5 Ways to Negotiate a Higher Salary

dollar race

It is very rare to feel like you are really making as much money as you deserve.  That is just human nature.  But there is something much worse than having a vague feeling that you may not be making as much as you should.

And that is knowing with absolute certainty that you make 20% less than others in your position.  Ouch!

Earlier in my career I worked at a company that wasn’t very disciplined or logical in their salary structure. They had various people in special rotational programs, lured people from other companies by offering higher than market rates, and had no structured approach to salary increases for strong performers. It was very much a fend for yourself system which rewarded those who made the most noise or were willing to job-hop.

I didn’t realize this until after three years with the company and by that time I was way behind the curve!

I realized that people who had been working there just one year were making 20% to 30% more than me.  And these were people who I was training and mentoring in order to keep them from making major errors. I certainly was enjoying the work, learning the business, and becoming a go-to person for training new people and performing the more critical functions of the group.

BUT when I heard that I was being underpaid by 20% I wasn’t very happy. It made me feel like I was less valued and that I wasn’t being treated fairly. It wasn’t so much the money itself because I had agreed to that salary and was able to pay my bills. The thing that bothered me was that I felt like I had been tricked and used! Here I was putting in extra hours, working Saturdays, mentoring others and creating documentation.  I was really being a team player.  I felt like we were all a good team and that we were accomplishing something great.

When I found out that I was the least valued member of the team that hurt. There are a lot of reactions possible in a situation like that so I had to do some hard thinking. The emotional response would not really result in a good outcome for me.

Yes I could quit and “show them” how valuable I really was. But what good would that really do? That would hurt them and hurt me. I could also stop doing a good job and no longer pull my weight on the team. But again, that would hurt them and hurt me.  In fact, both of those options would hurt me more than anyone.

Not to mention, I believe it is unethical to do those kinds of things. So I decided to not focus on the negative but focus on the positive and to be logical.  What I really wanted was to be paid what I felt I was worth and to be a valued member of the team. And I learned these five tips.

Caution: some of these are extreme and you should only use if you are really unhappy and ready to leave.

Be a Top Performer

Obvious yes.  But the first and most important thing you need to do to be confident in your salary negotiation is to be sure that you are in the top 10% to 20% of performers.  Now, this doesn’t mean that you are known to leadership to be that high of a performer.  This means that you actually are in the top-tier.  This will be important as you follow the other tips.

Always have a positive attitude and be likeable with your direct supervisor and especially with leadership.  Take every opportunity to really surprise your leaders by going above and beyond. I once had a very unreasonable request to provide something that we had never done before by 9am the next day.  I tried to stay late and do it but was just too dog tired to concentrate.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I knew I was about to enter into very intense salary negotiations. So I got up at 4am and went into the office. By 8:30 I had everything complete and reviewed. I delivered copies of the requested reports by 9am for the presentation and my boss’s boss was absolutely dumbfounded.  He couldn’t understand where the report came from and how it was created. He actually came by my desk and questioned me very closely about it.

It ended up being a very memorable event for him and got them to realize that I may have more capacity to take on challenges than they previously thought.

Be Persuasive and Likeable

Don’t get huffy and snotty with everyone just because you are unhappy. It does no good and makes you look like an idiot.  There is nothing worse you can do when planning to enter a negotiation like this than to build walls between you and your leader. If you do that, you may win the battle but lose the war.  You may get a raise but everyone will hate to be around you and  your longer term prospects will be dim.

Rather, be persuasive and likeable. Make sure that you are ready to smile and enter into conversations.  Keep your energy levels up in meetings and when your boss comes by your office.  Show them how pleasant it is to work with you and how much you are contributing.

Address the Issue Head On

This is very important. If you are unhappy with your salary just tell your boss!! I know this seems obvious but it is really hard to do.  Most of us would rather the boss just walk up to us and say, “hey you are doing a great job and I’ve been looking at how much you make compared to everyone else, and based on how hard you are working I’m just going to go ahead and give you a 10% raise.”  But that is never going to happen.

Most bosses unfortunately don’t ever do that kind of analysis unless they are forced to.  They also have very strict guidelines over how they can give raises in the first place.  Those guidelines allow them to give one person a 4% raise while giving someone else who isn’t performing as well a 2% raise.

That kind of difference is not going to make someone feel good if they make 20% less than everyone else.  But that is usually all that is available at a larger company.

What really needs to happen is that you go to your boss with a very positive and winsome attitude and just say, “you know I’ve been really enjoying working here and I like this place. I have been learning a great deal about the company and the industry and have been becoming a more and more valuable part of the team. And I feel like I should be making $x per year.”

It is very important that you are positive and gracious in this conversation. But it is also important that you have a specific number in mind that you should be making based on a few compelling reasons. Having that conversation will help build trust and is only fair to do so that your boss has a chance to react.

Be Willing to Take the Next Step

When having salary conversations you need to be ready for the unexpected. Because no boss is going to be able to easily give someone a significant raise just because they asked.  They actually need to show that there has been a significant change in work for them to justify a raise.

This may require you to very quickly be able to answer some questions from your boss about your willingness to take another position or modify your current responsibilities. This happens for several reasons and one of them is surely that they want to see if you can demonstrate your abilities in a higher profile position. But also it is to see if you are up for changing roles and showing that you are willing to learn multiple types of work.

Having someone who can learn multiple roles and who has experience in various areas is of tremendous value to the company and they will be more ready to pay for that than someone with little experience.  Or someone who is never willing to move to get more understanding and experience.

Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to a new role. It is often very refreshing to take a new position and will make a raise much more likely. The temptation is to stay in your comfort zone. But the comfort zone is not generally going to get you a salary increase.

Test the Market

If you are going to test the labor market by interviewing for other jobs at different companies you should always mention it to your current boss.

This is for several reasons:

  1. if you use them as a reference but haven’t told them you are looking for a job they will not appreciate it and probably won’t give you a great reference
  2. it is only fair to tell them that you are looking (even if they weren’t fair to you)
  3. it will help them understand how serious you are in your frustration at your salary

This will be a great way for you to test and see if you really are worth more money in the labor market. If you go out and get two or three job offers with more pay then you know that you were correct.

However, if you get no job offers or you get offers with comparable or lower salaries you may have been mistaken in your estimation of how much you should be making in a year.

Once you have a job offer for a higher salary in hand in the form of a written offer, you can really negotiate.

With this written job offer you have now entered a new world of negotiation. Human Resources can now treat you like an external candidate. In other words, it now no longer matters what your current salary is – it only matters what your recent offers are.  The company is basically now free to compete with the offers you have received and doesn’t have to limit itself to very modest annual increases.

This is obviously a very involved and risk step to take as you don’t know if you will get other offers and what reaction your boss will have to you interviewing elsewhere.  But this is a very powerful negotiating tool and if done correctly will make you much more likely to get a raise.

Have a story about negotiating a higher salary or interviewing for jobs outside of your company? Let me know. 

Author: Patient Wealth Builder

I live in the Mid Atlantic region with my wife and children. I am a finance manager for a Fortune 100 Company with over 10 years experience and have an MBA and CPA - but my true passion is investing!

2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Negotiate a Higher Salary”

    1. As it relates to investing? Not sure the direct connection or where you are going with that. I generally focus on investing in an index fund so I don’t have to worry about the next new technology and picking the “next big stock” that is being driven by a new technology. My other thought is that in the book Good to Great none of the companies profiled that became truly great did so by being mediocre or poor companies that happened to hit a home run in picking the newest or best technology. Many of those companies did utilize technology but it was an outgrowth to their disciplined and aggressive pursuit of excellence.

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