Rewind: What Microsoft’s CEO Should Have Said

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10 Do’s and Don’ts of Asking for a Raise (for Everyone)

Microsoft’s CEO stuck his foot in his mouth last week and then tried to rewind and re-frame as fast as he could. Here’s what he should have said, and this applies to anyone who is asking for a raise, female or male.

Well before asking for a raise:

1. DO Make yourself valuable to the company beyond your specific job duties.

Educate yourself both formally, with degrees and certifications, and informally through other people. (Remember, formal education – ex. An MBA – only prepares you to really learn. The degree does not qualify you to run a business, but it gives you the tools, terminology, and training to be worth having someone take the time to develop you.)

Volunteer for extra work, help on pet projects, and help with charity events – all of these will make you stand out, demonstrate your commitment, gain you respect, put you in contact with new people, and give you a broader view of the organization.

Gain a broad set of relevant experience that allows you to do your job better. Once you understand how the whole organization really functions (not just the sterile organizational chart version), you’ll have a better sense of where your job fits into the overall picture.

Establish connections with people outside of the organization and elsewhere within the company. Whether generating sales leads and recruiting new hires or knowing who to call in an internal crisis, relationships are gold.

Cultivate mentor/mentee relationships. You can ask mentors for advice on career development and raise timing. Give back by mentoring those coming up behind you.

Just prior to asking for a raise:

2. DO Gather data about your true market value.

You are a commodity. I know that sounds cold, but there is an open-market value to what you do. Search,, and other objective sources of information to find your true value.

Be realistic in your comparisons. If you are only a few years out of school or you have never been face to face with a client, you probably are not VP material yet. (We’ll get to your potential in a moment, but we’re talking the here and now.)

Ask other people, but be highly skeptical of what they tell you when it comes to pay. Some people are uncomfortable discussing pay, some people inflate their worth, and some people think they will get into trouble for discussing pay. Bad information can lead you astray.

3. DO Build a case as to why you should receive a raise.

Focus on quantifiable (numbers-based) accomplishments. What have you done, especially lately? What is the importance of those accomplishments to the organization and its goals? Develop arguments based on numbers wherever you can.

  • If you increased sales by 68%, say so.
  • If you were a part of the team that accomplished the largest reduction in warranty claims in the history of the company, say so and outline briefly your part in that.
  • If your advertising campaign doubled website inquiries, say so.

Focus on your potential to deliver high value in the future. What are you actively doing to make yourself more valuable to the organization?

When you are ready:

4. DO Go in and ask for the raise.

Make an appointment with your boss to talk about career planning.

State your case calmly with the facts to back up your request, including:

  • The objective data you gathered on your market value
  • Your quantifiable accomplishments
  • Your future value to the organization, including reasons that they wouldn’t want a competitor to enjoy that value!

Listen calmly to feedback, and take a breath before responding. This may be your only raise discussion, but your boss is well practiced at this talk.

– Lastly, it’s not unusual for your boss to ask you to do some extra work to make the raise happen. This is a very good sign. Many times, they have to make a case to HR and/or their superiors for your raise. Your quantifiable data that you gathered will be a good start, but there may be some additional information needed.

If you do the above, you will not do the following, but just to be sure:

5. DON’T Whine or focus on unfairness.

– Businesses are run on facts; there is no place for emotion and drama. And you’re better than that anyway. You can make a strong case in your own favor, so do it.

6. DON’T Be emotional and don’t focus only on what you want.

– I once had someone tell me that she “needed” a raise because, “I want a new Beemer.” Honestly, no one cares what you want except to keep you happy enough to stick around (presuming they are not hoping that you will leave.)

7. DON’T Feel entitled for any reason.

– There are ten people who would happily take your job, so you need to earn it every single day. You’re special, but so are they.

8. DON’T Compare yourself to others (too much).

– You should know where you stand as compared to your peers. You may feel that you are not being treated fairly, but I assure you, that is highly unlikely over the long run. And remember the old cliché: the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

9. DON’T Threaten to leave (unless you really mean it, preferably with written offer in hand).

– If you threaten to leave, you create an emotional break with your boss and others. Even if you choose to stay, they will view you as a short-timer who is no longer fully committed to them and to the company.

10. DON’T Jump ship too early for emotional reasons.

– The most important business you manage is your own career. Make smart moves to positions of progressively greater responsibility and broaden your skillset. Every move should build your career and your value in the marketplace.

At the end of the day, everyone is replaceable. It would be poor management to build a business that was dependent on one person. Wendy’s survived losing Dave Thomas, and Apple survived losing Steve Jobs. Therefore, you have to realize that there is a limit to your value to the company.

At some point, you may realize that you have given all you can to the job and that you are not being rewarded adequately. Don’t suffer. Move on and go somewhere that will recognize and reward your talent and hard work. It’s a fit thing; it’s not an indictment of you or the company. I have known many people who went from obscure misery to rock-star status with a change of employer.

Just a few notes, especially for women, about asking for a raise:

I have not spent much time in tech companies, but across industries, some people just have trouble accepting a female who is assertive and who speaks up for herself. Keep it professional, stick to the facts, be amiable, and listen to feedback.

Most importantly, remember, if they are uncomfortable with professional women taking charge of their careers, that’s their problem. You probably won’t change them, but you determine whether you let them hold you back.

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