10 Tips To Get An Architect Salary Raise

I tend to talk a lot around here about architect salaries, mainly for people trying to negotiate a new job offer to get the best package for their situation. As you know there is also another time for negotiation: you have a job and want to ask for that all important five letter word: RAISE. 

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Surprisingly only about 41 percent of Americans ever even ask for a raise, even though 84 percent of bosses expect workers to ask them for one, according to Salary.com.

The elephant in the room

Depending on your experience, asking for salary increase could paint a picture of sanctioned annual reviews, awkward conversations or endless chats with family. Discussion of pay is an interesting topic so it receives a lot of attention. From constant click-bait articles to late night conversations with friends.

There is always the point during an after work drink session when someone accidentally blurts out their salary, immediately opening a can of worms. A lot of "wows" and "that's good". Usually these are a mix of sarcasm and genuine surprise. It is human nature to compare ourselves to our peers and coworkers and perhaps no other metric provides such a concrete number as salary. 

We are in the middle of large shifts in the work environment. Flexible hours, work from home opportunities and countless benefits. However, with all of this upheaval there is still an archaic way of dealing with salaries. This is changing somewhat, some partnership offices for example, that choose their pay collectively based on the profit of the firm.

While less common, compensation can be shifted from a traditional salary to a bonus or profit sharing program. All of these procedures have pros and cons with their own risks and benefits. For this article I will be discussing a traditional salary arrangement, this information applies to large and small architecture firms alike.

So how do you go about asking for that all important raise? Before we get into what you should do when asking for a raise is what you shouldn't do.

1. Timing

A Forbes article, How To Ask For A Raise -- And Get It, covers the importance of timing your raise request.

"Cliché as it is, timing is everything—and it can determine whether or not you’re rewarded.

First, consider when raises are generally granted at your company. Is it at the end of the year? On the anniversary of your start date?

Or maybe there’s no hard-and-fast rule that you’re aware of. “If you’re not sure, you can find out by word of mouth or by looking at the employee handbook—raises are usually tied to evaluations,” Green says. “There’s also nothing wrong with asking your manager flat-out. After you’ve been at a job for a while, say to him or her, ‘If I ever wanted to talk about my salary, how and when would that happen?’"

If there are financial problems within the company or in the broader economy (as we experienced in 2009) asking for a pay increase can make you look out of touch with reality at best or inappropriate at worst. If the company is having problems you need to look at it from a long term perspective.

Do you see the office turning things around and becoming more profitable? Are these issues a result of management or the economy? While you need to be respectful of your current role, be clear on the future of the office. If not now, when will a raise be likely? If it is five years down the road you might need to look at alternate employment. 

Timing relates not only to office performance but also personal performance. If, for whatever reason you have been under-performing at work, it is not the time to ask for a raise. If there is some flexibility in the timing of your raise discussions you want to align it with a project going well or important deadline being met.

In a larger office it can be more difficult because the annual reviews are usually at a set point in the year. In this case keep track of your most important accomplishments to bring up in your salary review.

2. You don't "deserve" a raise

We all want to earn more so most people feel they are underpaid based on the time and effort they put into their job. However, just because you feel you deserve it doesn't mean you do. As well will discuss further, it is critical that you are properly prepared for your salary review.

Think about it as re-interviewing for your own job. Just because you take up space and breathe the office air does not mean you should be there indefinitely. Simply coming to work and "doing your job" does not necessarily translate to a raise.

Don't quote irrelevant facts like "I have been here for five years longer than her". Keep the focus on yourself and do not compare your performance or tenure to others.

3. Focus on results 

This is a mistake I see quite often. For example, I have lived in some of the most expensive cities in the world. London has a reputation of being one. So often during negotiations I would hear, "the cost of living is so high, that I need a raise just to live / eat / survive / drink."

While this might be true (not sure how a 5% raise will make or break you) it does not reflect the real reason someone should be giving you more money.

It is all about results. 

How you have used your talents and applied them to a design problem?  Simply put, the better and faster you are, the more value you bring. Hence, you deserve a salary commensurate to your "value".

It can be challenging to put a dollar figure on this. So it can work to your detriment or to your advantage. It really comes down to how well you are able to frame your current and future talents to your employer.

4. Don't use ultimatums

Using ultimatums is a very destructive negotiating tactic, that rarely works. At best it makes you look whiny and unprofessional. "If I don't get this xyz salary I will leave". This immediately creates a barrier between you and your supervisor. You want management to be on your side. You want to assure them that you are on the same team working toward a common goal.

Successful business partners never threaten to leave, so neither should you. Remember to keep your cool. Don't get offended by an offer or take an outright rejection as a reflection on you. You may ultimately decide that you do need to leave but do so after you have had time to reflect on the outcome. Don't make any rash decisions in the moment. It might sound dramatic, but it certainly won't help your career. 

Now that we have covered what not to do, let's go over what you should do when asking for a raise.

5. Create a "raise portfolio"

This is perhaps the most important thing I will cover in this article.

What is a raise portfolio?

A raise portfolio is simply a collection of the work you have done since your last salary or annual review. Depending on the size of your office, the person reviewing you might not have worked directly with you.

Often there is so much going on in an architecture office that work gets overlooked or forgotten. It is your job to remind the salary decision makers what you have done and contributed to the firm over the past year. No one will do this for you — take the initiative. A portfolio is a perfect way to show your work.

Most offices have a standard form you fill out with generic questions about your performance. Instead of just writing down what you have done, create a portfolio with project images, drawings, photos, of whatever your greatest accomplishments have been over the preceding period.

This will help to clearly convey your skills and qualifications and act as a reminder of any potential milestones your supervisors may have forgotten. This raise document is also for your own record keeping, and is to be constantly updated.

You need to keep track of your own progress for you personal development.

It is hard to know where you are going if you don't have clear picture of where you have been. Seeing it displayed over several pages can clearly identify any potential weaknesses you many have (design, software, teamwork etc.) along with potential strengths. Use this information about your own experience and project success to leverage your salary negotiation.

For example, if you finished the construction documents on a project ahead of schedule. This is something that needs to be highlighted and used as a reminder to your managers on why you are a valuable member of the organization. This can be formatted with a few images of each project with bullet points describing exactly what you did, how your contributed or any other relevant information. 

6. What have you done?

You need to be clear about what you have contributed to the team and to the firm over the past year or more.

This is the primary purpose of the raise portfolio, to outline the work you have produced and provides a springboard for the work you will be doing moving forward. 

7. What will you do?

This is the part of the conversation that isn't included in your raise portfolio since it is a projection of what you will be doing over the next twelve months.

These can be written down and brought to your review meeting.

Include things such as:

  • projects you would like to work on within the office
  • a competition you would like to work on
  • software you would like to learn or become more proficient
  • goals such as becoming licensed, LEED accredited, etc.
  • other professional milestones you wish to achieve

The majority of these goals have expenses associated with them, so it will further justify your request for a raise.

8. Keep it professional

This should be common sense but I need to mention it. Your past and future milestones should be kept professional and not personal. Don't talk about how you want to buy a house or go on vacation.

Frame all of your reasons for a raise with how you can improve your performance and the benefits these accomplishments will bring to the office.

9. What can they do?

An annual review is also an opportunity for you to express your concerns or suggestions on how management could make things run more smoothly, efficiently, make work more enjoyable or any number of things that may influence your day-to-day work.

Keep in mind this is not an opportunity for you to rant and complain. Rather this is ways you think project workflow could be improved to benefit the office and/or your coworkers.  

10. How much is too much?

The most common and most difficult question to answer is how much of a raise should you ask. There are a lot of variables at play here. I discussed these in greater detail in 5 Factors Affecting Your Architecture Salary, the two most important points for negotiating a raise are your role (both future and current) and the market conditions.

As we discussed, if things are looking bad it is less likely a significant raise is possible. However if times are great and the market is booming, a large raise is more likely. Since these circumstances depend on your situation it is ultimately up to you do decide what is an appropriate increase. 

The above Forbes article goes on to discuss the importance of doing your research. 

“So often people just go with their gut when requesting a certain figure and don’t have anything to back it up,” says Green. “You need to consider what the market is at a company of your size—for your skill level and in your geographic area.” 

Skip sites like Glassdoor and PayScale—they’re too general—and instead figure out what salary you personally can command by talking to other people in your field, checking with recruiters (if you’re in an industry that uses them and have existing relationships) and scouring job postings (though not all listings include salary, some will provide a range) to calibrate your sense of market value."

As a general rule an inflation or cost of living raise is fairly standard. This is in the 3-5% range. If you have been performing at a high level, taking on additional responsibility and increasing your skills and qualifications a 5-15% raise is appropriate. If you have received a promotion, become licensed, or achieved a significant career milestone, a 15-25%+ raise is achievable. 

I hope this will help with your future architect salary negotiations. By spending a little time upfront preparing you will be in a great position to get the pay you deserve. 

For further reading on salary negotiations, applications, portfolios, interview preparation and more see The Complete Package below:

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

Want a Great Architecture Job? Don't Send a Resume

25 Things To Consider When Choosing An Architecture Job Offer

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

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