The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting a Raise

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What to do when you like your boss and your colleagues, you just don't like your paycheck all that much? Your first impulse may be to get your portfolio in shape and hit the streets, angling for a nibble -- after which, maybe, your agency will make a counter-offer. It may not be the best strategy. Says Nikki Kallek, human resource recruiter for J. Walter Thompson: "Don't go fishing for a counter-offer. Once you've queried someone in your company about a raise like that, your loyalty is instantly in question. The agency is put on the defensive."

But for every rule of thumb, there's someone willing to break it. If you've proved your value to your company and feel you're ready for the next step in your career, your agency may be much more willing to take care of you. An associate creative director who wishes to remain anonymous recalls that he "took the job because of my creative director; he's one of the best to learn from. When he was promoted, we weren't working together anymore, so I started looking for a new job. When I accepted an offer, I put in my two weeks notice, and human resources came back to me with a promotion, more money, and more responsibility. Now I have more of a say in making positive changes within the agency and I'm in a position to learn more than ever."

Of course, not everyone is that lucky. Mary Douglas, now owner of Describe, a writing company, began her writing career working for a firm that turned a blind eye to the subject of raises and promotions. Douglas, who enjoyed the work, became a serial quitter. "I worked there for 10 years, and every two years I had to leave the company [to get] a raise," she says. "I'd work at another agency for six months to a year and then my previous employer would call me back [offering] more money and responsibility."

One of the hardest parts about getting a raise is knowing how much money you're actually worth to your agency. Salaries vary from region to region and depend on the size and willingness of your agency to retain you. Kathy Henry, owner of the Kathryn Henry Group, a Lakeland, Fla., creative recruiting firm, offers this (perhaps self-serving) advice: Call a headhunter. "We know what everybody is making on various levels in every market," she says. "A good headhunter will help you with your research, but also tell you to make sure your book backs up your claims."

The economy, and today's tight labor market, work in job seekers' favor. Pam Witzig, owner of Witzig & Associates, a Bloomington, Ill.-based recruiting service, believes that there are more jobs than people that are qualified for them. But what if your agency isn't in a position to give raises? For instance, the company may not have the funds to take care of you as well as you would like. Do what David Ogilvy recommended in his classic book Ogilvy on Advertising: If you need more money than your agency is willing to pay you, make up the difference by moonlighting.

You don't have to be a star to get a raise. Hell, you don't even have to limit your lunches to an hour or work from dawn to midnight. The one thing you have to do is communicate that you are of genuine value to your company. Know you're doing a good job. Know that you can turn a humdrum project into an award winner. Then let the powers that be know it too, if for some reason they haven't picked up on it through their own perceptiveness. And if you do, then you know you'll stand a good chance of getting a good raise.

Of course, remembering your boss' birthday never hurts.

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