Seven years. That’s how long a colleague at my previous job had toiled away on the ‘on call’ list, hoping for a foot in the door, covering vacations and days off for people who were lucky enough to have a full time gig, scratching by financially and hoping that the higher ups would eventually call on him to join the gang for reals.
But they didn’t. They didn’t have to. He’d always be there, and he’d always work harder than everyone else because he really wanted it, and he’d never complain because they had to come around sometime… right?
Until the day it all became too much. He finally stood up for himself and left.
It would be only a few weeks later that this fellow, a news photographer, would snap the quintessential photo of his generation while working a freelance gig, for pennies on the dollar, achieving the absolute highest praise anyone in his profession could ask for while doing so.
He’ll never have to hope for work again, because he stopped waiting, and started trusting himself.
Self belief is not a commodity that is in high supply for most people. It’s usually held out as evidence of narcissism, or vanity, by other people who don’t have much of it. It’s usually something we pay lip service to in our children – “You can do anything!” – while running away from it in our own lives.
I don’t remember the first time I got a pay raise that I didn’t ask for, because I’m pretty sure it never happened. At 46, when I think back through all the jobs – and careers – I’ve never – ever – received a pay rise without asking for it.
Funny thing, though – I’ve had LOADS of pay rises and promotions and weird little side deals in lieu of same, I’ve just never sat around waiting for them because, frankly, they never come that way.
I’m constantly hearing friends complain about how long they’ve gone without a raise, and I’ve heard every excuse under the sun from those I’ve encouraged to walk into their boss’ office and make a stand.
- “I don’t want to offend him..” You won’t.
- “What if he says no..?” If you don’t ask, he doesn’t have to.
- “What if he just hires someone else?” Then you weren’t as valuable as you should have been.
I can sense, even now, as you read this, the idea of going into your boss’ office and standing up for yourself is killing you, right? Just the thought of it all is giving you the heebies..
Look, you have a given number of hours or your life to trade for money. And what you earn from those hours is not just going to keep you alive, but is going to set your kids up for life. You owe it to yourself and your kids to get as much for those life hours as you can.
I know you’re a nice person and you feel like there are other nice people out there and if your boss is one of those, they’ll see what a great employee you are and how lovely a person you are and they’ll say, “Hey, you deserve more money. Because we care about you.”
But they don’t. Most managerial people don’t sit around all day figuring out ways to spend more money with no outward benefit. And even if they did, they have to get someone else to sign off on the idea, and that person might be a total douchelord who has their own douchelord to answer to.
So no automatic pay rise for you. But the emphasis here is on the word ‘automatic’, not ‘pay rise.’
I have, for many years, worked under the theory that I am not an employee, but a business selling a product (hours of my life) to a customer (my employer).
If I was running Chris Parry Inc., and my salary was my ‘revenue,’ and my cost of living was my ‘expenses,’ it would be my job every day, as CEO of Chris Parry Inc., to figure out how I can increase revenue.
That means, getting the highest possible return on those hours.
I can’t just take whatever the customer is prepared to spend. I have to make the customer need me, and only me, by delivering a superior product, marketing myself to them, and charging accordingly.
That means, I also have to work harder than everyone else. It means I deliver more than is expected. I beat deadlines and ask for new tasks rather than waiting for them to be assigned. And I help my boss get his or her own achievements lined up so that they don’t fear that I’m coming for their job.
“What else can I do, boss?”
Then, when I’m indispensable to that person and the company, I start squeezing.
Generally, this means every six months or so, I’m walking into my boss’ office and having a serious chat with him or her. We keep it civil, of course. No threats of a walk out. Just, in the words of Jerry Maguire, a discussion about how they can “help me help you.”
Here’s a recap of the first of these meetings, from when I was working at The Sun, the newest employee in a unionized newsroom full of veterans that I was in no way equal to in experience of reputation.
Me: Hey boss. So I’ve been here long enough for you to know what I can do. I’ve worked long hours, I’ve got great results, I’ve written four of the top ten most read stories in the chain, and I just won my first award. I’m hoping you can help me show some career progress by either topping up my rate or finding a way for me to move up the ladder.
Boss: You mean a promotion? I can’t do that because the union contract doesn’t have a category between where you are now and my job. And I can’t give you a raise for the same reason – the contract lays out what you get paid and when.
Me: I know all that. But you know what I do goes beyond what you expected and what the contract covers. And I know you like my ideas for new ways forward. So what can you do?
Me: I like it here. I want to stay. I don’t want your job. I want to help you get promoted, and I’ll come up in your wake.
Boss: Okay. I can’t give you a promotion. But I can give you business cards with a new title on them. What title were you thinking?
Sold. Six months in and I was showing movement, at least on paper. Enough to update a LinkedIn profile and my resume, anyway.
Six months later, I went back and got my scheduled three-year payrise two years early. Six months after that we made that promotion official. Six months after that, the five-year pay level, three years early.
This was not something that everyone in the company appreciated, but you have to understand a very important thing about your employers… are you ready for this? Take notes. Here it comes:
Hiring new people suuuuuuuuuucks.
It’s literally the worst thing a boss has to do. You’ve got to get an ad prepared, you have to spend money to get it distributed, you need HR to sign off on the language, then you have to take resumes, book interviews, and even if you get someone who is an obvious yes, maybe they’ve got other offers, maybe they pull out at the zero hour. Or maybe they take the job – and 90 minute lunch breaks. Maybe they don’t get on with the woman in the next cubicle. Maybe they have child care issues or struggle with the training or there’s a good reason they were let go at their last job…
This is a process that costs your boss thousands of dollars and an unknown period of low productivity, high stress, and high risk.
You know what causes much less stress, and cash?
You being excellent at your job, then walking into your boss’ office, asking for an extra few K a year, or a new title, or a perk like dental coverage.
At best, your boss will say ‘okay.’ At worst, you’ve shown you might not stick about if you’re not respected enough to warrant something extra, and maybe you can set some parameters with your boss whereby you’ll get that raise upon hitting a milestone or two.
And if it’s a straight up no, then you know one of two things: Either you haven’t been earning it by working harder and better than your colleagues, or your boss just doesn’t respect you enough to keep you over a potential replacement player.
In baseball, there’s a stat that nerds like me know called VORP. That stands for Value Over Replacement Player.
What it means is, if you have a catcher who is hitting .300 and asking for $20 million a year, but there’s another catcher out there who is hitting .280 (pretty close), but only asking for $8 million per year, you’re probably going to get better value by signing the worse hitter, and a small team will probably do that… but will they get better results?
Your employer may well be happy with a bunch of soft hitting fill-ins that won’t cost them much, but is that how you feel about your value to your employer? That you’re an easily replaced piece of a machine that wouldn’t be missed if you left? If so, work harder, and do it now because you’re going to be the first one gone if there’s a budget squeeze.
Most people work at a rate to ensure they stay employed. I prefer to work at a rate that ensures I’m considered for better things.
The question for me has always been, if my request for more money or a promotion is refused, do I want to be part of that perennial playoff-missing outfit, the island of misfit toys that doesn’t bother the accountants much, or is it time to start looking for an employer who’ll pay the extra for the best of the best?
As it stands, I’ve never had to make that call because I’ve always managed to get something out of my employers that shows they’d rather not hit reset. Every. Single. Time.
At my last contract negotiation, I managed to get a 30% pay rise, a paid day off every week, and removal of my exclusivity clause. And I took that day off each week to build a consulting business that directly competed with my employer – with their permission.*
* Results may vary.
Why? Because I brought them new ideas for new products that only I could fulfill, that they in turn made a lot of money on. Letting me go would be a bad financial move, even if keeping me on would be costly.
But this isn’t about me, this is about you.
Put.. the coffee.. down.
Treat yourself like you would hope your children will treat themselves. Be confident in your abilities, work hard enough that you sweat while sitting down, think of new ideas and cost savings and things that you could bring to your job that nobody has asked for yet. Think of areas in your company that you’d like to learn about. Think about perks you could work towards, like a paid parking spot or paid transit or medical or dental or profit sharing or commissions.
Once you start down this way of thinking, you start to understand the possibilities.
You work in admin but you’ve always thought you’d be good in marketing, and they’re about to post a job in that department… why not ask for a trial before they post the job, so you can cover vacations?
You’ve got a passion for health eating and the office kitchen is full of soda and sugar.. why not volunteer to run a company wellness program, that will allow you to add that title to your resume?
“We can’t let Mavis go, she brings in those amazing gluten free pastries and runs the Thursday yoga session..”
Be invaluable. Be unsackable. Be much loved and respected and watch the money roll in.
This also applies to job interviews, by the way.
A recent job interview with the CEO of a company that was a direct competitor to my previous employer included the following conversation:
Him: We have a set budget for this position.
Me: So do I. I suspect my budget is higher than yours.
Him: So that’s what it’s all about for you? Making money?
Me: Is that what it’s all about for you? Saving money?
Him: When I interview someone and money comes up this early, I get the feeling they’re just going to be in it for themselves.
Me: Here’s the thing: Right now? This is my time. It’s all about me because I don’t need to work for you. I need to work for a great employer who will allow me to shine so I can make them a ton of money – far more than they’ll be paying me. Once you hire me? Then it’s not about me anymore, it’s about you. But this right here is my time. If you want someone to be your go-to guy, your heavy hitter instead of a seat filler, you have to make an investment in me, so I can in turn make an investment in you.
If that sounds cocky, yes, it’s undeniably cocky. If it sounds rude, I won’t argue that it’s not. But it’s also exactly what a potential employer wants to hear. I want overachievers working for me, not ‘good enough.’
What you would do if you were negotiating a deal for your COMPANY instead of yourself? You’d negotiate from a position of strength.
“This is my price and it’s firm. I have other meetings lined up, are you in or out?”
Added to which, the cockiness exhibited above certainly didn’t end the interview early.
Turns out, I received a great offer out of that exchange.
Also, I turned it down to work for myself, because I want to work for an employer I can really get behind and, as it happens, after two decades of making other people money… that’s me.
Okay, maybe I am a narcissist after all.
— Chris Parry