Should You Be Earning More Money?


The last decade was particularly rough for young workers. Millennials had the highest average unemployment rate of any group: 12.8 percent compared to 4.8 percent for all other age groups combined, according to a study released this week by Advisor Perspectives. Another report estimates millennials earn 20 percent less, on average, than our parents did at our age.

But things are looking up. At 3.7 percent, overall unemployment is now at its lowest rate in nearly two decades—for the first time in recent history, there are actually more job openings than unemployed workers—and wages are finally on the rise.

Janet Lamwatthananon, career advisor for ZipRecruiter, calls it the best job market in more than 50 years. “And when unemployment is low, workers have a lot more power.”

Translation: Now is a good time to make sure you’re not leaving money on the table. Here’s how.

1. Ask for more than the typical 3- or 4-percent raise.

Low unemployment incentivizes employers to work to retain top talent. So, if you deserve a pay bump beyond the regular cost-of-living increase, start prepping your case. Pull metrics to show the positive impact your work has on the company, and list specific examples of how you’ve gone above and beyond your job description.

Be strategic about timing the ask. If you just pulled off a major win or have been getting a lot of positive feedback, it’s a good time to make your case. If the company—or your boss—is going through a rough period, hold off till things settle down.  

If your boss can’t swing an increase now, ask to revisit the conversation in six months. In the meantime, you can try asking for something else you want now, like time off or more flexible hours. You can also try to...

2. Negotiate a one-time bonus.

“Unlike a raise, a bonus doesn’t commit your company to paying you an increased amount year after year,” says Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog and book. “Plus, sometimes you might be locked into a pay grade that your manager can’t move you out of without significant hassle, but they can get a one-time bonus approved.”

While the average discretionary bonus is 5.6 percent of your base salary, it’s also a good idea to tap your network to figure out a reasonable ask.

3. Consider jumping ship.

If you’ve been contemplating a move, this could be a good time to make the leap since the low-unemployment environment gives you an edge. “Employers are antsy to seal the deal, so wait time between interviews and feedback are almost nonexistent,” Lamwatthananon says.

She recommends using the competition for talent to your advantage by mentioning to a any prospective employer that you are in the interview process with other companies. “It sends the message that you’re in demand,” she says.

Just don’t make a hasty decision. Before moving on, think: How happy am I here? Do I have opportunities that would be hard to find elsewhere? Are there other factors in favor of me staying? “For example, do you need to build a stable work history because your resume is full of short-term stays?” Green says. All valid reasons to stick around.

4. Step up your side gig.

Freelance and part-time jobs (especially in the restaurant industry) are also benefiting from the healthy economy. If you’ve got some extra time, look into boosting your earnings with a new hustle—or simply give yourself a raise. “If you’re drowning in freelance work, increase your prices,” Lamwatthananon says. “You’ll get more time back for yourself and more money for the time you do work.”

Updated on December 12, 2018

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