How to ask for a pay rise

The hustle is real. Pic by  Jeremy Paige

The hustle is real. Pic by Jeremy Paige

So, it's 1998, and it's the height of Internet 1.0 and the dot com boom is in full swing. 

Digital art directors are being paid more than most senior managers, UI Designers are in demand, rare and in fact don't even call themselves UI Designers yet. 

The world is starting to realise, albeit slowly that the internet is not a fad. 

I'm working in a twenty person creative team that is made of developers, strategists, project managers, designers and usability experts (now known as 'UX Designers').

Everything is fucking sweet.

I'm sitting at a cafe (because all our meetings are in cafes) and I overhear someone talking about their pay rise...

"Yeah I landed an extra 25grand!"

Twenty five big ones would make the world of difference to me — I'm mid 20s and I really need to start earning the big bucks if my 30s are going to play out as I'm planning.

I go home on the train that night thinking 'how the fuck am I going to get a +25k pay rise?!

Over the coming weeks I ring every digital art director I know and I take them out for breakfast, lunch, coffee, whatever is going to help me get out of them:

  1. their salary, or failing that ... 
  2. anyone else's salary

I then go to three recruitment agencies and I pretend that I'm looking around for a new job — they tell me what they think I'm worth. 

I hustle and I hustle damn hard until I have what I need.

Now weeks later, I call a meeting with my manager, the Creative Director. I'm petrified of him, but I think to myself 'what the fuck, now or never'.

I tell him that I've been offered a job. I slide over a piece of paper that lists three agencies and nice, big, chunky figures next to each that logically represent the salary. 

I tell him I've been offered a job at all of these businesses — all three. But I really want to stay here, get a raise, possibly a promotion and I begin to waffle ...

Pause — this is all bullshit as I've only been offered a job at one of them — the other two I kind of just made up. But hey, what the fuck. I tried.

He laughed and said "take this one" as he pointed to one of the options.

I walked out feeling a little disheartened and damn thankful that at least one of my options was legit.

I ended up leaving and accepting the one legit job that was on offer — in the end I did get my raise, but not how I planned it.

Asking for a pay rise is hard. Damn hard — and I advise you not to try what I tried above. 

Here's a better way.

Where are you going?

First decide where you're going. You're in a position at the moment and you want a raise. Why?

Be clear on why and be true to yourself around why you want it in accordance with what your own personal goals are.

Remove your ego. If you want the money for the sake of the money — I feel sorry for you. Link it and ground with your own personal purpose.

If you want to be a father in your 30s and this raise will get you towards buying a house for you and your partner which is one of your critical steps towards fatherhood (I'm making this up as I go along, stay with me) — then that's your reason. Be clear and aware of your own personal shit and let that drive you.

Read your JD

Read your damn job description — are you exceeding the key performance indicators (KPIs) in it? No?

Don't ask for a raise.

If you're simply doing a good job of what is on your JD, you're doing your job. You weren't hired to do an average job and then start doing a great job. You were hired to do a great job and doing a great job and meeting the requirements of your job description isn't really a great case for a pay rise.

Know what you're worth

Get out there and find out what other people in this new pay scale/position are doing and earning.

Ask them point blank — you'll be amazed how open people can actually be.

Go and visit some recruitment agencies and pretend you're on the market — they'll give you a figure. If not, ask them what you're worth. 

Have some context though and don't get carried away with this figure. Recruiters are going benchmark you and add a buffer to float your boat. Their figure will be high. They want your business don't they? 

Exceed and provide value

Exceed the requirements of your current role and consistently provide value to your employer.

Value means that what you are doing is valuable to the business's goals. If you don't know what these are, ask.

Start early

Talk to your employer about your expectations early — be honest, frank and transparent.

If you're asked about your goals in the job interview, put it out there right then and there. Tell them what you see your situation will be like in five years time and put a figure to it.

Be prepared for No

Leading up to the moment you ask if harrowing. If you put all of your eggs into this pay rise basket you'll have tunnel vision about the whole thing.

You need to be prepared for "No" as a valid answer — and I mean personally.

If the raise is about you and your personal goals (and it should be), you need either reevaluate those goals in the face of "No" or be prepared for a Plan B.

Plan B might be leaving the business you're in, or starting a side hustle — a side business that earns you the missing income that you need.

Albeit, be honest with yourself more than anything. Stay true to your goals and ask the question.

You're an employee to be paid, and if you're consistently exceeding the requirements of your role that needs to be respected. 

With money.

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