image: Seattle Municipal Archives
In my 7 years of working for the man, I’ve more than doubled my income from $40,000/year to $81,000/year. It hasn’t been easy, and there’s some things that I would have done differently. Here’s a few thoughts on what has worked for me through the years, and what I wish I had done.
- Results, Not Effort – If you’re at work from 9am to 9pm everyday and you’re still at the bottom of the totem pole, it’s probably you, not them. Your boss wants you to have the best answer, not a sob story of how hard you tried for a mediocre answer. Corollary: improving your workflow and efficiency is good to help you get to the best results, but is not necessarily an accomplishment itself. Remember, you want to be doing things that will ultimately look good on your resume: “Developed process to shuffle papers faster” is okay, but “Developed process to shuffle papers faster, leading to a 1000% increase in bling” is much, much better.
- Improve Yourself – If your employer offers a stipend for you to take classes, you should take it. I’ve taken a few classes which has allowed me to add more fancy credentials to my name on my business card. Even if the stipend doesn’t completely cover the costs, it’s probably a pretty good deal. I’ve dished out up to $300 out of my own pocket after I used up the stipend to take come classes – it’s paid off in dividends so far. I’ve become the expert in areas in which my company previously had weaknesses, making me look very valuable to my employer.
- Don’t Hoard Information - Being the only one to know how to do a specific task or process can be stifling. You may think that you’re in a good position since no one else can do your work. However, you’ll quickly find yourself doing ONLY that task, which can prevent further growth in your career. I became the Excel and PowerPoint guy at my company for a little while and I got frustrated at all of the questions that I would be getting. I was, in essence, solving their problems, and helping them get good results, instead of focusing on my own work. After a while I decided to write up a cheat sheet and get some good resources for the office. I gained the goodwill of my co-workers, looked good to my employer, and got people to stop bothering me.
- Sign Up for Retirement Plan and Contribute 10% RIGHT AWAY – A few years ago I struggled with choosing between paying down debt or increasing my retirement contribution. In hindsight, I made the wrong choice and focused on debt reduction. If I had known that my income would have doubled, I would have contributed 10% to my SIMPLE IRA instead of 3% to get the match. As my income went up, I would have had more cash to pay off debt. The instant that you’re eligible, sign up for your employer-sponsored retirement plan and contribute at least 10%. This is easy if you can do this as soon as you begin employment as you won’t even know that the money is being taken out.
- Participate in Office Politics – I hate that I’m even saying this, but the fact is that intra-company networking can be instrumental in getting a promotion or a raise. I’m not suggesting that you back stab or undermine (but it does seem to work for some people), but at the very least get chummy with those who are in the know. That little bit of knowledge may give you leverage to put yourself in a better position.