How To Stay Employed (and Even Get a Promotion and a Raise) in a Bad Economy

My previous article, How I Got Every Job I Ever Wanted, detailed how to increase your chances of getting hired at a company. In this article I’m going to explain how to keep your job and even get a promotion or raise no matter what the economic conditions.

First realize that when you get hired to work at a company, you are expected to do your job. You’re expected to do what the company hired you to do for the salary and benefits agreed upon. You won’t get a raise doing what you’re already being paid to do, so don’t expect anything more than a cost of living raise at your yearly review.

To earn a promotion or get a raise you must do more than expected and provide more value to your company. You must do more than you’re asked to do, and provide more value than you were expected to provide. You must be integral to the continued success of the company such that they would be foolish to fire you or risk you going to another company. You must show them that you are committed to the success of the company, are a team player, and supportive of the company’s goals.

To give you a real-world example of how this worked for me, I’ll share a story from when I was 24. At the time, I was the receptionist and administrative assistant to the office manager of a radio production company. I was supposed to answer the phone, make photocopies, and file. I was paid the least of anyone else in our 40 person office. But I loved the company and loved the atmosphere. As time went on, I started to see ways I could improve operations. There were all kinds of inefficiencies going on at the office. I started to see ways I could improve our systems. It was not remotely in my bailiwick to do anything of the kind, but I began proposing my ideas to the office manager, Shelly, who thought they were great ideas. She proposed them to our boss who said, “She’s the receptionist. Why does she think she can do anything to improve our internal systems? This is ridiculous.” Shelly told him, “She’s got some good ideas. I say we give her a shot. How could it hurt?” He said, “Fine, as long as it doesn’t do any harm, or I’m holding you responsible.”

So Shelly told me to draft a proposal for the changes I wanted to make and submit it to her, and I wasn’t allowed to do it on company time either. I was excited! I went home and came up with all kinds of ways to improve the company, from organization to company lunches to supply ordering and scheduling, and much more. I identified all the parts of the system that were broken or run ineffectively and came up with solutions to them all. Then I gave my ideas for remediation to Shelly. She loved every idea I came up with and we began instituting changes immediately.

At first some of the changes were met with resistance, especially by some of the people who had been at the company for years. To them I was some young whipper-snapper with a bee in my bonnet and too much free time. But with the authority of the office manager, the changes got made. One day, the big boss, owner of the company, calls me into his office. I was scared. I was literally the lowest man on the totem pole meeting with the big kahuna who hardly ever spoke to me or even glanced my way. I sat down nervously.

“Sit down young lady,” he said. I sat. There were a thousand butterflies swirling in my stomach, chest, and throat. He started shuffling some papers around, reading them, and making noises. I was in agony waiting to hear why he called me in. Finally he looked at me and said, “I don’t know how you did all of this, but I’ve asked all my department heads how they like the changes you made and every single one said their departments are now running more efficiently. They’re all singing your praises. How did you do this?”

“Well, I’m a graduate student and I’m studying a branch of psychology called Human Factors Engineering where we basically look at a system and try to improve it so the human can work in it more easily, intuitively, and efficiently, and I…”

He interrupted me, “I don’t care what you call it. This is gold! I’m looking at the changes you made and they all seem so obvious now, but you’ve somehow integrated areas that seemed separate and made them into one finely tuned machine. Honestly, I’m shocked. I mean, you’re a receptionist.”

I said, “No I’m a graduate student working here to pay the bills while I get my degree. Then I’m going to go work for NASA and design space shuttles so that…”

He interrupted me again, “No, I don’t want you to leave. Listen, I’d like you to keep looking at ways to make the company run more smoothly. If you see anything that can be improved I want you to bring it to Shelly’s attention immediately. Because of the changes you made, we’re making more money in less time, and I like that. And I like you. You’re a go-getter, a real team player, you’ve got what it takes to succeed.”

I very boldly said, “Well, I’d like to, of course, while I’m still working here. But honestly, once I graduate you probably won’t be able to afford me. I won’t be happy being a receptionist. You’re paying me $16,000 a year. I can barely pay my bills on that.”

He said, “I’ll offer you $29,000 a year right now if you’ll commit to staying for at least another year. And I’ll give you a promotion to office manager.” I said, “Wait, that’s Shelly’s job.” He said, “You’re better than Shelly. But I’ll promote her to being my Executive Assistant and you can both stay. But you’ll still have to answer phones, file, and make photocopies.” I told him I’d think about it.

I had walked into that office afraid that he didn’t like what I had done, and I walked out of that office with an offer of a promotion and a significant raise. Why? Because it made perfect financial sense for my boss to do what he had to in order to get me to stay. I was an asset to my company. I was valuable, and helped achieve company goals. Who would fire that? Who would let that walk out the door? No sensible business-person.

What value do you provide your company? Do you generate income for your company? Is your presence at the company making it stronger or weaker? Are you contributing to the success of the company or weighing it down?

When times are lean, companies look to cut the fat. Who do they cut first? People who aren’t even doing the job they’re being paid for, people who whine and complain, people who do not directly generate income for the company, people who show no loyalty, and those who do nothing to support the company’s goals. Is that you?

Instead, if you want a raise and a promotion, even in a bad economy, here are my suggestions:

  • Do more than you’re asked to do
  • Find ways to make your company more money
  • Improve your skills by taking classes or self-educating and offer those new skills to your company
  • Be a team player
  • Enrich your office environment personally and professionally
  • Make it stupid for your company to let you go

In hard times, companies become even more driven by costs and profit. Increasing your value to the company will keep you employed and may even get you the raise and promotion so coveted in this economy.

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