We all want to make more money. While some psychologists might tell you there’s never enough money to fill that void — let’s focus on having enough money so that you can adequately meet your financial obligations when you step away from that keyboard. Remember that job where you never had to ask for a pay rise? Well neither do I. If you want to get a raise, and particularly if you’re a software engineer, it’s all about leverage, tact, and timing. This blog post seeks to help guide you on how to present your request for more money in a way that your boss will accept.
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Why Do You Want to Get a Raise?
This is an important question to ask and definitely an important one to think through so that you can know how to be intentional about getting more money in your position. There are plenty of reasons why you might want a raise:
- It’s been too long since you got a pay rise.
- You’ve leveled up since you joined both in skills and experience.
- You’ve taken on more responsibilities but no pay rise has materialized.
- You’re undervalued – you realized your colleagues are paid a lot more than you for the exact same job.
- You deserve it.
Thinking about the reasons you’re asking for a raise before broaching the conversation with your employer is quite important. Quite often your employer will ask, ” Why are you asking for this?” While you’re on the spot like that, coming up with valid reasons is actually quite difficult so it’s important that you collect your thoughts and prepare in advance.
Let’s just take each of the reasons listed above and discuss them a little further.
1. It’s Been Too Long
If it’s been over 12 months since your last pay rise, then you’ve effectively had a pay cut because inflation is real. As a software engineer, you should be getting a raise at least once a year.
2. You’ve Leveled Up
Leveling up is one of the easiest ways to get a raise as a software engineer. This is because it follows a straightforward, established process. If you’ve gained new skills and experience along the way, you should be in a position to recall those quickly. Recalling them is the first step, then you also need to illustrate how those skills, how that experience benefits the business. If it’s of no benefit to the business, then why should anyone pay more?
3. You’ve Taken on More Responsibilities
Taking on more responsibilities should be a quick win — it’s hard to argue against that. Find out where you stand with your boss by finding out how happy they are with your performance before asking for a pay rise. If they’re happy with your performance, and they’ve previously asked you to take on more responsibilities, then it’s time to talk about money.
4. You’re Undervalued
When a colleague is paid more than you for doing the exact same job it becomes a tricky subject to navigate. Many employers don’t like discussing salaries and certainly not someone else’s salary so this can be very frustrating. Attacking the subject directly can generate a lot more animosity so it’s better to prepare beforehand.
A better approach is to ascertain your employer’s happiness with your performance upfront. If there’s negative performance it’s a difficult position to negotiate from. If they’re happy with your performance you can politely and respectfully inform your employer that you’re aware of a pay discrepancy and that in light of them being happy with your performance, you’d like that playing ground to be leveled up a bit.
5. You Deserve It
If you deserve a pay rise, you need to have your ammunition ready. Clear, succinct reasons why you deserve a pay rise should be listed and backed up with evidence. So make your case, justify it, and accept the outcome. Keep in mind that no one likes to lose, so don’t make this an argument.
How to Ask for a Raise as a Software Engineer
- Do your homework
- Prove your worth
- Know when to ask
- Leverage an outside offer
- Move on
Let’s go through each of these steps in more detail.
Step 1 — Do Your Homework on the Job Market for Your Position
You’ve got to research what others are getting paid for commensurate work. Knowing your worth is the most important part of asking for raises. You have to approach your boss with the confidence that you know what you’re worth. How do you do that? You go online and look at websites like Levels, Glassdoors and PayScale to figure out what everybody else is making and if you feel that you’re significantly underpaid, and you’re hitting your mandates and goals, then you’re in a good position to ask for a raise.
But don’t just stop there, you can also subscribe to alerts for job postings on Indeed, Monster, and keep your resume up to date on LinkedIn. Periodically you’ll get contacted by recruiters and after a while, you will start to get a grasp of what companies are offering for the same qualifications within your location, and where you fall on that pay scale.
Finally, look at your colleagues and evaluate how they are performing at the junior, mid, and senior levels. Understand where you stack up against them, and from there, you’ll have a clear picture of how much you are valued within that team.
Step 2 — Prove Your Worth
Software engineers have levels which correspond to their experience, skill sets, and their responsibilities within a corporate structure. These levels are meant to distinguish a career path between different software engineering roles. While different companies have different level definitions, it’s relatively easy to understand and discern these levels across organizations.
The level is the most important variable that determines your compensation. To increase your compensation significantly, you need to level up. If you feel that your productivity has spiked enough to justify a raise, ask for it, and justify it with metrics and data points. Be sure to know the impact that your work has on the company as a whole.
Most Technology and Software development firms should, and often have a formal performance analysis schedule, during which your compensation is evaluated. Understanding the leveling at your company is the first step to getting a raise. It mainly follows a simple process:
- You demonstrate next level skills and responsibilities.
- Your manager agrees and files a promotion request.
- Some stakeholders discuss it, and they give you more money.
If you can demonstrate that you’re outperforming your peers with the same title, then your manager can make the case that you deserve to be at the top end of say the Software Engineering Manager II (SWE II) pay scale, even though you’re not an SWE III yet.
Step 3 — Know When to Ask
It’s important to read the room before asking for a compensation adjustment. Always make sure that you understand your company’s financial posture before raising this issue. Ask yourself:
- Is your workplace in a financially sound position to be capable of offering you a raise?
- Is your company announcing layoffs?
- Has your performance helped your team complete a big project?
Failure to ascertain these types of questions can lead you to ask for a raise oblivious that your workplace is struggling to balance its books. This can make you look out of touch and willfully ignorant. Some people will say, “The worst they can do is say no.” But that’s not really the worst they can do. Your employer can also hear your request, hear how clueless you are and re-evaluate if they even want you in the company. Yes, I’ve literally seen this happen. And if you’re underperforming? Not a good idea to ask for a raise at all.
Step 4 — Ask
Armed with all this information, the smartest thing to do at this point is to make an appointment to ask for a raise. Even if your expectation isn’t that you’re going to get it, at least ask for it because that sets you up for the next meeting where you’ll likely get it. Walk in with hard data that proves you’re an asset, or a competing job offer to leverage your case (even better if you have both). You should also have a list of your responsibilities when you started at the company and then also the list of things you’ve taken on since you started, and simply make your boss aware that you have a lot more responsibilities that you’re delighted to take on — “give me more but I’d like to compensated”, and then name a number.
Step 5 — Leverage an Outside Offer
If you’d like to leverage another offer that you have, for a lot more money, from somewhere else, then tread carefully. If this offer isn’t followed by a goodbye, it’s interpreted that you want something from your employer and most likely they won’t try to buy your loyalty because they haven’t earned it. Only use this strategy when you have an offer in-hand, like, a physical offer printed out on paper, with their signature and a blank line waiting for yours, for a job elsewhere for more money. Without that, there’s no point.
On the flip side, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to your boss and say, “I’m a little surprised. I got an offer for a lot more money but I’m not taking it because I love this business. But I’m really wondering, could you level with me as to my future prospects here?” That’s a great opener and it’s not insulting or threatening, and you stand a higher chance to get the best out of that boss.
The difference is that with one, the boss wants to measure up, and with the other the boss wants to boot you out of the door. Basically what you want to put across is “I have a great offer, I love working here, and I plan to stay.” But it brings on the table, “What do you think my prospects here in the future might be?” It’s a litmus test on how valued your skills are.
Step 6 — Move on
Sometimes no matter what you say and no matter how you can justify getting a pay rise, your management team will politely refuse. Be prepared for a “no”. After all there is no guarantee that you will achieve a pay rise on the first time of asking. If you don’t get a raise, you have to ask what would merit a raise so that when you go back the next time, you could say, “Hey, this is what I’ve done, I’d like that raise.”
No matter what happens, always be prepared to move elsewhere if you keep getting a “no”. Remember that as a highly skilled software engineer. You have the skill set and expertise to chase your pay raise elsewhere. So, if you feel you’re underpaid, brush up on your portfolio and start interviewing. There are plenty of companies that will pay good Software Engineers a fair wage.
So yes, to summarize, if you feel that you’re underpaid and that you want to make more money, simply ask for it. If you get denied, or don’t get an offer that is commensurate with your skills and responsibilities, covertly seek a new position. Continue improving your skills, and start practicing specifically for interviews. Don’t stick around and waste your life away if your boss says “no”. If a company realizes that you’ll stay put waiting to get paid what you think you deserve, they’ll keep you waiting indefinitely. Keep interviewing until you find a position that pays what you want to be paid — don’t settle for any less.