ChooseFI Logo

Career Hacking: Speed Up Your Path To FI

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.

The traditional approach to building a career is a passive one. After college or vocational training, most people never pick up a book again. Some simply clock their time from 9-5 year over year, keeping pace with inflation without much thought. Most workers hope to earn a 2-3% yearly raise, and many don’t take advantage of other employer benefits available to hack their savings and aggressively grow their earnings.

Although it’s easier to treat employment as a necessary part of life, don’t leave it out of your FI strategy. Frugality, house hacking, and investing are all important. But also using your career as a malleable asset can help you grow your worth exponentially.

In Episode 23, ESI from outlined some of his best tactics for career hacking and using your job as your biggest asset for optimizing your income. To put it simply, he says you should negotiate each salary increase, exceed your employer’s expectations, use your network to advance, and never stop learning new skills.

Overdeliver And Build Your Perceived Worth

ESI stated that it is important to begin negotiations with a higher starting salary during the offer phase. But, even if you didn’t negotiate, or accepted a low-ball offer, you are in no way doomed!

If you didn’t negotiate your offer, there’s still an opportunity to maximize your results at your current position. By simply seeing the value in negotiating, and proving your worth now that you have the job, you can exponentially increase your earning power.

So, how can you make the most of your time clocked at work and optimize your salary? The average worker will see an annual 2-3% raise that barely helps them outpace inflation. However, you’re not the average worker; you can put your money to work and focus on moving the needle 1%.

Simply recognizing that negotiating for a higher annual raise of just 1% more–for a 4% annual raise–adds up incredibly fast when invested.

Your career is the engine that drives the FI train. As with everything in FI, focusing on getting just 1% better can yield huge, compounding returns over the course of your lifetime. By earning just a bit more, and investing those differences, your money snowball picks up far more speed!

How To Negotiate A Better Raise And Earn That Extra 1%

Determine Expectations and Exceed Them

Be transparent with your boss. Express that you want to be proactive about your career and add value to the company. Ask for 3-5 ways you can add value to your role in a very definable and quantifiable way. Be specific so you can measure and track, and set a goal together. For example, if you want to grow sales, establish by how much. 5%? 10%?

Once you establish these numbers, over-deliver and you’ll be set up for success.

Timing When To Communicate Your Worth

If you have an annual or quarterly review, this is a great time to discuss how you can add value to your role. Prepare for ahead of time by formulating questing and ideas to present during your review. If your company doesn’t have traditional reviews or your review is a long way off, that’s okay. Proactively approach your boss to express your desire to level up.

It can feel very vulnerable to get feedback and make a plan. But if you’re truly ready to grow in your role, you can carve out time for this conversation. Just be ready to follow up with your talk and deliver.

Document Your Success

Now that you have performance goals, you want to track your wins. Along the way, be proactive in informing your boss about how much progress you’re making. You can communicate this information via email, or in person if you have regular check-ins with your boss.

Since you’ve established quantifiable goals, you want to define the progress measures in tangible terms. For instance, if you’ve set a goal of increasing sales by 5% annually, tell your boss how much you’ve increased your sales to that point. Even if your sales have increased by only 1%, that is still a tangible measure of progress.

ESI shares that being proactive in nurturing communication will improve the relationship with your boss and will showcase your value.

Be Likable With Your Team

Setting and achieving quantifiable goals and being proactive in sharing those successes is key to earning better raises. However, they’re not the only tools in your career arsenal. Don’t underestimate the power of being likable. Being likable helps you create relationships you can leverage.

While dollars and cents matter to your boss, are you likable while you provide value? Do you improve your team by boosting morale, mentoring a newer employee, or taking on challenging work with a positive attitude? As silly as it sounds, being friendly makes a difference in the perception of your worth.

Truly, it’s not just what you do at work, but how you do it. An employee that has a less-than-stellar job performance can still get ahead because he or she is likable and approachable. While numbers and stats are important, it’s also important to nurture the relationships you have with your co-workers, boss, and leadership.

Podcast Episode: Career Hacking The Tech Industry With Millenial Boss

Network Your Way To More Worth

Networking gets a bad rap. However, when done strategically and slowly, it can be an excellent way to improve your chances of getting a raise. Networking can help you build a contact list that’s personally and professionally enriching.

Many of us see our personal and professional life completely separately, but laying the groundwork now to expand your social circles can be vital. The mutually-beneficial relationships you build with your colleagues can become references or referrals for a new job, become trusted contractors, or help you solve problems at work.

Building A Quality Network

Focus on quality, not quantity, when developing your network. Swapping business cards with no follow-up can be a waste of time. So, when you exchange information, make a connection that counts. Offer to give as much as you’re looking to take. Building goodwill starts from your first interaction and following up regularly before you have a need, can help grow those relationships.

Joining a professional organization or attending social meetups through Facebook or can help you collaborate and build your network. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, when done mindfully, can go a long way. Connections can even take the form of meaningful micro-interactions like sending a quick congrats to a contact’s new job announcement.

Attending work-sponsored events is a great way to build your contact list but don’t stop there. Grabbing lunch with colleagues or people you’ve connected with online is a great way to foster offline relationships.

The key is to start networking before you need it.

Be More Attractive…Really!

Correlations can be made between careers and long-term marriages. At the beginning of any new relationship, from a new job to a romance, we show up looking our best. We put time and effort into our appearance, our conversations, and groom ourselves for success.

Over time, though, we let our appearance slip as we get comfortable. We stop putting in as much effort to succeed. And just like lack of effort takes its toll on a marriage, it can take its toll on job performance. So, much like a spouse, dating your career can keep the relationship strong and thriving.

Spending time on your grooming, taking care of your health, and dressing for success keeps you attractive and likable overall. Though it may seem trite to offer this piece of advice, if you’re doubling down on the value you provide your employer, take heed. Showing up just as polished as you did on day one of your job can also make an impact!

Never Stop Learning & Developing Your Skills

Don’t rest on your laurels with your personal and professional development. As with our appearance, we also slack on our skills and education after we get comfortable. Developing your skills and advancing your talents doesn’t have to mean you go back to school. It can be as simple as reading or listening regularly.

Investing in digital courses, free online podcasts, or professional development books from your local library can help you keep your ax sharp. Picking up supplemental skills in public speaking, management, or sales and marketing can be a game-changer. Talent stacking is also invaluable.

Related: Talent Stacking To Fast Track FI

If you work in digital marketing, could you tackle some code or learn new software? Could you pad your resume with other related skills that aren’t in your job description but add value?  Don’t underestimate the power of becoming a better you, both in and out of a professional setting.

Manage Yourself

Building up your repertoire of soft skills helps build your likability and your networking prowess. Navigating office politics, tenacity, communication, motivation, and accountability are all skills that we all could improve and fine-tune. These overlooked “touchy-feely” skills may not end up on your resume but should be part of your skill development.

Find A Mentor To Level Up

Finding a mentor and spending time with podcasts and self-development are crucial for growth. It may not be easy to take a critical look at your social skills or time management strategies, but doing so helps you develop holistically. Building systems in your personal and professional life that work for you can help declutter your mind and help you balance as you level up.

To find a mentor, start leveraging existing connections and build relationships naturally. This is where your network comes in handy. If someone is doing what you want to do in their career, personal life, or finances, offer to take them out to dinner or coffee.

While often we worry we have no value to offer this person in return for their guidance or mentorship, simply offering what you can (even in the form of a free lunch) and being transparent, accountable, and likable can do wonders.

Learn To Market Yourself

If all else fails, you lose nothing by simply applying yourself. Though, no matter what you try, there are times when your employer is unable or unwilling to give you the raise you deserve. If you’ve tried these tactics to improve your earnings, and the boss blames the economy or factors beyond your control to give you the raise you deserve, it’s time to leverage your network.

At this point, focusing on getting a new job and negotiating a solid starting salary will be much easier. You’ve built a network, have ways to quantify your value, and honed your hard and soft skills along the way. You’ll need to decide if you should stick it out at your current company, but jumping ship can very quickly get you a few rungs up the ladder.

Plan Ahead Before You Make A Leap

The seeds you’ve planted along the way can now be harvested. Polish your resume and then reach out to both your personal and professional network to ask if they have any leads. This can also be a great time to consider relocating or downsizing to hack your finances in other areas and lower your cost of living or transportation costs.

It can be extremely disheartening to do the work and realize your boss simply isn’t on board with the advancement you seek. Fortunately, by tending to your relationships and doing the work months in advance to track and prove your worth, switching jobs can be much easier and more fruitful. It can turn a less-than-stellar situation into a true power move!

Podcast Episode: Your Money And Your Relationships With Jean Chatzky

Closing Thoughts On Career Hacking

Career hacking is valuable in both quantifiable and qualitative ways. If you’ve been out of school for some time, or you feel your career has stalled, this is an excellent time to reinvest in your personal and professional development.

If you’re reading this article and wondering if it’s time to start, it is. The biggest takeaway of ESI’s advice is this–start career hacking before you need it. Build relationships before you need them. Learn and grow before you have no other options. Be proactive instead of reactive, and you’ll yield the best returns on your mental investments along the way.

So, if you’re ready to just get 1% better in your life and in your pay raises, start now!

Related Articles:

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
More To Explore