How to Get That Raise You Deserve!

January 16, 2018

I took a poll on instagram about what you wanted my next blog post to be about and the vote was close but "How to get that raise/promotion you deserve!" took the cake.  It has been a post I have wanted to write for a while now and I was especially motivated to do it after one of my favorite bloggers, Olivia Jeanette, formerly Coporate Catwalk, started her 30 Day Workplace Challenge.  It's a great initiative to help women take small steps to accomplishing their long term professional goals.  She has great content, great style and the list goes on why I admire and follow her. I highly recommend you check her out.

As you may already know, I am a higher education professional, my current title is Executive Associate to the Dean.  I have been with this division for almost 8 years and I oversee the day to day management of the school. Around this time last year I successfully received a reclassification, which in higher ed terms, is a promotion.  I would like to walk you through the steps of my process and break down how I was able to negotiate a deal that worked for me and my boss.  This is my personal journey but we can all learn from one anther and maybe something will resonate and push you to go for it in your own career!  That is my hope, at least.

Let me start by saying this wasn't my first time at the rodeo.  I have always advocated for myself throughout my professional life, starting with my first job which was a sales clerk at a mom and pop video store, when I was 16 years old.  It worked "off the books" and below minimum wage.   I made the argument that I should be getting paid on the books and at the minimum wage. That was the beginning of a budding young Norma Rae.  I could never settle for less than what I knew I deserved and that was a lot. :)

Fast forward to my twenties, I am a single mom, living my own,  in the middle of completing my undergraduate degree while working as a part time "college assistant" in Human Resources at the college I attended.  I have always been self motivated and willing to take on more responsibility it's the eternal student in me but more than that I understood that mastering any additional skills in one job would put me at an advantage in the next.  I always think in the long term and where my exposure to new skills might lead me in the future.

First experience:

As a college assistant I was paid an hourly wage, it was reasonable considering my responsibilities.  After working in the HR department for about 1 1/2 years, there was a shift in management.  It was a sweeping shift, a few of the top associates were fired, including my boss at the time.  Our department was in flux.  Staff were shuffled around in order to implement our new Directors' vision for the department.  With my boss gone and staff leaving, the new Director was in a bit of a pickle logistically, at least for the time being.  She called me into her office and asked me if I could pick up the slack and do the work that my former boss was responsible for while she looked for a replacement.  (Knock, Knock. Who is it? OPPORTUNITY!) I, of course, having worked very closely with my boss, answered, sure! I can pick up the slack and keep things going while you look for a replacement.  I then left the office. (Bad move!) I went back to my desk and thought, wait a minute, I am assuming the responsibilities of a senior manager with a salary of nearly $90K and I am just a college assistant making no where near what I should with my new job responsibilities.  I got up off my seat and went back into her office.  I said, could we talk about my wage?  She smiled and asked what I was earning.  She then decided to put me at the top of the hourly wage for the title.  I thanked her and walked out, like a lady, but later went into the bathroom to scream, YES!!

Insider Secret:  No boss is EVER going to say, "You know what(insert your name here)? You are an absolute asset to this company.  I have added to your work load.   You deserve a raise and I'm going to give it to you!"  It just doesn't happen.  If they can get you to do the work and add additional responsibilities without increasing your salary, its a win for them!  My director at the time knew that I would be working out of title and being grossly underpaid, but hey, if I didn't say anything, why would she?  It's just not in their interest.  Directors have a budget and if they can get away with getting you to do more with less, they will.  That "looks" like good management.  You have to advocate for yourself.  I realize in the scenario that I described, the opportunity presented itself and I got lucky.  Ok, lets keep going.

Second experience:

Now I am a college assistant at the top of my hourly salary with nowhere to go at that title.  I am also graduating with a four year college degree and looking for a full time job with benefits!  I loved my job in Human Resources, I loved the staff, the management, location etc.  I was happy and wanted to stay.  I scheduled a meeting with the Associate Director of HR, aka, my boss to discuss my plans and desire to stay on after graduation.  I developed a very good repore with him and I knew he was wondering what I was planning to do.  To prepare for the meeting, I made sure to document all of my current responsibilities.  I did some research and looked into titles at the college that fit what I was already doing in the department and what a salary for those titles would start at.  He was impressed with my presentation.   Unfortunately, he said the department was at capacity and could not afford a new full time line. Ok, I had prepared for this response.  I took a breath and I said, "Ok.  I appreciate your honesty but considering my long term goals and my financial situation, I would like to let you know that I will begin looking for full time employment.  Would it be ok to include you as a reference?"  He smiled and said sure.

Insider Secret:  Now here is the kicker.  That "rejection" hurt and its hard to not take it personally. But I am telling you, don't take it personally.  PERIOD.  It took a lot to keep my composure and let him know what my next move would be.  I really did not want to go anywhere else BUT I knew my worth, I knew the value I added to the department and the team and I wasn't going to settle.

Now, when you say to your boss that you will begin looking for opportunities elsewhere, that can't be a bluff.  You have to REALLY be prepared to dust off that resume (although you should be keeping it updated throughout the year) and get back out there!  Apply, Apply, APPLY!  I do believe that what is meant to happen will happen.  Now at the time I knew I wanted to stay where I was BUT I also had faith that although starting over would be hard, it wasn't impossible.

*We often times think we know what we want or what's best without considering the giant world we live in filled with possibilities never considered.*

Don't think you have leverage? Create it!  

Ok, so you have that meeting with your boss and you've been rejected.  It may seem that your employers have all the cards and in some ways, yes, they have a good hand BUT don't undersell yourself.  There is great power in your labor.  Lets face it, companies can't work without labor.  Sure labor is abundant BUT not all laborers were created the same, you have to believe in your "it" factor.  In other words, you can't be easily replaced and there is always a fear of turn over and all that comes with training and onboarding a new team member.  Its not always in their interest to lose a great team member.

So, I did JUST as I said.  I started applying to jobs that fit the title and salary I wanted and before I knew it I was called in for an interview.  I rocked it, mostly because I knew I didn't really want the job.  It was my first interview in four years, and I wanted to wet my toes a little where the stakes were low.  Before the week was up, this new potential employer was calling my references, including my boss!

NOW, here is the moment of truth.  Your current employer knows you are serious and that you are being seriously considered for another job.  They can play it one of two ways.  1) Remove any of the obstacles that were once in their way from giving you a proper offer OR 2) they can plan your going away party.

In my case, they took the first option.  I was called into a meeting, after a few other meetings were had, including one with the university president.  I was told in that meeting, that they wanted some more time to get a position for me approved.  I asked for a timeline.  We agreed on the timeline and within a few weeks you were looking at the new Specialist for On Campus Employment, a dream job in so many ways because I was helping students find employment on campus that would ensure their successful completion of their college degree.  Did I mention it was a brand new initiative, which meant I had to develop it from the ground up.  It was a perfect match for someone with limitless ambition and energy!  SUCCESS!

Latest Experience

Fast forward a few years, a change in departments and with it a title and salary promotion and you find me in the fall of 2016.  I had just completed the grueling and laborious task of completing an accelerated two year graduate program.  I successfully earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Baruch College.   I was already implementing the management strategies learned in the classroom, in the office while working on my degree.  My confidence shot up and I had a vision for the position I currently held and what it was evolving into.  In this case, again there was a shift in management our Dean had been replaced by an interim Dean, the department was influx and I was needed more than ever to maintain stability and a "business as usual" attitude so as not to raise concern.   Change in an organization can be difficult.  This was also an opportunity to strike.  I used the same strategy explained in the second experience.  Prepared and researched for a sit down meeting.  The first time around, I wasn't able to successfully convey my vision or my argument for a "reclassification" (promotion).  This was a blow but again this will happen.  You must prepare for the no.  In a perfect world, we get what we ask for, we don't live in that world.

But then opportunity knocked:

About a month after my meeting, we lost our development officer.  While she was with us, I worked very closely with her on fundraising campaigns.  I wanted to understand how development worked and she was more than happy to explain it to me.  This was completely out of title but again I understood the value of adding this experience to my "tool box" not just for this position but future positions.  I made the effort and was supported by my boss.   The development officer left suddenly after working with us for a little over a year, leaving a gap at the school for a donor liaison.  She had made all of these connections and included me in the conversations so it made sense that I would assume her responsibilities for the foreseeable future.  What do you think my answer was?  Ok I will tell you.  I explained to my boss that I understood how important these responsibilities were for the school and the students we served, however I could not consider adding these responsibilities without opening up our discussion for a reclassification.

 LEVERAGE! I received my reclassification and salary increase within the month.  Keep scrolling for the takeaways.


1) Never be afraid to ask for what you deserve.  And yes, you do deserve it.
2) Not every successful negotiation has to end with a salary increase or promotion, maybe you would prefer a more flexible schedule, some days work from home, or come in late on some days, leave early on others.  Salary isn't the definition of success, it helps, but everyone's needs are different.
3) Be prepared!  I can't stress enough how it is your responsibility to go into that meeting understanding your position, able to articulate your new responsibilities and make the argument for that promotion or salary increase.
4) Know what you are asking for before you enter the room.  If it is a salary increase, how much, what is the range? If you are asked, what is your price? Have an answer.  Start with a higher number, nothing insane, this is where research comes in.  Check out job search engines, see if you can find similar positions to your own and see what the salary being offered is, is it a match?  That is important to know when discussing your number.
5) Be prepared for a no.  It happens, it happened to me in two of my stories above.  "Failure" if you want to call it that,  happens but the lessons are always the take away.
6) Be prepared to walk away.  If at the end of the meeting it is clear your boss can't match your salary request be prepared to say, "I understand and appreciate your time."  Feel it out, in my story, I was able to say to my boss I would be looking for other opportunities and asked if he would be a reference.  That might not work in your company so maybe you don't want to verbalize this intention.     But DO be prepared to look for another job that fits your skills, education and is offering the salary you are looking for.  Now, in some cases they need a little "push" and getting an offer from another company might be that push that gets you what you want.  In some cases that happens, but don't go out looking for an offer that you aren't fully prepared to accept if you don't get that counter offer. In my story, I wasn't going to accept that first offer, but I was still actively applying to and setting interviews up as they called.
6) Be that go-getter.  Have that "can do" attitude, learn what you need to learn.  I can't stress enough it isn't all about the dollar, taking on additional responsibility outside of your own skill set is just increasing your marketability for the next position.
7) Change is difficult but not insurmountable. If you have reached that point in your career where you are ready for that promotion and you don't get it, its not like you can put the genie back in the bottle.  The last thing you want to do, is make the ask, get the no, and then sit and sulk in that position deteriorating into an unproductive, bitter employee.  Don't be that person.  

Thoughts? Have a story or some insight to share?  Comment down below!

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