concern: perpetually worrying about paying the bills can actually lead to poor decision making. Even if you aren’t struggling to make ends meet, there are plenty of things you could do with some extra money.

But like most people, you’re probably paid a fixed amount, whether hourly or salary. And standard raises don't move the needle much. Wages increased just 2.7% over the past year, according to the March 2018 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Factor in inflation, and that works out to less than 1% annually.

While any raise is better than nothing, if you want to move into a significantly higher income bracket, you'll need to get more creative. Maybe you can put in some overtime or grab extra hours, but that’s a short-term windfall. Or you could do a side gig to supplement your day job. But that can lead to burn out—not to mention the lack of stability that comes with freelancing.

So if you want to make more money consistently and have all the benefits that come with being employed—like paid vacations, cheap health insurance, and the camaraderie of coworkers—focus on making your main gig pay more.

Here are three smart ways to make that happen:

The art of asking for more money

It's unlikely that your company is just going to give you a raise out of the blue. While many companies have annual reviews that may or may not involve a raise, in general the onus is on you to broach the subject.

Remember: it’s not necessary to wait for an official review to talk about a raise. “The most healthy environments I've seen my clients create are ones in which they openly discuss with their supervisor the career trajectory they have in mind,” said Gideon Culman, owner of K Street Coaching.

“If it seems ill-advised in your current role to discuss raises outside of a scheduled review, this is a big red flag. Ask yourself what other sub-optimal conditions you may be tolerating,” he added.

When you actually do speak with your boss, be straightforward without getting too formal. It’s easy to get nervous or awkward when discussing money. Be relaxed, but direct. Don’t just throw the ask out there—give him or her reasons that you should be earning more.

Ask yourself this: “What value are you bringing to the organization that would make an extra investment worth the return?”, Gary Slyman, president of professional coaching firm Great Transitions, suggested. Once you figure that out, you can make a more compelling case for why you deserve a pay bump.

Cite actual achievements and successful project outcomes whenever possible. Point out all the extra work you are doing since you got your last raise and, if possible, how that has impacted the company's bottom line.

Ladder up

It can be tough to convince your boss to give you a raise if there's nothing more you can do in your current role. This is where looking for an actual promotion is the smart move.

While you could look at job listings on your company website, your best best is to talk to the person hiring for the more senior role and express your interest. Believe it or not, they may have no idea that you want to take on more responsibility, so again the onus is on you. If you get even the least bit of encouragement, offer to do the role on a trial basis or come up with a written proposal on how you'd do the job.

If you do offer to do the bigger job on a trial basis, make sure the test period has a firm end date when a decision will be made. “I had a client working for one of the big four [professional services firms] who had been doing the work of someone at the next level for years. They kept promising her a promotion, and it never came," Slyman noted. Don't let that happen to you.

If the new role requires special skills you don't already have, consider taking courses after work to be a better candidate. If you're lucky, your company may reimburse some or all of your course costs. (Check with your human resources department to find out.) Worst case scenario, you've acquired new knowledge and contacts to help you try the most surefire way to get a raise, which we've saved for last.

Keep it moving

If your current employer doesn't see your worth, then the smart move is to find one that will. Note that this does not mean quitting your job without something else lined up, which can be super risky and actually hurt your chances of increasing your pay, since you may be so desperate to start making money again that you'll take whatever you're offered.

Even if you loathe the idea of spending another day smiling as Bob in accounting as he shows you his calendar of cats wearing suits, at least you have an income. You can afford to be a bit pickier about the kinds of jobs you interview for.

Get started by spending your lunch break surfing career sites like Indeed, Monster and Glassdoor. Talk to people who have the job you want and find out if they know of any openings or can offer you tips on how to position yourself for the higher-paid role you want.

Most importantly, make sure the jobs you are aiming for actually pay more than what you're earning now. While sites like PayScale have tools to help you figure this out, the averages are self reported and aren't always an accurate gauge of what you can make.

“You have to do thorough research to identify higher-paying positions. No shortcuts here,” said Culman.

“Go beyond the advertisement,” added Slyman. “Spend time networking with people at the company. Find folks who know the organization and its culture: what are they about?”

The best surefire way to find out how much more you can earn? Get an actual job offer. That means going on interviews. To make sure they don't interfere too much with your current job, schedule them during the slow hours at work, or, if you get called into a couple places around the same time, consider taking a personal day to handle them without everyone at work wondering why you're all dressed up on a Tuesday.

In general, it's wise to keep your lips zipped about your job search. “If you telling your boss that you are looking for another job would lead to you being told to pack your belongings and leave the building, keep it to yourself,” says Slyman.

Once you have a job offer, you can mention it to your boss if you think it might increase your pay. This tactic can work by giving you leverage in negotiations, the Harvard Business Review reported, but you risk developing ill will at your company if you decide to stay.

But once you have an offer for another job that pays more and opens new doors, the smart move may very well be to give notice and take the leap.

Raj is a freelance writer and content marketing consultant who helps everyone from Fortune 500 brands to small agencies figure out this whole digital thing. Follow Raj on Twitter.