Jim Hopkinson, the author of Salary Tutor, is writing a series of post designed to help you negotiate during some of the most important — and stressful — points in your career. A slightly different version of this post appeared on Jim’s website.
The person sitting next to you at work has been acting peculiar. Nothing dramatic . . . after all, you’ve shared the same workspace for years, worked on several successful projects together, and survived a round of layoffs in 2009, coming out fine on the other side.
But it’s the little things . . .
- There’s a new hop in her step as she goes to and from meetings.
- You see her hanging out near the VP’s office more often.
- And that outfit she’s wearing today looks great on her. Is it new?
Eventually you can’t help but think: Did my co-worker steal my raise?
There’s no doubt the economy was down for the count in recent years:
- An estimated 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008
- 32% of companies freezing salaries in 2009
- Unemployment above 9% for all of 2010
But in many sectors, things seem to be turning around. According to a year-end survey by research group Mercer in December 2010, a whopping 98% of companies said they planned to raise base pay in 2011. And those salary freezes? The human resources firm Towers Watson said only 5% of companies planned on doing so this year. So what are three things you can do to get your piece of the pie?
1) Ask. The first thing to do is the easiest. Just because revenue is rebounding doesn’t mean companies are automatically giving across-the-board bumps in pay. You’ll most likely need to ask for a raise, and you’ll need to do it in the right way.
Let’s say you go in and complain that you need more money because your 401(k) tanked, the value of your house plummeted, and everything is more expensive. You whine about how cheap the company is for not giving you’re a raise in two years, and heard that Larry over in finance makes more money than you. Your boss says he’ll think about it.
Now let’s say your co-worker had come in with a plan, outlining the things that really matter:
- How she made the company money
- How she saved the company money
- How she does something that no one else in the company can do
Who would you give the raise to?
Approach your boss with a detailed summary of your accomplishments in the last year, noting how they have affected the bottom line. Tailor your message to suit your boss’s style. Is she a no-nonsense, bottom-line bean counter? Better bring some spreadsheets. Is he a laid-back, big-picture strategist? Give him your vision of where the company can be in 18 months.
2) Be a Rock Star. We’ve told you the good news that raises are out there for people, and they are likely to be around 3%. The bad news is that that’s less than the 3.6% annual rate of inflation, meaning you’re not even breaking even.
The way to stay in the black is to outshine your co-workers and be the rock star of the office. If you’re staying in your current job, your best bet for a larger increase is a promotion. How can you pull that off? Take on tasks that make your boss’s job easier. Volunteer to work on high-profile or revenue-generating projects. Be a mentor to newer employees. Come in early or stay late. Stay up on industry trends. Present a new way to make the company money. In short, make your work stand out so that your boss can’t help but reward you.
3) If you don’t like the answer you got, it might be time to test the market. You won’t be alone. A survey by the job-placement firm Manpower showed that 84% of employees planned to look for a new position in 2011, up from 60% in 2010. Even if you still enjoy your current job, going on an interview will let you know what your value is on the marketplace, and which of your skills are most important. If it’s been a while since you’ve looked, first update your red power tie. Then make sure that your skills are up-to-date as well:
- Refresh your resume. Pay special attention to new technology and social media skills you may have learned. Better yet, build a digital portfolio.
- Tap into your network. Remember that upwards of 80% of all jobs are found through networking, and the web has made it easier than ever. For instance, between March 2008 and March 2011, LinkedIn grew from 20 million to 100 million users, and someone new joins every second.
- Hone your salary negotiation skills. The HR manager on the other side of the table negotiates salary for a living. You don’t. But that doesn’t mean you should be unprepared and freeze up when they ask your salary requirements (hint: get them to say the number first). Learning a few insider secrets could make you thousands.
So if you look over at your co-worker and he’s sitting there with a smirk on his face — and a shiny new cashmere mouse pad next to his keyboard — he just might be making more money than you. It’s time to take action.