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How to ask your Boss for a raise (or to pay for your ARE Exams)

Asking for more money can be a stressful and awkward experience.  In fact, nearly two-thirds of employees don’t ask for a raise (instead they just wait for it to happen).  But by not asking for a raise, you could be hurting your career, as well as your financial future.

How to ask for a raise written in search bar on virtual screen.

As architects, we don’t make as much money as other professionals (cough, lawyers, cough), so all the more reason why you need to develop your negotiation skills now.

Get the raise you deserve with these tips!

According to PayScale, 28% of people are not comfortable asking for a raise, while 19% were afraid of it being perceived as “pushy.”  In truth, asking for a raise is not pushy if done correctly.  In addition, it won’t hurt your chances or your standing with your boss if you handle it with tact.Sites like the Architecture Salary Poll and the AIA Compensation Calculator are a great way to get a rough idea of what you should be making based on your region, firm size and years of experience.  Before you plan your ask, you should know the “Blue Book” value for someone in your position.  It’s no guarantee you’ll get that much, but it will let you know where you sit along the scale of salaries.

For the sake of this article, we will cover two different requests:  asking for a raise, or asking for the company to cover the cost of the ARE tests.

The cost of taking all seven ARE exams is (currently) $1470 – and this doesn’t count retakes if you don’t pass on the first try!  Although a raise could end up being worth more than $1470, there are some benefits to asking specifically for the exam fees to be covered:

  • It adds pressure:  knowing the company is paying for the exams will add a little (hopefully not too much) pressure on you to study hard and pass.
  • It adds support:  your co-workers will know you’re studying and they can provide support (such as explaining the difference between the B101 and the A201).  Plus they might give you time off of work to study
  • It builds your profile:  studying for the exam and passing demonstrates your path toward becoming a professional.  The entire office will hear about your accomplishment and your boss (who approved to pay for these exams) will know it was money well spent.  Knowing that you are on your way top being a licensed architect will boost your role in the firm and help change their perception of you from intern to colleague.
  • It saves you money:  that $1470 you don’t have to spend on exams could be put toward purchasing a rad set of study guides, like our own ALL 7 Divisions Ultimate Whole Enchilada Package!

Asking for extra money or negotiating a raise should be seen as a new career growing opportunity.  If done right, not only will you get that raise, but you’ll discover how to better demonstrate your own value to the firm.

Before you decide to ask for more money, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I known as a person who gets things done?
  • Do I meet and exceed the expectations of my job description?
  • Do my co-workers often ask me for help/advice?
  • Do I often take on additional responsibility outside of my regular job description?
  • Am I constantly learning new things I apply to my job?

If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, you are in a great position to get a raise!

The following are some tips to help you achieve results:

Get in the right mindset.
You’re not entitled to a raise.  No one is.  The Millennial generation is already perceived as being overly entitled so don’t feed into that stereotype.  The mindset you want to have when asking for a raise is one of professional courtesy and gratitude.  As a professional, you want to take responsibility for your actions, behave like an adult and state your case for why you “earned” (not why you “deserve”) a raise.  It sounds like a minor difference, but this subtle change in mindset will make a huge difference.

Don’t wait for the annual review.
Start talking to your boss about getting a raise three to four months in advance.  Annual budgets are often set before raises are given (that’s how they decide the budget).  So you want to ask before they do that.

Just ask.
Over the years, I’ve had dozens of staff work for me.  I’m shocked at how few actually ever asked me for a raise or wanted to talk about money.  Architects are notorious for being bad at discussing money, but don’t be.  Your success as an architect depends on your ability to successfully negotiate.  If you don’t know what to say to your boss try this as a simple way:  “If I ever wanted to talk about my salary, how and when could that happen?”

Schedule it as you would a meeting.
Send a calendar invite or an email saying something straightforward: “I’m hoping we can sit down and chat.  I’d like to revisit my salary.”  Keep it short and sweet.  While this may be the first time you’ve done this, this won’t be the first for your manager.  They will respect your honesty.  Don’t try to trick them into a meeting about something else, and don’t just spring it on them.  You want them to meet you prepared to discuss real numbers.  You want a final answer at that meeting and for it not to drag on for weeks.

Be happy.
The best time to ask for a raise is when you are happy in your job – not when you are unhappy.  Your boss will sense your unhappiness and that will make them less eager to invest more in you.  According to PayScale, satisfied employees got a raise were twice as likely to receive one as dissatisfied employees (44% vs 20% success).  Ironically, employees who were dissatisfied were more likely to ask for raises.  Don’t wait until you’re unhappy.  Ask for a raise while you are happy with your job.

Get the timing right.
While the best chance for getting a higher salary would have been before you started the job (you know, when you were bargaining when being interviewed), you can get more money if you ask at the right time.  So before asking for a raise, consider the firm’s financial health.  If the people in cubicles next to you were just laid off because of lack of projects, it’s probably a bad time to ask for more money.  But if people just left and you are picking up their slack, that’s a better time.

Timing really is everything.  Surprisingly, don’t ask immediately upon hearing the firm landed a new, high budget client.  Instead, wait until a week or so until the project has started (and started billing) and then make your ask.  It’s a lot easier for the boss to be generous when she/he knows that money is coming in.

Don’t complain.  
Harping on the negative comes off as lazy and self-centered.  If you haven’t received a raise in three years, that is as much your fault as your boss.  Complaining that you’re doing “the work of three people” also comes off as ungrateful (and your manager should already know your workload).  Instead of complaining, focus on the positive by highlighting your accomplishments and hard work.  Don’t remind them how long you’ve worked there, but instead remind them of how you solved a difficult problem for a client.  It’s easy to fall into complaining mode, but it won’t help you here.  Prove yourself, not how long you’ve been there.

Don’t demand.  
By definition, a raise is something you get for going above and beyond.  As an employee, you’re expected to show up on time, and not call out sick.  These are not reasons to get a raise.  Raises are about what you’ve done, of course, but they also have more to do with what you WILL do in the future. So if you’re an average employee, your boss will be hard pressed to give you more than the average.  If you prove your value, they will want to reward you.

Don’t get personal.  
Got a sick family member?  Hoping to get married this year?  That’s great, but these are not reasons for you to get a raise.  In fact, no one cares.  Trying to get sympathy is no way to get a promotion.  Plus it could suggest that instead of doing your work, you’re distracted with other things.  Rather than tell a sob story, tell your boss how you’ll earn that raise by working harder, or solving more problems.

Don’t compare.  
Salaries are supposed to be confidential.  Whining to your boss that you “know that Jill makes more than you even though you’ve worked there longer” will not get you a raise.  It could even get you fired.  Bragging that you are a gossip and tattletale will backfire.  This is your raise, so make it about what YOU do for the firm.  Did you finish the permit drawings on time for the last project?  Focus on that.  You’ll be more professional (and not get Jill in trouble for stupidly telling you what she makes.)

Don’t serve ultimatums.  
Threatening to leave if you don’t get your way might seem bold, but it also can backfire in a huge way.  What if they call your bluff?  It’s a dumb strategy and if you are smart, you can avoid such a weak negotiating position.

Watch your body language.  
Pay attention to how you carry and hold yourself.  Make direct eye contact, smile, sit up straight and generally just don’t fidget.  If you’re nervous, bring notes with you to the meeting and focus on those.  This is a conversation and you’re grateful they are making the time to discuss this with you.  Your body language should reflect that.

Come prepared.
Create a list of results and accomplishments of things you’ve done over the last 6 months to a year.  Stay focused on the immediate past (they won’t remember or value things you did two years ago).  This could be something you track regularly, and even be part of your time tracking for your IDP.  Be able to list real results you achieved.  For example, it would be great for you to be able to say, “I finished the specifications for the Smith Project early enough that the contractor was able to start sooner and the client was thrilled.”  Dig through your notebooks or timecards to recall these successes.

Toot your own horn.
You probably do a lot of things your boss has no clue about.  The irony of being a great employee is that your boss probably doesn’t need to manage everything you do.  If this is the case, you’ll have to brag a little about your work and highlight how you’re performing above and beyond expectations.  Your manager is probably busy and might even be too busy to notice what you do every day, so tell them.  Communicating these tasks may even get you assigned better ones.

Make the ask.
Don’t forget to actually ask for a specific amount.  Your boss will probably ask you want you’re looking to get.  Have an answer.  A great way to phrase it is to say, “I love the work I do here and want to stay with the company long-term. That said, my understanding of the market is that I should be making X.”  (Note the gratitude and enthusiasm in that sentence.)

Have a real number in mind.
If you’re asking for a promotion and new job title, a 10% raise isn’t out of line.  But if you’re just asking for a performance increase, then 3% to 5% of your salary is more practical.  It doesn’t matter whether you name a set percentage of the actual salary amount.  The boss will do the math both ways.  A 3% raise may sound small, but that translates to an extra $1000 or more a year.

Use silence. 
Once you’ve made your request, just shut your mouth and wait for the response.  If you get a yes, then simply thank them and leave…  you don’t want to talk yourself out of a yes into a no!  Follow up with a thank you within three days.  A nice touch is a handwritten card left on their desk.  Don’t give them a gift or gift card (seems like a bribe) and don’t hand them a card (seems like you’ve got nothing better to do than wait around for them).

If you get a “No.”
You have to go into this knowing they could say no.  It’s important you don’t take this personally.  There are many reasons they say no, including financial details about the firm that you are not privy to.

You must also be prepared that there is a specific reason they said no related to your performance.  Be ready for this feedback.  It will be hard to hear, but you need to hear it.  Part of being a professional is being able to take constructive criticism.  Remember, your boss wants you to be happy and be the best employee you can be.  It’s not personal for them, so it shouldn’t be for you.

A “no” now is not a “no” forever.  Work to improve and boost your value at the firm.  Ask for specifics what you can do to get a raise.  In addition, if you get a no, ask to revisit this discussion in six months and set a calendar appointment so you don’t lose track of this follow up.  You simply need to ask, ‘What would it take for me to earn a raise in the future?’”

If the firm cannot give you a raise right now, perhaps instead they can give you more vacation time or more flexibility to work from home.  Both are benefits with real value to you.  Your boss may be willing to provide these in lieu of a higher salary.

The “Other Job Offer” Technique 
When I was still an intern, I was working at a wonderful firm in Philadelphia (this was a long long time ago!)  I wasn’t looking for another job, but a co-worker who recently moved to another company pushed me into an interview with his new boss.  They offered me a job with a substantial increase in salary.  I was not making much at the time, and this amount would certainly make my life easier.

I was distraught.  I loved my current boss and the people I worked with, but didn’t know what to do.  I also felt guilty having talked with another company.  So I went to my boss and explained the situation.  While he didn’t match the offer, he was able to give me a nice raise on the spot.  It was enough to get me to stay and made me feel like a valued member of the team.  It was an important lesson.

Now I am not suggesting that you lie and say you have another job offer.  It’s a gamble that could backfire (it also could work too).  But the story does give you a glimpse into the thinking of a boss:  that good employees are worth keeping.  (So make sure you’re known as a good employee.)

Conclusion
Asking for a raise can be intimidating, but once you get over the fear, you start to understand your own worth in the firm and the value you bring.  Honing your negotiation skills will help you throughout your career:  getting a raise, obtaining a new job, and even working with clients.  If these tips help you, please let us know in the comments.  Good luck!

I’d love to hear if this has inspired you to ask for a raise! Let me know in the comments below.

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2 comments… add one
sahana June 10, 2017, 11:29 pm

Thank you so much. Glad to read an article from the experienced one. Very helpful.

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