5 things to do differently if you want to earn more money

Ever wonder if you could be earning more money if you handled salary negotiations and raise discussions differently? Salary is one of those things that most people feel incredibly anxious about discussing with their employer – despite how crucial it is to your every day quality of life.

Here are five things that you should consider doing differently if you want to earn more money.

1. Negotiate when you get a job offer. Interestingly, loads of people know that the conventional wisdom is that you should usually try to negotiate for a higher salary when you get a job offer, but still don’t do it. They don’t do it because they’re nervous they’ll be turned down, or that they’ll overshoot and ask for too much, or even that the offer might be pulled. But getting more money in your paycheck is never easier than when you’re negotiating the salary for a new job. Once you’re working in the role, your raises are likely to be relatively small (3 percent is the national average), but when you’re negotiating before accepting an offer, you can often increase the amount by significantly more – sometimes by 10-20 percent.

2. Ignore your salary history. If you use your previous salary as a base for deciding how much to ask a new employer for, you’re unnecessarily tethering yourself to a figure that may no longer be relevant. Instead of basing your salary negotiations on what you’ve been making in the past, start from scratch and look at what the market rate is for the role that you’re applying for now. You might find that it’s actually much higher than your old salary. And if you don’t limit yourself by assuming you can only ask for a small jump over what you made previously, you might end up with a significant increase in your new paycheck.

3. Don’t wait for your boss to initiate a conversation about your salary. Some companies still do salary adjustments every year, or talk about raises at the same time that they’re doing annual performance evaluations. But lots of companies don’t, and at those companies there may never be a natural or easy opening for you to ask for a raise. Because of that, you should generally assume that you’ll need to initiate the conversation yourself. That means that when you’re ready to talk about your salary, you should assume that you’ll need to schedule a meeting with your boss, raise it during a regular check-in meeting, or otherwise take the initiative to make the conversation happen. If you wait around for your boss to give you an opening, you may end up waiting forever.

4. If you want a larger than usual raise, give your boss some advance notice. If your company tends to give raises at the same time every year – often in December or around work anniversaries, tied to performance evaluations – you may need to speak up earlier if you want a raise that’s larger than what’s typical at your organization. If you wait until your boss announces your raise for next year at the same time she’s distributing them to others, you might have missed the budgeting window for her to secure you a larger amount. Instead, if your company adheres to a pretty regular raise schedule, talk to your boss at least a month or two before she’s due to announce any raise to you.

5. Know your worth. For many people, one of the reasons that negotiating salary is so nerve-wracking is that they don’t have a really solid sense of what the market worth is for their work. That leads to fear of under-cutting yourself or asking for too much or unknowingly accepting a lower salary than you should. The best way to combat that is to better educate yourself about the worth of your work in the job market. Talk to recruiters who recruit for positions similar to yours, check with professional associations in your industry (they often do salary surveys), and bounce figures off of others in your field. Once you know your market value, you’ll be a lot better positioned to make sure you’re earning what you should be.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Renegade*

    So, let’s say you’re made an offer that is at the low end of the range the job was advertised at. You think this is totally reasonable for what you’re bringing to the table. Do you still try to negotiate for more just because? How could you rationalize it at that point?

    1. Kaytee*

      I would attempt to negotiate, just because you never know if they’ll give it to you. When I got the job I have now, the pay was low, but I’d been unemployed for a while and was ready to take whatever. But I still tried to negotiate. I basically just said, “Is there any flexibility with the salary? I was hoping for $X [what they were offering me plus $5K].” They came back and said no, there was no flexibility, and I said, “Oh, okay. Thanks for checking!”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — you don’t have to present a big case for it if there isn’t a case to be made; you can just say “are you able to go up to $X?”

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      There’s no reason not to. Since raises are often handed out as % increases, any money you negotiate will get paid out yearly. So if you get $2k by negotiating and work at the company for 5 years, that could be the easiest $10k+ that you’ll ever make in your life.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        It might be more, actually. If it’s % increases, it would be compounded, so it wouldn’t be $10K. If you had 3% cost-of-living increases for five years, that would actually get you closer to $11K.

    3. TCO*

      My current job offered me a $20k pay increase over my last job (switching fields, but this offer was still high for the field and role). I was thrilled with the offer but still asked if they’d consider a little higher. They said yes! It wasn’t a big deal to ask and it wouldn’t have been a big deal for them to say no.

      If you’re really happy with the pay you could also consider negotiating something else instead, like extra PTO, a flex schedule, or something along those lines.

  2. Christopher Tracy*

    Since my company is no longer doing performance reviews and are instead doing bimonthly check-ins with our annual salary reviews in March, I’ve decided to just write a number on a small sheet of paper and pass it across the table to my supervisor at our next check-in in November stating, “Make this happen.” LOL, I figure the worst that will happen is she will laugh and say, “We absolutely cannot do that, but we’ll try for a bigger than average bump.” Of course this only works for people with good bosses – my supervisor is only a couple years older than me and we joke around, so she won’t be offended (plus, she’s been raving about my performance since I transferred to her team and told me people up the ladder are noticing, so I think that’s a good sign that my raise will be pretty nice).

  3. QA Lady*

    As far as I can tell, my company adheres pretty strictly to their salary grid and are quite rigid about what qualifies someone for specific sub-levels within the classification system until you get to the General Manager/Regional Director level.

    I’ve spoken with some newer hires and they’ve always been told the offer is take-or-leave. That being said, as far as I can tell the salaries are around market average for our chunk of the overall industry–the big bucks are reserved for other areas of the industry.

    Although I wonder sometimes. My husband is employed by the same company and he got 1% this year while I got 5%. So I have to think some of it is merit-based, though our roles are also about as different as one can get.

  4. Beezus*

    One of the best career conversations I ever had was with a departing manager I was on great terms with – she explained what my company’s norms around raises were, which made conversations with my next managers much easier. I know that the time to lobby for a bigger than normal bump in my annual increase is around September, and I also know that, in good years, there is a down-low budget for midyear increases that is awarded in August but the groundwork to get one has to be laid in March or April.

  5. Christina*

    I was going to ask for a raise with the reason being I found a document that had the old range of what they would offer anyone for my current position with the exact same qualifications and job duties listed.

    When the job was posted again my year, the salary range had been lowered. I had to report on what the previous person did and so I have proof that I have done more during my time here.

    I was going to present it as “I am being paid less than you were considering giving anyone previously when I have accomplished more this year.”

    Is that a good strategy?

    1. One Musketeer*

      So kind of I tried that strategy. I took over a job from someone who was making more and not doing all (any?) of the things they should have been doing. When I wasn’t gaining much ground, I asked about it. I’m still not making as much as the previous person. I don’t regret asking, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but I had tried making my case and was doing good work and not getting anywhere. Looking back, I think the best way to get paid that money, or at least be WAY less frustrated, would be to start looking for opportunities to leave before it got to the point where I was asking to make up that difference.

  6. deetoo*

    Weird. I have never been asked anything about money in an interview, and in my experience, there is no such thing as raise discussions. The manager decides, and that’s it.

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