How to really get a raise: It’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to tell

I often hear from employees who claim that their bosses are still operating in a recession mentality.  What they usually mean by this is that they want or have been promised a raise, but their bosses have yet to follow through.  First of all, any of this sort of rhetoric deserves pushback.  If a boss tells you that they have to tighten their belts because the economy is in a recession, you should be concerned because either they are taking advantage of you or they have no idea how to read the market.  Either way, I have a tried and true strategy for those of you who deserve or have been promised a raise, but have yet to see the cash.

 The trick is to go out and find another job offer.  Here’s where any boss who says that we’re still in a recession economy will get a shock because everyone is looking to hire right now and the market is flush with cash.  It’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to tell: if you can find more money somewhere else, your boss will almost always match the raise to keep you there.  I write about it in my book, Bulletproof Your Job (Harper Collins).  The only time it doesn’t work is if you’re a terrible worker, and your boss wants to get rid of you anyway, or you work for a dealership on some type of commission program.  However, if you’re an architect, interior designer, sales assistant, showroom manager, or sales rep for any major manufacturer in residential or contract today (manufacturer being the key word here), the best way to bump up your salary is to quit your job--or threaten to at least. It’s a win-win, either way.  First, if you legitimately have a better offer from a competitor, chances are it will be at least a 20% increase anyway, and if you really like your current job, but you know you deserve a raise (and who doesn’t today), and you’re a little bit of a risk-taker, then yes, explain to your boss that you got a better offer, explain the percentage, and tell your boss you would consider staying if he or she would do better.  

 I can’t guarantee it, but anecdotally, I see almost everybody that we place today gets a counter offer from their current employer.  You know why?  It’s because it will cost your current boss almost double what they’re paying you to get somebody new.  First, there’s the cost of recruiting the new person, then add the cost of training them and getting them up to speed on all the current projects; it’s usually just worth paying the difference to keep you.  And, let’s face it, we all know it’s not just the McDonald's workers that are being underpaid, everybody in America is being underpaid today.  You’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.  

 And because I’m feeling nice today, I’ll let you in on another dirty little secret.  Every headhunter, and lots of articles, will explain to you that it doesn’t pay to accept a counteroffer, and that “they” are just paying to keep you temporarily to fire you six months later, when they find someone else.  My experience tells me the opposite though.  If you’re a good employee, that’s generally not true; paying you more just to fire you in six months is a crazy business plan!  I think that’s just something us headhunters have tricked you  into believing--it’s an old wives’ tale at this point.  I also can’t help but laugh when I hear other workplace experts or career coaches suggest to employees that the best way to get a raise is to go to your boss with a list of accomplishments and contributions and explain how valuable you are. Hmmmm…. I mean, I’m sure that has worked once or twice, but the best way to show your biggest accomplishments is to get a new offer letter!  I can almost guarantee the results will be better.  And here’s another tip.  If you legitimately have a better offer from another company, physically show the offer to your boss.  That’s a better way to get the raise up higher.  You should also know that most people that accept counter offers end up very, very happy too.  They’ve got a raise, and they’re already in an environment that they’re familiar with, and chances are that they deserve the raise anyway, and the boss recognizes this.  

The only trap amidst all of this is that if you’re one of those employees who doesn’t recognize that you’re not performing up to snuff, whether you’re an architect, designer, or in sales, or if you have a bad attitude, or you’re one of those employees that no one else likes, or you’ve been told you’re “high maintenance”--and you know the person I’m describing--chances are, not only will your boss be happy you’re leaving, but he or she will show you the door as soon as you tell them you’re getting a better offer.  So this is not a foolproof method, but it works most of the time with furniture manufacturers for sure, and more than half the time with Architectural and Design firms as well.  Like I said, if you’re in dealer sales and on commission, that’s another ball of wax for another article.  Think of it like playing Roulette, and you’re red or black; you’re either going to win or lose. The only exception, of course, is if you’re one of those bad apples. In that case, it’s more like playing Russian Roulette with a fully-loaded gun.