Dear Colleagues

One thing that we as engineering professionals tend to shy away from, is asking for a raise or an increase in fees for services we deliver to clients. Engineers and technicians tend to enjoy and focus on the engineering and technical issues and generally get short changed on their fees and salaries. We get enormous satisfaction from doing technical things but contemplating our fee or hourly rate is often considered demeaning and unprofessional (and indeed for most of us, it can be somewhat boring).
However, there does come a time when you need to consider the fact that you may be underpaid. Even in tough times, you may be making an incredible contribution to your company’s success or providing a client with some incredible value in terms of service. John Hoschette has written about this in his book (Wiley IEEE Press book, ‘The Engineer's Career Guide’). He makes a few suggestions (which I have modified, as is my penchant):

* Research and build your  case
* Make your presentation and ask for the raise
* Handle objections
* Plan for the future

Research and build your case

First of all, if you are simply asking for a raise because you need money to pay bills or want to go on a holiday or buy a new boat, you are asking for the wrong reasons. Similarly, if someone else in your group is being paid more, this doesn’t really wash either, as they may have demonstrated more experience or productivity. It is a manager’s worse nightmare to give someone a raise based on the wrong reasons, as this sets up a precedent and results in an avalanche of claims for increases from everyone. The main reason for being paid more has to be your consistently excellent performance; where you have demonstrated outstanding productivity or created a new winning product or service which the company has clearly made money from over a year or at least many months.

You should certainly research what others in your industry and company are being paid; many web sites offer salary comparison tools today. Build a clear case for outstanding performance, based on real evidence. Document these cost savings, productivity improvements, new products and services created which have resulted in great increases in revenue, outstanding sales results, extra hours you have put in or new initiatives you have taken. Ensure you understand your company policy and procedures as far as raises are concerned. Calculate your raise on simple percentages which are reasonable; if you try and ask for something unreasonable or you anticipate some haggling; you will be perceived to be unprofessional and lose leverage. Do not p ropose or discuss your raise by email or phone. Try and ensure it is always done in a peaceful face-to-face setting with your boss or client.

Make your presentation and ask for the raise

Explain to your boss what the meeting is about and plan it for a few days in advance. Don’t surprise him or her by ‘cutting to the chase’ and asking him or her quickly before a critical stressful meeting on some engineering project. Rehearse your strategy carefully and present it in a professional, calm and reasoned manner at the right time when your boss or client are in a receptive mood (not when they are furiously busy sorting out some disaster). Provide clear objective evidence for the raise or fee increase. When presenting, do not present an ultimatum: ‘Either you pay this increase or I quit’. Sadly, these days managers often call your bluff and select the ‘quit’ option, even though the company may lose significantly from the loss of an outstanding employee

Handle objections

Most assuredly you will encounter objections and you have to deal with these in a professional and calm manner where you help your boss along in terrain he may be unfamiliar with. Restate your reasons for the raise and ensure you are selling the benefits. Your boss (or client) may need help in selling this to upper management and here you have to assist him with a strategy. If in the worst case scenario it is simply the wrong time, get an agreement for a more propitious time to consider the raise; do not get emotional or angry in discussing the issues. Stay professional and balanced at all times. Innovatively consider other options for a salary or fee increase such as extra vacation days off, your kids getting vacation work at the firm, use of the company equipment and vacation home or boat or whatever. If it is a client that you are talking to about a fee raise, she could promote your services to other of her peers or consider a bonus at the end of the project.

Plan for the future

If things haven’t gone to plan; don’t be unprofessional, withhold your services and work fewer hours. Or withhold your talents from certain key tasks. Keep delivering an outstanding service and you will be recognized. Someone else may recognize you and head hunt you to another company department or indeed company.

As professionals, remember that your enjoyment of your day-to-day work as an engineering professional is probably more important than anything else: As Dan Seligman wryly remarks:
A raise is like a martini: it elevates the spirit, but only temporarily.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve