Reach for more pay


You have more control over your compensation--and your destiny--than you may think. Use these strategies to earn more, get promoted faster, and feel more satisfied with your work.

In a perfect world, no one would ever need to ask for more pay. Supervisors would simply offer the right raise at the right time. But, alas, it's not a perfect world. At least once in your career (and probably several times), you'll find yourself overdue for a raise, perhaps from pure oversight or perhaps because your boss believes that if you think you deserve one, you'll ask. But how do you ask for a raise? And how can you increase your chances of getting one?

Start with this question: Why am I worth more to the practice now than when I was hired or when I earned my last raise? Many practices are willing to pay reasonable compensation for good employees, and they'll increase compensation regularly for team members who pull their weight and help the practice grow. On the other hand, too many practices employ coasters who punch the clock, vanish when a crisis occurs, and shoot out the door at the end of their day.

Make the grade

You may think you're doing a fine job, but you don't decide whether you get a raise. That's why you need to show why you're not one of those coasters. How? By demonstrating how you've improved yourself, your job, and your practice.

Here's an example. Jennifer notices that the practice brochures, client invoices, discharge instructions, appointment cards, and assorted client handouts all look different. Not only are the colors and fonts different, but some use the practice logo and some don't. Some are copies of copies and don't look very professional.

Build a brag book

So she gathers up samples and takes them to the practice manager. She asks for permission to study them further and recommend a more unified approach. She does some research and discovers that the brochures have just been reprinted. On the other hand, the client handouts are printed internally as needed, and the software allows her to import the practice's logo, change the font, and print them in color. Once she knows what's possible, she takes samples and her recommendations back to the practice manager, who agrees to let her change the templates. Jennifer tells her team members what she did and demonstrates how to update and produce documents. The key: Jennifer doesn't pick a problem and complain about it. She takes on the issue, with permission, and sees the project through to implementation.

Pretend you're the practice owner

It's easy to assume that practice owners are all-knowing—that somehow they understand that the only working printer is down the hall and through two doors, when the paper's stored at the other end of the practice. That same owner who can't nail down every little workflow problem in your office also doesn't have time to keep up on your daily performance. That's why you need to find ways to stand out. Use this checklist to evaluate yourself and find new avenues to grow in your work:

  • What am I doing now that's different from last year? Have I mastered a new skill or taken on a new task?
  • What have I learned in the last year that I can apply at work?
  • What have I done recently that shows I can (and do) go beyond my day-to-day responsibilities?
  • How have I exceeded clients' expectations and helped bond them to the practice?
  • Do I consistently find tasks to do and stay productive, even during slow periods?
  • How do I help other team members do their jobs better?
  • If I were my supervisor, what would I think of me?
  • What could I do better next year?
  • What do I want to be doing a year from now?
  • What skills would make me more efficient and effective?
  • What training am I willing to undertake on my own time and at my own cost?
  • What training or cross-training would I like the practice to provide?
  • What responsibilities would I like to add to my current job description?
  • How could I merge my interests with the practice's needs?
  • How would that make me a more valuable employee?
  • If I owned this practice and could see the day-to-day operations as I do from my current vantage point, what would I want to change?
  • What needs to be done that isn't happening regularly now?
  • What could I take responsibility for to improve my work area?
  • What could I do to exceed clients' expectations?
  • What causes the most friction with clients and how could I address the issue?
  • What barriers keep me from doing my job as well as I could? How could I remove those barriers?

What's in a job description?

What do I ask for?

If you've answered all of the questions above and you're confident you've earned a raise, great job! Now it's time to target an increase that's fair for you and for the practice. Remember, you'll need to be prepared to explain your request and why you've earned it. You'll also want to show how much more valuable you are today and how you plan to contribute more a year from now. (See "Build a Brag Book")

Remember that negotiation is all about give and take. You may not get what you want on your first try, so don't be a mule if your first request doesn't fly. Flexibility may earn you a better deal. Perhaps you want a $1 an hour raise, but you also want to attend a conference. The owner says the raise you want is too high compared with what others are earning, but she's willing to cover your conference fee and pay you to attend if you agree to share what you've learned with your peers. If a $1 an hour raise equates to $2,000 more a year, then would you accept 75 cents more an hour along with a $250 registration fee and two days' conference pay at your hourly rate? In actual dollars, those might be roughly the same.

Plan your strategy in advance, but keep your options open. Don't throw out ultimatums or threaten to quit. After all, why should your boss give you a raise if you've got one foot out the door anyway?

You're in control

The team members who get the highest increases and the biggest bonuses are the ones who demonstrate their worth every day in every way, not by acting pushy but by showing they're reliable and innovative. They look for opportunities to improve the practice and then think of ways to make it happen. They don't point out problems—they point out solutions. Does that describe you? If so, then you're ready to ask.

Lorraine Monheiser List CPA, MEd, owns Summit Veterinary Advisors LLC in Littleton, Colo., a firm that seeks to make veterinarians more successful, both personally and professionally. Please send your questions or comments to

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