Takeaway: If your experience, dedication, and skills make you an excellent IT pro, but your salary doesn’t reflect your hard work or the value you deliver, it could be time to ask for a raise. Jack Wallen explains why you may be worth more than you think.
Recently, I’ve written about reasons for quitting IT and alternative careers to consider if you do decide to change fields. But plenty of IT workers want to stay on their chosen career path. To those people, I say “Bravo,” but I do so with an asterisk: *You need a raise. Being a consultant or working in an IT department is hard, intense work. And although the economy is still a bit shaky, that’s no reason for you to be paid less than you’re worth.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.The second people mention that they have to spend the weekend (or weeknights) on call, I know their soul dies a little. There is nothing worse than staring at a phone during the weekend knowing the minute you start to do something fun, that blasted thing is going to ring. Anyone who has ever worked on call knows how this affects their time off. You live your life stressed and waiting for Monday to roll around. If this is you, and you agree to go on call, you should certainly be compensated for that added stress. I have a special skill set that not a lot of IT workers in my area have: Linux. Because of that, I can demand a bit of a higher wage. Many skill sets allow this. (Cisco, UNIX, and DB admin come to mind.) You have to think of this with respect to a company’s ability to replace you. Are your skills pressed out of a mold so that anyone in your company could do your job? Or do you have skills that no one else in your department/company could cover? If that’s the case, you deserve a raise! The stress levels experienced in IT are high, and they never seem to back off. This stress can lead to health issues, relationship issues, and other problems. If your business thinks you should deal with that stress at a less than acceptable pay level, it has another think coming. I have worked in IT shops that paid just over what I could easily make in retail and with far less stress. If your employer values your work, then it should respect the stress you deal with day in and day out. This goes along with stress. You have to deal with clients on a daily basis, and you have to do so professionally. In fact, it is this engineer-to-client interface that helps make it easier for your company to collect on bills. Because you have this face-to-face interaction with the clients, your employer must trust you with its income. The better you are at dealing with clients, the happier those clients will be. The happier your clients are, the faster they will be at paying their bills. Need I say more? If you’ve gone through the process of upgrading your skills, and those skills are paying off, you deserve a raise in pay. Not only did you take the time to gain those skills, you may well have done so on your own dime. If your employer footed the bill (and you did your classes, studying during work hours), you could still have the firepower needed to claim a raise. This is valid unless your employer did this to get you up to speed on a skill you should have already had. There was a time when MCSE actually meant something. Today? Not so much. Real-world experience far outweighs certifications now, and that experience translates to a better understanding of how technology actually works when deployed. The translation doesn’t end at understanding. Real-world experience should directly translate to higher pay. Along the same lines as experience, maturity plays a huge part in how much money you should be able to demand. I have seen engineers with nearly identical skills but with vastly different maturity levels have very different experiences. Those with more maturity can deal with stress a bit better ,as well as improvise when needed. But more important, those with maturity can deal with people far better. Professionalism goes a long, long way in this industry, and without maturity, professionalism is a hard commodity to come by. There are times when the documented solution simply does not work. When this happens, a level of creativity will help you resolve an issue. Not only that, but creativity can help you come up with solutions that are cheaper and often more reliable. But creativity generally can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. Most in the IT field don’t have it, so if you are one of the lucky ones, take advantage of that and use it to your benefit when discussing your pay raise. As I mentioned earlier, the engineer-client interface is one of the most critical ones in this industry because it’s where the money changes hands — at least, figuratively. If you have solid relationships with clients or users, you are far more valuable to your company than is an employee of equal skill and poorer client relationships. This is especially true if you have solid relationships with all the clients/users you interact with. And the more important the client or user, the more valuable you become. Are you the administrator who developed your backup system? Did you spend weeks documenting your entire network? Do you know your systems (or your clients’ systems) better than any other engineer in your department? If this is so, you can easily make a good case for a higher salary. Always think of it with this in mind: If you left the company, what would you be taking with you? The answer to that question can be radically altered if you’re more familiar with your systems than any other administrator. Before I sign off on this list, I want to make sure you know this is not a green light for you to bust into your boss’s office, slam down a printed copy of this article, and demand a raise. As we all know, asking for a raise is a tricky river to navigate. You go about it the wrong way and you very well could get tipped over. If you feel confident that you should have a raise in pay, make sure you go about it smartly and with caution. Do not make ultimatums (unless you’re okay with getting fired or downsized). But rest assured, if you work as hard and well as the average IT pro, that raise should be within your reach. A writer for more than 12 years, Jack’s primary focus is on the Linux operating system and its effects on the open source and non-open source communities.