How I Got A Raise (Spoiler Alert: I Quit!)

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Renee Hopkins
Renee Hopkins10
April 12, 2024 at 8:25PM UTC
Asking for a raise is great. Certainly, you should try it.
Read all the '5 tips for getting a raise' articles out there and try it. Figure out your worth to your company, condense it into a single deck slide (a.k.a. Powerpoint), hunt down the best person to pitch it to, and stress about the conversation with your boss where you outline what they and you already know — that you are awesome, and can you please have more money for your awesomeness?

When it doesn't work, come back here. When you feel like shit because you convinced yourself that "dammit, you deserve more!" and went into that conversation confident and poised. When you described just how much of a difference you make at your company. When you get to the question and see the dawning horror in your boss's eyes as they realize exactly what you are asking for and exactly how little control they have over it... come back.

If you work at a small- or medium-sized company, asking ("leaning in" is the term, I believe) might work. If you are high in the echolons of power, well, you probably figured this out before me. Here's what you really need to know about asking for a raise when you work at a big corporation: Your boss likely has next to zero ability to give you one. Even if you are the star in your boss's boss's eye (always be this, btw), you still likely stand little chance of getting a raise, at least with any sense of urgency or any significant impact on your paycheck.

This was exactly what I went through. I have a unique specialization, and that makes me extremely marketable. I figured I had connected all the dots for my boss and felt good about being confident enough to ask for an increase. And then I got to experience a full year of disappointment. He agreed I needed a raise, and then radio silence. To be honest, it wasn't completely his fault, though he could have been a better communicator. As it turns out, he was actually trying to get me a raise! It just took forever.

As a boss in a big corporate environment, you get a small bucket of money every year for merit increases (a.k.a. cost-of-living adjustments). The percentage is usually laughable, and you get to do this super fun activity where you divide that money amongst your team members. When you have a high-performing team like I did, it feels horrible figuring out who you short to give your stars a few extra bucks. If you've ever sat in your review, looking down at the piece of paper that shows a raise that could barely pay for an annual cell phone bill, I promise you, your boss wasn't feeling any better than you were. That annual bucket of money? Usually the ONLY power they have over your compensation. When an employee asks for a raise, they have to go through multiple layers of power above them to justify and then justify some more. If your boss doesn't LOVE you, I have bad news for you. They will be spending hard earned "points" to get you that raise, you had better be worth it in their eyes. If the VP or SVP that finally signs the paperwork hasn't heard of you? Well, I think you know the answer to that one.

I had two options to get a raise; get promoted again or quit.

I didn't want to leave. It was a great company with a great culture. I had leaders who believed in me, I had a whole team I had recruited and hired myself. I had passion and energy and drive and the ability to set the course for my team. I had complete freedom and autonomy to make decsions. But there was this ever present burr; after all I did, after how much I put in and delivered, they couldn't give me anything? At all?

So here is what I did:

1. I figured out what I was worth, not just in my title and role, but my worth as an individual with the very unique skillset I had.  
2. I set a number and I didn't deviate from it. Funnily enough, it was significantly higher than the raise I had asked for.
3. I started accepting headhunting inquiries and pursued opportunities with two companies almost immeadiatly.
4. I marketed myself and my exclusive set of skills confidently, and I nailed both sets of interviews.
5. I was negotiating from a position of power; I told both companies I didn't really want to leave to my current job.
6. My happy ending? I got that raise and then some, with a new company, a new team, a new opportunity, and another step on my journey.
Renee Hopkins is a contributor to Fairygodboss, sharing her own version of the New Feminist American Dream. She's the textbook high-functioning-anxiety ridden overachiever; an early thirtysomething who has a pocket full of fairy dust and a map to navigate Big Corporate straight to the C-suite.

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