Millennials who tripled their salaries in 10 years share their best advice for getting a raise

Kiersten and Julien Saunders are the married co-founders of the blog Rich & Regular.
Courtesy Julien Saunders

Before launching their blog and business in 2017, Julien and Kiersten Saunders worked in marketing for a hospitality company. The Atlanta-based couple, who met at work in 2012, recently left their jobs (Julien in June 2018 and Kiersten in April 2020) to focus on building out their website, Rich & Regular, and pursue more entrepreneurial careers.

But in the time they spent in their marketing roles, both managed to increase their salaries significantly: Julien, who spent 10 years at the company, was promoted five times and nearly tripled his salary. Kiersten, who worked there for 11 years, was promoted several times, worked her way up to a director role and tripled her salary.

By the time they quit, they were both earning six figures.

Julien, 39, and Kiersten, 35, believe the key to building wealth is to expand your revenue streams and find multiple ways to earn money. Part of the reason they left their 9-to-5 jobs is so they wouldn't be reliant on a single source of income. They both still earn six figures as entrepreneurs and expect to exceed what they made from their previous jobs by the end of the year. 

But it's possible to increase your income even if you work a 9-to-5, as Julien and Kiersten did. A simple way to boost your earnings is to ask for a bigger salary, yet most people don't do it. Here is Julien and Kiersten's best advice for landing a raise.

Sharpen your skillset

The more value you can add to the company, the easier it will be to ask for a raise. "Trying to stay ahead of the curve was always my magic trick," Julien tells CNBC Make It. "Whenever there were data analysis tools or marketing tools that I felt that I could learn that other people on the team didn't learn, I made a point to sharpen those skills so I could differentiate myself."

It may require some upfront work — "It was a lot of nights and weekends," Julien says — but developing new skills that will benefit the company will make it easier to give your boss a clear rationale for why you deserve more money.

Rich & Regular co-founders Kiersten and Julien Saunders
Source: Julien and Kiersten

Build a network outside of your department

Don't just form relationships with people you see and work with every day, says Julien: "I was always making sure I had a network outside of my immediate department." By talking to people other than his team, he gained a broader understanding of what was going on in the company and how he could help contribute to its larger mission.

"Ensure that that network includes the data and analytics people," adds Kiersten. "You want someone you can go to and ask: Explain the thinking that went into this decision. A lot of people just want to act on the decision that was made, but once you understand the input and the data that led to them coming to that conclusion, that's how you stay ahead of the curve."

It all goes back to finding ways to add value to your team and company, they emphasize. The more you know, the more you can contribute. And the more you contribute, the more concrete evidence you have to present to your manager when asking for a raise and explaining why you deserve it.

Interview at other companies to know your worth 

Kiersten spent time interviewing for other roles both internally and externally "to prove to myself that I could still get them," she says. Plus, "having other job offers and options was valuable leverage in salary negotiations."

This can be a time-consuming and emotionally taxing strategy though. "At first, it felt like a betrayal because nothing was wrong," she says. "We're conditioned to feel indebted to our org charts and to only look for a pay increase when there's some kind of catalyst, positive or negative.

"But the reality is, companies don't have a reliable way to keep track of the going rate for your skills. Unfortunately, salaries aren't dynamic based on the changing needs of the job market. The only way to understand is to go interview for yourself."

In the end, interviewing elsewhere "was worth it," says Kiersten. "Not just for the money, but because it made me a stronger manager overall."

Ask for what you deserve

At the end of the day, if you want to increase your salary, you can't wait for someone to offer a raise, no matter how hard you're working. You have to be prepared to ask and back it up.

"One of the best pieces of advice I got is to never assume that your work speaks for itself," says Julien. "I would always make the assumption that surely they would see the work that I'm doing. In reality, leaders are just as busy, if not more busy, than you are. They're making hundreds of decisions, they receive five to 10 times more emails than you do.

"You have to get really creative at making sure that your contributions stand out."

Never assume that your work speaks for itself. I would always make the assumption that surely they would see the work that I'm doing. In reality, leaders are just as busy, if not more busy, than you are.
Julien Saunders
co-creator of Rich & Regular

Be strategic about who you ask, Kiersten adds. "I would attribute my success to not just asking, but asking the right allies. It was clear to me who was willing to help me in a real and meaningful way," she says.

This is especially important for Black employees, who have to contend with racial bias when negotiating their salaries. If she didn't ask the right people within her company for a raise or promotion, "I would not have had as much success with just asking by myself," Kiersten says. "There's a social risk that comes with Black women who ask without a backend support system — and so it wasn't just me asking, it was a system of women who were advocating on my behalf." 

There are a few ways to recognize a potential ally in the workplace, Kiersten says. Start by looking at their track record: "If they lead teams, you can look at how often their direct reports have been promoted. I also looked for the 'natural' or 'selfless' helpers, people who volunteered to lead social committees or hung around after a big meeting to help clean up." 

Before heading into any salary negotiation, keep in mind that "your salary is not an indication of what you're worth or what your time is worth," emphasizes Kiersten. "That's just what that company decided for that job. ... Open your mind to the possibility that your time and contribution is worth way more than whatever you're making at your job."

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