How Do I Ask For (and get) A Raise? - Part 1

10 Commandments When Asking For More Money (Commandments 1-5)

So you are an underpaid federal, state, or city worker, and you would like to be paid more money. Welcome to the club. In my career, I've successfully negotiated several pay increases and promotions. I've also given and denied several raises for the people who work under me.

Spoiler alert: we all want more money, but most of us will either never ask or never successfully receive a raise. Don't take it personally; that's the way the world goes round. But, there are a few things you can do to significantly increase your chances of landing more money at your current job.

Here are my first five commandments for asking for a raise. Please read them, think about them, and then go get some more money.

1. Thou shalt be exceptional at your job.

Okay, it's time to put on your big boy and big girl pants. If you aren't great at what you do, stop reading and go improve your work skills. If you aren't great at your job, nobody will think about you the next time merit increases, bonuses, promotions, or pay increases are available. No, you don't need to be the best investigator in the world, but, yes, you need to be the best worker in the room. If your work doesn't stand out, do yourself and your boss a favor by not expecting a raise. Yes, you can always ask, but don't be angry if you get a "hell no."

2. Thou Shalt Not Ask To Get Paid More If You're Not Working More.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but nothing is more perplexing to a supervisor than an employee who asks for more money to do the same job they have always been doing. Why should you get paid more if you aren't doing more? Come to think of it; you shouldn't.

3. Thou Shalt Never Ask For A Raise By Arguing That Your Current Workload Is Too Hard.

I know, the audacity, right? I have a manager whose best argument for wanting more money is that they are overwhelmed by their current duties and want to be paid more. It is as if more money will somehow make them suddenly perform better. I mean, if you can't handle your job now, how is more money going to solve that problem? Either it won't, or you are purposely not working hard because you feel you're being underpaid. This problem is most easily solved by your boss, either ensuring you are getting your work done or just replacing you. Either option would seem like a failure if your goal was to get more money.

4. Thou Shalt Not Try To Advance Your Career By Talking Yourself Out Of A Job.

Be careful about making ultimatums, unless, of course, you are okay with leaving your current agency or company. Here's a hard truth: most workers are average workers; most workers who think they are doing a great job or performing exceptionally well are just average workers. So, the advice here is to be careful about giving ultimatums. You might not be as valuable as you think, or there might be some other extenuating circumstances that might be hurting your chances of getting your raise.

Telling your boss that you will quit if you don't receive your raise is rarely a successful tactic. If you aren't as irreplaceable as you think, or if you are hedging your bets on an unlimited agency budget, then you might be putting yourself in a position where you will not receive a raise and possibly either have to leave or have your bluff called. Here's something that you should never forget: budgets are rarely in control of your immediate supervisor, and the budget is likely already stretched to its limit. Declaring an ultimatum might put you in a position of pushing against a budget that won't budge.

One common extenuating circumstance in state agencies is a worker asking for a raise or saying they might be forced to retire. While the employee might be thinking, "Give me a little more money, and I'll stay, and you'll be able to retain all of my training and institutional knowledge." This situation sounds like an offer your agency cannot refuse, but the most likely scenario is that your boss is thinking, "This employee is thinking about retiring. If they retire, they can get another job doing the same thing and effectively earn a second salary. How can I compete with that?" The next thing you know, your boss is having someone training up on your position with the expectation that they will need to fill your post soon.

5. Thou shalt not compare yourself to others.

I don't think I can say enough about this piece of advice. What people are paid depends on so many variables that comparing your salary to theirs is rarely comparing apples to apples. A well-known website in Texas shows everyone how much money individual state employees are paid. And while this information can be valuable intel into knowing what you can ask for when requesting for a raise, it most often just makes people obsess about how unfair life is. Here's a big secret you should know about asking for raises: Life isn't fair. Shocking, I know, but you can use this information to your advantage, or you can let it eat away at you. Either choice has no effect on your boss except to make you seem like a person who deserves a raise or another complainer thinking they should be paid more for doing their job.

There are just so many variables that affect what people are being paid. Maybe a person has more skills than you, or they have more longevity. Perhaps they were hired when budgets were fatter, or they used to be in a higher position but were moved without changing their pay. Maybe they were employed in a higher-paying state or market. The possibilities are endless. But, here's one thing that is real: if you compare yourself to others, you'll probably never be happy, even if you get the raise.

Subscribe to read Commandments 6-10.

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