The day after Memorial Day 2017, I started a new job working as an IT administrator for a retail company. Whatever that means. I had been warned that I was going to be laid off as a marketing manager for my previous job, and I had to choose between a job reading contracts for a solar company and the IT role. Neither of them was my dream job, but the IT role paid more, so I took it. Even though I had negotiated a salary that was slightly higher than my previous job, I knew this position could be career suicide. Any position with “administrator” in the title can be career suicide. I knew I had to make moves quickly. Within two months my title became eCommerce manager. This was not luck or chance, this happened due to a series of intentional decisions that I made. Here is how I did it:
I was humble
Even though I knew I was overqualified for the position, I went to work with an attitude of gratitude. I asked my coworkers in IT what I could do to help them. I never said, “I know that” instead I said, “I can help with that.” Too many times we come into a job with a superiority complex and think that we know the answers to solve the company’s problems. The truth is, we know nothing about what went on for the company to achieve the level of stability to be able to hire us. We need to acknowledge that and learn as much as we can.
I dressed for the job I wanted, not the job I had
Everyone has heard this advice. You may be tempted to dismiss it with the casualization of the workplace, but it’s true. I joined the company in the summertime. My boss was wearing cargo shorts and an undershirt most days. I was wearing J. Crew dresses, button downs, and dark jeans. Now I report directly to the COO, and my boss reports to a VP. Of course, our attire was not the only reason for this, but showing up for work looking your best portrays your confidence and self-respect. If we don’t treat the activity that provides the vast majority our income with respect, what does that say about us?
I listen, observed, and asked tons of questions
This falls into the humility bucket. Raises and promotions come when we provide our companies with more value. How will we know how to add value to our company when we don’t listen, observe, and ask questions. As a new hire, you will be surprised what people will divulge to you if you have a listening ear. I learned about the company’s financial position and I observed how senior leadership treated different departments. I noticed who had offices and who didn’t. All these things are valuable pieces of information to consider when deciding how to navigate your path at a company.
I focus on the needs of my company, not my own desires
When I joined IT, I thought, “OK, this is the time for me to focus on learning to code.” Soon after, I learned the Director of eCommerce was leaving. She had been unloading her work on to me before she announced her departure. At first, I was resistant. The work seemed tedious. The retail industry was in a precarious position and I feared that I could be committing career suicide again. Then I realized, the company does not need another developer, they desperately need an eCommerce manager. I also knew that I if I moved into this role I would be the only person who knew how to do the job. This gave me a tremendous amount of leverage that I was able to use in negotiating a raise and a partially remote schedule.
Unless you are one of the lucky people who know what their life’s passion and calling are and have been actively doing so years, the “career path” you have in mind should be flexible. Maybe you want to be a fashion designer, but you took an accounting class in college and the company really needs someone to keep the books and they ask you. Do it! It won’t be forever. We have to position ourselves to be as indispensable as possible; that is the only way to get a significant raise and promotion.
Always be looking for work to do
There was about a month when I was in a limbo between IT and eCommerce. I still had my boss in IT, but he had no idea what I was doing and didn’t care. I could have sat back, relaxed and read articles all day. Instead, I looked for ways to make the website better. No one told me to do this. I used the skills I had (data analysis) to run numbers and see what our best selling products and categories were. I saw that things were not merchandised optimally. I was able to present my findings to my future boss and made changes. This increased our average daily revenue by 50%. Who wouldn’t give someone a raise who did that?
I had ideas
There was a moment where the founder and CEO asked me a week into my unofficial new role what my ideas were for the website. I shared honestly what my thoughts were at that moment. Some of the things I had no idea whether we could do them or not, but I just said them. As someone who has shopped online and been on websites my whole life, I was qualified to answer that question. Some of the things I said were controversial, but I had looked at the data and stuck to my opinions. The workplace is the one place where it is necessary to have opinions.
People who just do what they are told and don’t question things don’t get significant raises or promotions. I am not saying you should start criticizing business practices and being combative, but if you see a way to better achieve your company’s goals, say something! If a decision is being made that may have a negative consequence for the company, say something! That is what they are paying us for. Most people don’t say anything. They keep quiet because they don’t want to “rock the boat.” Especially if they are new. So if you are identified as someone who does that, they will respect you and want to keep you around.
I exceeded expectations
This should go without saying. Why should someone pay you more just for doing what they hired you to do? That should have been taken care of in the initial negotiations.
I am a big fish in a small pond at this company. This company is family-run in Small Town, USA. Just by getting things done within the work day I was exceeding expectations. I didn’t think I was going above and beyond. I was just doing my job.
It is easier than you think to exceed expectations. Dave Ramsey says, “show up 10 minutes early, leave 10 minutes late, and actually do work at work. Before you know it, you will be running the company.” I found this to be absolutely true.
I advocated for myself
No one came over to my desk and said, “Maddy Money, you have taken on more responsibility and are really good at your job, here is a new title and more money. I had to schedule a meeting with HR and inform them that my responsibilities had changed. I told them that I needed a new job description and a title change. Then I was asked to write the new job description and proposed title. Then I checked in weekly on the progress. I waited to receive an offer. Then I had two meetings to discuss the offer. This whole process took about six weeks. It required some serious compartmentalization, attitude management, and perseverance. This was the real work. Fortunately, the lessons learned from my past experience (see my previous post, “Why I Will Never Get A Raise or Promotion At My Day Job…But Yet Will Still Get More Responsibility”,) drove me to take action early. Initially, I wanted to wait for my 90-day review. I learned later those didn’t even happen.
What I know for sure is that we can’t wait for someone to acknowledge us. This causes resentment, which is toxic and self-sabotaging. We have to be proactive in order to get what we want.
So there they are. The eight steps I took to get a raise and a promotion within two months of starting a new job. What are your thoughts? Are you navigating this situation right now? Are you underemployed, underpaid, and/or overworked? What steps are you going to take to get the job you deserve? What are your doubts about this working for you?
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