3 smart ways to get a raise
How to persuade the boss you're worth more. Plus: what to do with a liberal arts degree.
(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I've been working as a member of an 11-person employee-benefits staff for the past two years and have not gotten a raise yet, even though I know my boss likes my work and feels I've contributed a lot around here. I keep hearing that making a persuasive case for more money means quantifying what one has produced, and I can see how certain jobs would lend themselves to that (sales, for instance), but mine just doesn't. Apart from researching my value on the open market to make sure I'm being paid competitively, is there anything else I can do? -Worth More in Fort Worth
Dear WMFW: Good question! Most employees who don't have direct responsibility for a profit-and-loss statement (or who aren't, as you note, salespeople) are hard-pressed to attach a number to improvements in their own performance.
Let's say you're a graphic designer who's honed her creativity, or a technical writer whose prose is crisper than it was a year ago, or a help-desk staffer who's gotten more adept at handling complicated requests - any of these makes you more valuable to your employer, but they're difficult to pin a number on. Still, you can become more visibly valuable.
"The trick is to head it off at the pass. Get out in front of it and start doing certain things six months to a year before you're going to ask for a raise," says David Lorenzo, a partner at the Gallup Organization (the management consulting side, not the pollsters) and author of Career Intensity: Business Strategy for Workplace Warriors and Entrepreneurs (Ogman Press, $29.95). He suggests three approaches you might try:
Help other people fulfill their potential - especially your boss. Says Lorenzo, "If you can find ways to help the people directly above you not only meet their goals but also look good in front of their bosses, they will want to reward you. Bosses don't have their heads in the sand about this. They will want to keep you happy."
Fix something. "Go out of your way to identify a system or a procedure that doesn't work very well and figure out how to improve it," Lorenzo says. At one of his client companies, a couple of departments got paid at midday on Fridays - a source of much frustration and grumbling since employees often couldn't get to the bank in time to cash their checks or, if they had direct deposit, found that the funds posted on Friday were not available until Monday.
"One of the administrative assistants took it upon herself to work with the payroll department on a new system for distributing pay so that people got their checks on Thursdays instead, which made all the difference," recalls Lorenzo. "If you take initiative and take action, it will be clear that you're valuable, even if you can't quantify it."
Get something started. "About 80% of the effort on any project is expended in just building up the momentum to get it started in the first place," Lorenzo says. "Be good at that and you become a 'go-to' person."
Of course, you may already have done one or more of these things. In that case, don't be shy about reminding your boss of what you have contributed. Writing down a list of your achievements and improvements over the past year may help you to stay focused. Then, sit down with your boss and explain why you believe you're worth more.
Unfortunately, not all bosses recognize and reward you for such accomplishments. If you go the extra mile and are unlucky enough to work for someone who just doesn't appreciate it, at least you'll have made yourself more marketable to your next employer.
Dear Annie: I read your column last week on hot college degrees with great interest, since I will be graduating next spring with a major in English and a minor in psychology. I'm pretty sure I don't want to teach or go to graduate school, but I don't know what other options might be out there. Can you suggest any resources, besides the career center at school, that might help me find the right career? -Liberal Artie
Dear Artie: About 250,000 students in the U.S. earn undergraduate liberal-arts degrees each year, so you're far from alone. Take a look at a terrific book called Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career (Ten Speed Press, $16.95). The authors, Sheila J. Curran and Suzanne Greenwald, are career counselors at Duke and M.I.T. respectively, and their advice is both encouraging and down-to-earth. As well as exploding six myths about a liberal-arts education, and outlining your first steps toward choosing the right field, the book includes 23 case studies of liberal arts grads who found their way in the world - and tells how they did it. Good luck!