ASK JASON ANYTHING: How you can get a raise at work.

It’s a writer’s job to know a little bit about everything, and to thoroughly research anything he doesn’t know. ASK JASON ANYTHING is your opportunity to challenge Jason with a question of any kind, whether it’s scientific or religious, financial or social, political, historical. It can be something you already know, or something you’re genuinely curious to learn. You can ask trivia or knowledge or advice, and every Thursday, Jason will do his best to answer.

TODAY’S QUESTION:

How do I get a raise at work?

You’re probably familiar with the golden rule: Those who have the gold make the rules. You’ve probably also heard that time is money and there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

All true.

So how does the hardworking American turn one buck into two? You’ve already got a daily grind; how do you get more mileage out of it?

No Magic

The first thing to understand here is that there’s no magic formula. In my experience, there’s only two ways in life to get anything worth having, whether financial, romantic, or prestigious: Hard work and sacrifice. There is no golden ticket to get rich quick.

Do we have an understanding? Good.

No Mysticism

There’s another little myth about raises I want to dispel: While they aren’t magical, they also aren’t mystical. They aren’t some far-off unapproachable concept. If you act like they are, they will remain forever out of reach.

Circumstances Vary

Some of the strategies I offer work better if you’re employed at an hourly wage job. Some work better if you work for salary in a corporation. Some work better under direct supervision, and some work better with jobs that offer you a measure of autonomy.

You will have to gauge your circumstances and evaluate the strategies for yourself. If you’re in a rigid corporate structure that performs evaluations at the same time every year, asking for another evaluation mid-year won’t accomplish much.

That said, here are some of the specific strategies you can employ to get a raise.

WORK MORE.

One of the easiest ways to get a raise is to do your job — you just have to do more of it. Come in early, stay late, and work through lunch. (You should still take 5 or 10 minutes to eat healthily. Don’t starve yourself.)

If your job pays overtime, this in itself will net you a “raise” of sorts if you haven’t already been doing it. Some supervisors view overtime as a sign of inefficiency, while others consider it an indicator that you’re working hard. A good supervisor will recognize that either one might be true, depending on the individual, and judge each person accordingly.

If you are not offered overtime, even better. (Yes, I said BETTER.) Your zeal and dedication will be proof-positive of your intention to deliver, because the boss knows you are doing it without compensation.

SHOW UP ANYWAY.

This is related to above, but with a different connotation. When I worked for the college, and I was dating Megan, my supervisor very kindly and politely informed me that Megan could not work for us. This didn’t matter to Megan; she showed up anyway, hauling tables and chairs. We were not flirting or standing around chatting; my then-girlfriend/now-wife and I were working, and hard, every day.

Nobody could raise a complaint against me or Megan — the work was getting done in half the time, and our behavior was nothing but professional, despite the fact that we were a couple working side-by-side.

Eventually, Megan was offered a part-time position when my supervisor realized that Megan was nothing but an asset, and that she was doing the work anyway; she just wasn’t getting paid for it.

Radio Talkmaster Neal Boortz has a similar story, but with even greater success:

When Boortz moved to Atlanta, a new radio station named WRNG-AM came into existence. WRNG, which called itself “Ring Radio,” was Atlanta’s first talk radio station. Boortz was an avid listener and would call their morning talk show host, Herb Elfman, that led to a friendship between them. While watching the news one evening, he heard that Elfman had committed suicide. The next morning Boortz showed up at the front door of WRNG and announced that he was ready to take Elfman’s place. Even though the management told him that “they were going to search for a ‘qualified’ host to take his place”, Boortz was offered to be a temporary two-week replacement. In the interim, the evening host was moved to mornings and Boortz hosted the evening. Two weeks later, Boortz was moved to the morning show and has been doing talk radio in Atlanta ever since.

If you’re presently unemployed, right there are two stories of people who showed up anyway, though they weren’t hired, and did the work. By proving their competence, they were offered a position.

The same strategy applies to getting a raise. Show up on your day off. Stick around when you don’t have to. And prove that you’re an asset even when the boss didn’t know she needed one.

BE THE BEST AT WHAT YOU DO

This may sound cliche. Get over it. If you want to earn more money, you’d better be prepared to perform like no one else. Get competitive. Get intense.

One summer, I was unloading boxes from 115-degree trucks in the heat of day. It was only temporary summer work for extra cash; I wasn’t trying to feed a family or pay down debt or even feed myself. This was for spending money. I literally didn’t need the job.

Nevertheless, I unloaded every truck as fast as I possibly could. I worked myself into a frenzy day after day. My co-workers thought that I was insane. One of them even insisted (to a manager!) that I must be on drugs to work so hard.

After just two weeks of unloading trucks, I was offered a position as a product picker on the night shift. I got to learn a new skill (tugger driving), the warehouse was much cooler, the work was more fun and much less difficult, and the position paid more. The co-workers who ridiculed me? They were still unloading 115 degree trucks. It’s quite possible they still are.

Whatever the job, move faster than your co-workers. Show up early (even if you aren’t paid for it). Skip breaks to make higher quotas. Study anything you ought to know. Learn from anyone who has experience in your profession.

Do whatever it takes to be the best at what you do. If you settle for merely adequate, you’re no better than literally any other person on earth. If you settle for merely good, you will not get noticed and you will not get a raise. There are plenty of good people out there — some of them unemployed.

Don’t be acceptable. Don’t be good. Be the best. Period.

ASK FOR AN EVALUATION

This tip only works if you’ve followed the one above. But suppose you’ve been busting your hump for months and months, and to your knowledge, no one has taken notice. (They probably have, but it doesn’t matter.)

It’s time to take your immediate supervisor aside and ask for an evaluation. Ask to be graded at what you do, in comparison to those around you. Or, if you’re at a unique position, in comparison to how things were before you. Or how you performed last year. Ask for a fair and reliable standard of comparison.

One way to start this is to list the duties that were required when you applied for the job, and then list the duties and responsibilities you currently fill. You might be surprised at the difference, and hopefully, so will your manager.

Sometimes you’ll given an evaluation, but the results won’t measure up as well as you thought they would. It doesn’t matter. Use the opportunity to learn from your mistakes so that the next time you ask, you’ll look even better.

Even if you aren’t granted any official sort of evaluation, very likely you’ll have made the point: You want to be measured, precisely because you are confident in your own value.

KEEP A GOOD FEEDBACK FILE

If you work in an environment with even unofficial documentation (like the occasional email), hang on to any correspondence which reflects well on you. While it’s true that everyone makes mistakes, not everyone gets specific praise from a co-worker, internal or external customer, supervisor, or other stakeholder.

Even if it’s something as simple as a short note saying “good job”, save it. Save others like it, until you have a stack of them. And if enough time goes by and you haven’t received any official recognition, you have a paper trail to demonstrate times when you’ve delivered, preferably above the call of duty.

ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

I think this is good advice any time of the year, at any job. Now, you don’t want to give the impression you’re jumping ship, so there are a few ground rules to this.

First, ask people you can trust. Second, mention that you’re pleased with the position and the company, and you’d just like to good records of your performance (assuming you have performed well). You’re aware that sometimes cutbacks happen, even if they’re undeserved, and people move on. So before life takes everyone in different directions, you’re requesting this person’s letter of recommendation as proof that you have been a big help. You want them to remember your good deeds before you’ve been doing it for so long that you’re taken for granted.

Most co-workers will be happy to write a letter of recommendation for you, and it helps pad your “good feedback” file. And if the worst happens, you’ll be even better prepared for another position. A wise employer may wonder why you’re planning so far ahead, and make an effort to make sure you stick around. (A wise employer also knows that money talks.)

SELL YOURSELF

Money talks, but so do you. Part of thriving in business is talking a good game. If your good deeds go unnoticed, sometimes it becomes prudent to point them out, or at least remind people. The important thing is that you don’t do so in an arrogant way, but sincere self-appraisal given in good humor can remind your co-workers and managers that you’re a go-getter and a problem-solver.

Keep in mind that this will only work if it’s absolutely true.

TAKE CLASSES

One way to increase your marketability to is to acquire new skills — or at least new certifications. If you have an opportunity at work to learn a new skill, jump on it. Request the opportunity, if it isn’t one your boss would have thought of.

Do research into your field and learn what (if any) types of certifications and requirements employers look for. Get as many as you can, keep them current if necessary, and update your resume appropriately. At some point, it might be opportune to point out the boss that you’re considerably more qualified for your own job than you were when you were offered your current pay rate.

ASK FOR ONE

Sometimes the simplest way to get something is to ask for it. The same can be true of raises. If you’ve done all of the above, and no monetary gain is returned to you, consider requesting a raise. If you do so politely and humbly, the worst that might happen is you’ll be declined. THIS IS NO TRAGEDY — you’re in exactly the same circumstances you were before. I beg you, please don’t mourn something you never had in the first place.

The next best possibility is that you might be told the conditions it would take for you to get a raise. Some may be within your control, like better performance, while some may be out of your control, like how the president of the company thinks its doing. (Although if you do your part to make the company thrive, you can impact this too, even if your efforts seem minute in the larger picture.) Whatever the case, knowing is probably better than not knowing.

How to ask for a raise depends greatly on your circumstances and position. An hourly wage for a tiny company operated by the owner, the best thing to do is probably just ask. If you work at a huge corporation with rigid pay structures, you might go through an official process such as asking for your position to be re-evaluated.

WORK SOMEWHERE ELSE

I present this only as a last-ditch effort option, but if you really want more dime and you’re sure you’ve done everything you could to earn one at your current position, occasionally there are actually greener pastures elsewhere. Take that good feedback pile and that heavy stack of letters of recommendation, do some research, and begin applying elsewhere.

You’ll have the best bargaining position of any job-seeker: You’re already employed. A new employer who likes what they see knows they’re going to have to improve upon your current circumstances in one or more ways, and the simplest one is wage is salary. (Don’t ignore other factors like benefits, how well you like the job or company, or even the commute involved.)

Conclusion

Will any of these strategies, by itself, guarantee you a raise? No. In fact, trying one without the others will likely be an exercise in futility. But if you combine most of them into an ongoing effort — sometimes taking a year or more — it would take a cold-hearted and stubborn supervisor not to grant you some form of compensation for the extra effort and documented performance. If that’s the case, it’s possible you’re not working the healthiest environment anyway.

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