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How to Get A Raise Without Even Asking (Dead Drop: Secrets of El Jefe Podcast)

April 21, 2018
Read time: 8 mins


Build your value, and you will build the company's value. Do that, and you'll be promoted.

A few weeks ago, my assistant Kathy asked for a raise.

I turned her down.

She asked for this raise just after having completed an important project, and she felt sure that her excellent performance would persuade me.

It didn't. Instead of a raise, I rewarded her good work with two days of paid vacation.

Why would I do that?

In answering this question, I’ll give you some insight on how a boss thinks, and how you may get a raise without even asking for it.


Let’s start with why you need a raise:

  • You need more money to make ends meet.
  • You may put in excellent work, and, like my assistant Kathy, believe you’re entitled to a reward.
  • Perhaps you compare your paycheck with others in the company and feel you should make as much, or maybe that you should make more than others in similar positions.

All good reasons that never enter your boss’s mind as justification to spend more money.

Boss view wages and salaries the same way you see the cost of gasoline and groceries.

You don’t like gas prices going up, and if you can drive another block and buy gas for a nickel cheaper, you will.

Looking for a raise because labor is tight is like oil companies raising gas prices during the summer or lumberyards raising prices during building booms.


Don't try to hold your boss over a barrel

An employee asking for a raise is a lot like the lumberyard salesman that wants to charge more for plywood and studs. This may work when the price lumber goes up in the market, and the boss has no choice, but (s)he’s certainly not going to pay more for studs and plywood that are already on the job, delivered and installed!

What do I mean by that?

My assistant Kathy had already done the work she thought would get her a raise. Why would I pay more retroactively? Since she did good work, I gave her a tip.

Three months later—last week—I told her I would give her the raise she asked for.

Why would I do that?

The company put her through real estate school, and she will graduate with a broker’s license at the end of the month. Her license and new knowledge give her greater market value and will be worth more money. So, she didn't need to ask. I offered the raise because of what she will be doing for the company, rather than what she did in the past.

Sometimes you can get a raise just asking for it, especially today that labor is such a challenge.

That is what is called a career-limiting move

Your boss will remember you forced his or hand when you had the advantage, and it changes the relationship. You remind the boss you’re a burden – a labor burden. For each dollar you get, the boss is paying about $1.50, due to the regulatory costs added to your salary, such as taxes, unemployment insurance, and workers comp.

You want your boss to see you as an asset, not a burden. Burdens get tossed overboard as soon as the ship hits a storm.  

Alternatives to a raise that may work just as well

One way to make your request for a raise easier on your employer is to ask the company to pick up something you now pay for.

  • Maybe your cellphone plan.
  • Maybe a gasoline allowance.
  • Maybe tool maintenance.
  • Maybe maintenance on your truck.
  • Maybe truck payments while you work for the company. 


Learn more if you want to earn more

You may have noticed that new employees make more money than existing employees. This is usually because the boss is looking for something he does not already have in labor force, such as specific experience or skills. Therefore, it pays to hone and improve your skill set all the time.

Because you get paid for what you do and what you know.

  • Gain computer skills, if you don’t have them.
  • Learn a second language, such as Spanish.
  • Take continuing education classes on construction methods, such as advanced insulation, advanced framing, and shallow foundations methods.
  • Take the Home Builder’s Association project management classes and estimating.

Bring new skills to the company and without asking for a raise, move up the knowledge ladder. Most likely your boss will notice and give you a new position with more responsibility and better pay.

To put a label on it would be to call it a promotion.

If your boss does not, your next boss will—you’ll be the new guy getting the sweet deal.

My assistant Kathy enrolled herself in real estate school, attending classes five days a week from 6 PM until 9 PM. Not only did I notice the effort, but the fact she could likely take her broker’s license to another boss for extra money she needs. Why lose a motivated and proven employee? She got the raise.

Other employees have gotten raises by bringing in new business. In fact, Carlos, one of the low-level techs that I barely knew, is now area supervisor and a key employee because he brought us new business. When he did, he made the sale on his own time and brought us the businesses one Monday morning during the weekly meeting. He then handled the sale through contracting, managed customer relations, ran the job, and in the process, let me see he had more skills and better aptitude than the fellow I had running project management.

Guess who’s no longer with the company, and guess who now has the lead project manager’s job, with a commensurate salary?

You guessed correctly. Carlos. Who not only makes a better salary than had but earns commissions when he sells us jobs. Who does he sell jobs to? Instead of doing side work, he sells jobs to his friends and family. 

I like my employees to rest on weekends and come to work energized, so I don’t encourage side work. But sometimes, when an employee needs extra money, I do hire them as subcontractors to do weekend work – at a fixed price.

On more than occasion, two or three employees have brought me a proposal, “Hey boss, we’ll paint the shop over the weekend and charge less than the painter.” In this case, we had moved, and we were finishing the remodeling of our new office. The extra money helped my three employees, and although the three carpenters didn’t paint as well as my painter, the job they did over the weekend was good enough for the shop, and the company saved a few bucks.

The way to get a raise is to sell a better value equation to the boss. Kathy gets a better salary, and we don’t have to rely on outside realtors. Carlos gets a better salary, for which he manages our projects. And he also sells jobs, something his predecessor never did.


The way to get a raise is the old-fashioned way: Invest in your skills and knowledge. Or sell

So, can you get a raise? You bet. But don’t ask for one, especially as a reward for good work you’ve already done. Like Kathy, if you ask for a raise based on work you’ve already done, chances are, instead of a raise, you’ll get a tip. A bonus, a couple of days off with pay, maybe a particular coffee mug.

We have all seen companies hire a new guy, paying him or her a lot more than employees that have been with the company for years. This often creates resentment, as loyal employees feel their loyalty does not pay. In a small company, it may. The boss relies on you directly. If you’re reliable, this has great value. If you press your luck and imply you may leave, you will likely get the raise you asked for. But the boss will begin finding ways of not depending on you in the future, and your days on this job will be numbered. Bosses don’t like being forced to give you a raise. So, if you can find another way, you should. I’ll tell how. 

In a larger company, the company does not depend on you, even if you do your well. The company makes no money off your loyalty, so you’re right, it does not pay – it does not have monetary value to the company. Big companies have a world to find employees, and they often go abroad or outsource the work to subcontractors and jobbers – a phenomenon now called the gig economy.

Despite such low unemployment and tremendous pressure on finding workers, wages remain flat – they have remained flat for many years. Asking for a raise is more likely to get you laid off than better paid.

To get more money, you must sell something. Not what you do, the boss has this already, or what you have done, that’s in the past. Sell what you can do in the future.

By this, I mean to offer your boss one of three things the boss values:

  1. Sales
  2. Savings 
  3. Freedom

—Dead Drop is a production of the SGC Horizon Media Network


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