Hey Fam! Any Advice on how to ask for a raise?

Since 2013 I have had the opportunity to provide advice/coach a number of software engineers. Questions about money and raises are often phrased like this?

There’s a lot I don’t know about this person’s precise situation, but I can share some basic advice.

1. Know how the decision maker thinks about performance

A framework for grading performance can be used against you and for you. I have seen big corporate situations where the frameworks were either unreasonable or meeting them didn’t guarantee any action on the part of one’s manager to do anything. An employee could over perform consistently, but there was simply no resources allocated for advancing them. Whenever possible, before going to ask for more money you should have a mental model that correlates the salary your looking for with a level of performance your employer would expect. Ideally, you’d have some conversations about it ahead of time that is a little like a verbal contract.

//in a conversation 3+ months ago
Employee: So, it looks like we need someone to step-up and handle the deployment schedule. I am interested in doing that.
Manager: that would be great, I think you’ll need more experience and learning to do it well.
Employee: I am up for it, if I can work to get the skills and show a consistent ability to handle it for four weeks in a row, do you think you could make me Senior Software Engineer?
Manager: Hmmm, that seems reasonable. The weekly deploy is critical to the product’s success (and thus our business), so strong ownership in the domain would be valuable.
Employee: Thanks for sharing that with me.
//fast forward to the present
Engineer: I successfully managed the deploy six times in a row [beat expectations], and I am coming up on my one-year mark. How about the promotion to Senior Engineer?
Manager: Done, you did a great job and saved our bacon!

Ok, that dialog ‘should’ happen, but in practice it rarely does. It’s like the Leave it to Beaver stereotype of employee-manager dialog. Mostly exists in dreams of corporate HR execs giving talks, but not in real life.

Start-ups in particularly drastically under-invest in Human Resources/Talent Management systems (they often talk the talk, but don’t walk-the-walk). So you may not have the rapport with your managers to have such conversations. On average, employees lack self-confidence, and it holds them back from framing the value-for-performance conversation ahead of time. However, I include it here, because if you become the type of person that can craft a consistent pattern self-managing this way, you will be in the strongest position to negotiate in an ongoing basis.

2. Know Your Value

Software engineering is a dynamic labor market. There are trends for technology and prior experience that shift valuations constantly. The good news is that salaries in big tech cities (SF, NYC) are steady or rising. Thus, you can benchmark yourself using sites like Paysa, GlassDoor, Hired and your peer group to understand what you’re worth. If your salary is below market value, you can likely trigger a conversation shortly after collecting some compelling data to make this case. On average, software engineers tend to undervalue themselves. There certainly exceptions where relative newbies write articles with titles like “I got a $250k salary after a bootcamp” not appreciating how irritating this will be to every future manager. Don’t be that guy. On average, take what you’re worth and add 10% to set a target.

3. Own how you are perceived

I have gotten his advice from a few people, including from one of the founders of Hack Reactor. Here is the technique: every day write down what you accomplished. Every few weeks, take a coffee break and summarize what you’ve accomplished, set goals for the next four weeks. Store this away in a Google doc and keep it handy when review time comes or when you plan to ask for a raise. The primary 
But I want to ask for a raise this week…
Let us assume you did not do #1, #2 above. That’s ok; you’re in the majority (>95% don’t do the above). You can at least get #2 done with 20 minutes of research. However, you should invest an hour doing the following also.
Your review will often be in-person, regardless, practice writing a one-page justification for your raise.

Summarize accomplishments you can remember, mention the data points you researched, provide clear examples of how you created business value, cite how you picked up slack in other functions (not javascript functions, other functions of the business; marketing, design, operations, etc.) and did so without losing productivity on your engineering work. Keep writing until YOU convince yourself you deserve the raise, and the argument is compelling.

This exercise has threefold value; jog your memory, sharpen your argument and practice in articulating your argument. Asking for a raise is often scary, the emotions can overwhelm your logic. Having a clear set of talking points on the tip of your tongue will help you power through the conversation with a well-crafted argument. The counter case is likely a rambling mess that sounds like “…but, but I‘m excellent at writing the internet.”

You didn’t mention going out and getting another offer

True. This technique should be used sparingly. The techniques above signal that you are committed to a company and growing your career within that company. Ideally, most raises will come from within the same company pursuant of increased in title/responsibility. Job hopping has the potential to get you a promotion, but usually, it is a lateral move.

Think about it, if I am a VP and need someone to be an engineering director, but they have never had that title, where’s the evidence they will succeed? I would rather let a previous employer take the risk on coaching and training them at that level. Then hire them after 6+mos working at that capacity. It’s common to see deviations from this in tiny start-ups, but consider those EXCEPTIONS, control the trajectory of your career more deliberately.

This article is not done…

I come at this with my years of career experience in a variety of corporations and start-ups, and as a career coach for the past few years. But there are very salient counter examples you should also study. I would like to write more on them, but the wont’ fit here. Please DM me or email if you have further questions, I would love to hear about your experiences.