Most software developers reach a point in their career, where their job is not more fulfilling. When our careers reach a plateau, we realize, it seems, there is no way to grow.
Some people accept their fate, and pursue goals in other areas in their lives. As soon as they stop focusing on their career, motivational problems arise. When feeling demotivated, you may need more and more time to recharge your batteries. However, as your challenges do not change, these batteries are depleted faster and faster.
What is the end result? A guaranteed burnout. A guaranteed way to reduce your willpower, your self-esteem. You reach a plateau in your career, while you see that other people are moving forwards.
Once you realize that your job loses importance in your life, interpret it as a wake up call! You have two options: either find a new path for yourself, or make your path.
You may now think, great advice Zsolt, I already knew this, but how can I get started? This is why I gathered four tips that will help you make little improvements in your career, and in your life.
We are going to focus on the ins and outs of asking for a raise, and getting it. Some people blow their chances by asking for a raise in the wrong way, burning their credibility. Don’t worry, there is an easy fix for that.
The problem of most people is, that they are rather afraid of asking for a raise. Throughout the first six years of my professional career, I never fought for salary raises. The result was that my salary stayed where it was. Once a company wanted to show that they care about me financially. They gave me a one time bonus of 500€. At the same time, people around me boosted their salaries, got fancy titles, and proactively built their careers.
As soon as I paid conscious attention to mastering my career, I managed to more than double my salary, and started earning five figure bonuses.
I have to admit, I had more than enough career capital to offer in exchange. Your career capital consists of your skills, reputation, personal brand, connections, and credentials that determine your value within your career of expertise. The higher your career capital, the more responsibility you can handle.
All I had to do, was to assert myself, and let my salary catch up with my career capital. Therefore, even though more than doubling my salary sounds nice, I am not going to tell you that you can reach this result through communication and negotiation techniques.
Depending on how much career capital you have to offer, and depending on the situation your company is in, your target may be a lot smaller. If you are massively underpaid, however, and you are in a country with low salaries, you may even close an increase of 400% within a year.
Disclaimer: if you are looking for applying NLP tricks, FBI hostage negotiation techniques, mind control, or hypnotic messages that captivate and mislead your manager into giving you a raise, please stop reading this article. We won’t leverage an external offer either for getting a raise. These techniques are all for people with lack of confidence. My work is all about helping you build your self-esteem and your confidence, in order to create win-win situations in your career.
In part 1, we will lay down the foundations of an approach that creates win-win situations. Part 2 will be about execution. In part 3, we will focus on negotiation. Before part 2 and 3 are published, you can already put the tips in this article into action.
Let’s get started!
Asking for more money before you deliver any results is like asking a fireplace to give you heat before you put the wood in.
There are people out there, offering salary negotiation tips that will help you fake confidence, and fake your non-existing skills.
People out there help you prepare for a job interview without telling you, that these skills are close to worthless without career capital that you can offer. You may get lucky on some occasions, but in the long run, luck evens out.
If you want to become a lead, you have to first act as a lead, and demonstrate that your skills are there. If you want to get more responsibilities, you have to assume them in advance. If you want to earn more money, you have to observe how you can help your company become more successful.
If you are targeting a raise or a promotion in your company, be as proactive as possible. Find out what bothers your leads. Find out what actions have the highest impact in your team. There is always something to automatize. There is always a leaking process to improve. There are always bad practices to correct. There are always people looking for a mentor.
You often hear the advice that you should make your leaders shine. Even though this advice is common sense, I don’t like the way how people say it. It is so artificial to think about making other people shine just for the purpose of them rewarding our efforts.
For men, this phenomenon is well-known: the nice guy syndrome. Nice guys act submissive, and idolize women they are targeting, just because they want something in exchange. Unfortunately for most nice guys, women detect this behavior, and they have every reason to avoid it.
This is when nice guys become even nicer, and they become even more desperate, trying to prove how nice they are, and how much they would deserve good results.
The exact same thing happens, when you are trying to please your boss in an artificial way, and you overdo it. They are intelligent people. Most of them see manipulation, and they only tolerate it as long as you don’t overdo it.
Manipulative help is like putting wet wood in the fireplace. It is simply useless, and occupies too much space to put in something useful.
It makes a lot more sense to cooperate with your leads, and make your intentions clear. If you are doing a good job, it is very unlikely that any company will fire you for trying to make a difference.
Don’t immediately ask for rewards in return for each action of yours. Just throw quality wood in, and feel some heat develop. Your leads always support you, when they have a reason to do so.
If you are targeting a different company, you can only target more lucrative positions, when you have the skills and experience to do so.
Therefore, your future prospects are linked to your current performance. Just because you are not working at the company of your dreams, don’t hold yourself back!
Fine-tune your skills away from the job, and practice them both on the job, and away from the job. Demonstrate your knowledge, and make it visible to others. As a side effect, your services will become attractive to other companies.
You can learn more about getting your name out there in my chapter on personal branding in The Developer’s Edge – How to Double Your Career Speed with Soft Skills.
A lot of people are looking for productivity systems as the ultimate resource that enables them to get ahead in career. A lot of people are wrong.
Many productivity systems are complex and unsustainable. It takes more and more effort to keep a productivity system moving. A productivity system often challenges and depletes the willpower of its users. Why?
Most often the time, people are trying to score high with productivity systems. They want to complete more things. They want to make use of every minute of their lives. They just want to score high.
The highest score in the productivity system often comes with the easiest tasks. These tasks rarely require a lot of willpower, and rarely matter in the long run. They just prove that you are productive.
Due to productivity systems, people often become very efficient in things that don’t matter in their career. As soon as they figure out that they are not moving forward despite their efforts and productivity, it is a matter of time until they lose motivation.
As soon as they lose motivation, it is a matter of time until they lose their willpower, causing a collapse of the maintained productivity system. This is why productivity systems are not sustainable.
All you need to get ahead are two things:
- Identify the tasks that make the biggest difference in your future,
- Work on these tasks without interruptions. Deep work takes less time than interrupted work.
When I write that you should work, I mean deep work. As I am writing these lines, I am not doing anything else. My phone is not even with me. I am not reachable. I am not checking my emails or facebook. You are reading the product of my full attention.
It is not by accident why I emphasized muting some notifications on your phone. If your phone vibrates every five minutes, you won’t have time to even start deeply focused work.
Don’t get me wrong. Productivity systems are useful. I also use the Pomodoro technique for instance. However, I don’t depend on these techniques, and instead of collecting more pomodori, I tend to focus on working on things that really matter.
As soon as you start practicing focused, deep work, and you work on things that really matter, you will find out that you have to work a lot less to be effective. You will also find out that being effective is a lot more important than being efficient.
My challenge to you in this section is two-fold. First, collect a couple of tasks that really matter to you in the upcoming week. For the duration of one week, fill those seven hours that you have already freed up in step 1. Only work on tasks that matter. If you find more time, go ahead, but don’t exhaust yourself!
You don’t have to work an hour every day. If you feel like working on your most important task for three hours tomorrow, feel free to skip work the day after. Just make sure you find time for at least seven hours of deep work.
Feedback is going to be the number one weapon in your utility belt for negotiating a higher salary. You will not only find out how you can become better in the eyes of your managers, you can also become a better professional in your eyes.
You will also be a more valuable member of your team by moving the whole team forward by exercising the fundamentals of giving professional feedback.
You will also benefit from getting better at dealing with people. This skill will come very handy at the negotiation table later.
The value of information you get through open and continuous feedback will also ease the negotiation process. As soon as you break the ice of talking about salaries, your past feedback sessions will pay massive dividends.
It may happen that you are in a company, where open and frequent feedback does not seem to be available. The consequences of no feedback are quite severe.
Feedback should normally be a right, not a responsibility. If the feedback culture of your company is lower than normal, I suggest the following action plan:
- Say thank you often
- Give feedback to your colleagues
- Observe how things change
- Ask for targeted feedback
- Ask your manager to give you a feedback talk
Say thank you, whenever someone did something valuable that you appreciate. Tell them why their effort matters to you.
Give feedback. Develop a mentality of giving. Treat others in the way you want them to treat you. You may find out that similarly to you, others may be lacking feedback too. Even your managers appreciate feedback.
In order to avoid causing damage or ending up in the panic zone, start with positive feedback. Later on, it is possible to practice constructive criticism.
Observe how things change. Your peers may give you feedback more frequently. If nothing changes, and people are intimidated by your feedback, something may be very wrong with the company you are working for.
Occasionally, ask for targeted feedback. Once you finish a milestone, a project, or a hard task, feel free to ask for feedback. You can state that you are genuinely interested in improving your work, and therefore, you would be very grateful for advice in how to be more efficient.
Ask for a feedback talk. If regular feedback talks don’t happen at your company, tell your leads assertively about your needs. Tell them that you have a hard time coping with lack of regular feedback, as all the responsibility of optimizing your tasks is on you. You are certain that there are things you could do better, following the advice of other people. Ultimately knowing what you do right also helps, as you won’t spend time on optimizing things, where there is not too much to be optimized.
The earlier you get to this stage, the better. Our goal is to establish regular feedback talks. Imagine working for a company with no feedback culture for a year. As soon as you contact your manager with the magic phrase “performance evaluation”, it will be far too obvious that you have no interest in talking about performance. You are interested in earning more money.
Furthermore, when you start talking about money, you want to be in a strong position. The path leading towards a strong position is through continuous action. If you work on the points you get from feedback, you will eventually be recognized as someone going the extra mile.
We will continue with three more tips next time. Until then, if you want more information on getting a raise, download the free chapter of The Developer’s Edge.