How To: Negotiate a Higher Wage

By Ian Robinson | Success

Feb 17

Understanding Your Worth and Knowing How to Ask For It

It is not easy asking for a higher wage, especially when you aren't sure if you have the job yet. Furthermore, it can be quite stressful asking for a raise if you know there is a line of people who would kill to have your job AND do it for less compensation. 

Three Factors

There are three contributing factors that an employer considers when an employee asks for a raise:

  1. Do I have enough profit margin to accomodate the request? 
  2. Does this employee contribut to my bottom line enough to justify the raise? 
  3. How will this decision affect the rest of my staff? 

Perspective is Everything

I once flew a client to Atlantis, a beautiful resort in the Bahamas. In the evening, I accompanied my client to a venue that was being held in a nightclub. It was a typical club. Nothing spectacular, just people from all over who were gathered under the lights and loud music to have a good time. One particular activity sticks out in my memory: Pro athletes were making it "rain up in da club."

 They were tossing stacks of cash up in the air and laughing as grown women, dressed in heels and skirts, were on their knees raking in the money with their bare hands. It's impressive how resourceful some people can be when their hands are full.

My Perspective

Okay, allow me to share my observations and feelings as a medevac pilot. This may sound brash.

It baffles me that sports organizations can pay their players to throw dead animal skin back and forth across a grassy knoll in order to support their desires for gold teeth, Bentleys, and making it rain up in da' club while the medical industry can’t provide enough income to the transport team for them to live amongst the people they serve. Even if you make $100,000/yr, you’ll still qualify for low-income housing living in SF, but most helicopter pilots will never see that kind of annual income anyhow.

It just seems backward. Our nurses, paramedics, and pilots soar through obstacle-rich environments at unsurvivable speeds to save the children of those very players while suspended in a tiny plastic basket. Oh, and that tiny basket is suspended from thin air by twirling metal which is propelled by a 1300º ball of fire. The kicker? If you touch one leaf, the entire thing explodes. 

A Real Job
One that pays you even when grounded for maintenance or when the weather is bad.

Every career pilot wants a "real job." Employers who offer "real jobs" usually have a set entry-level pay with scheduled raises. You can’t squeeze any more green blood out of an aircraft with a fixed seating arrangement, but hopefully this article will help you pull in a few more pennies per pay period. 

Step 1: Become a Passionate Aviator

There is more to being a pilot than just meeting the minimum hour qualifications for the job. You need to become an indesposable asset to your employer and clients. 

Quality Hours are something that you should display on your resume. Straight and level time is nothing to be proud of. Try to create tangible results during each hour you fly (e.g., endorsing a student, flying IFR, performing approaches, practicing emergency procedures, or adding on other certificates, ratings, and endorsements).

​Think Outside the Box

You can also add another category, class, and endorsement. It is just a small upcharge if you need to build time anyhow. Who would you rather hire, Pilot A or Pilot B?

300 Hour Pilot A
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    ​Commercial Single-Engine Land
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    Commercial Multi-Engine Land
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    ​IFR Rating
300 Hour Pilot ​B
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    ​Commercial Single-Engine Land
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    Commercial Multi-Engine Land
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    ​IFR Rating
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    ​Tailwheel Endorsement 
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    Spin Endorsement
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    ​Aerobatic Experience
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    ​CRM​​​​ Instructor
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    ​Single-Engine Seaplane
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    Multi-Engine Seaplane

Get as much diverse flight time as possible. Adding ratings not only builds your skill, but IT IS SO FUN! Log as much night and IFR time as you possibly can. Did you know that you can become a Crew Resource Management Instructor? The fact that you invest into your trade speaks VOLUMES to your employers. 

Step 2: Understand Profit Margin

You can't squeeze blood from a rock. Do some research on your organization and try to gain an understanding of how much you can justifiably ask for. Many small operators barely get by and that is probably why there is a large turnover of revolving doors. 

Each company is different, but you can estimate rough overhead. Try to calculate payroll, insurance, operating, and advertising costs. 

Compare your results to how much margin there is in each aircraft hour. For example, it would be a mistake to think your earning potential is $1100/hr just because the direct operating cost of an H125 costs $700/hr and your ​company is billing it for $1800/hr​. Remember, your boss needs a paycheck as well. You can ask around. Find a baseline of what other pilots earn who perform similar duties and try to bid for the higher end if you can justify it by your resume. This is where your networking skills can come in handy. 

Some organizations are nonnegotiable because they have a long line of pilots who just want to be part of the assembly line. You’ll have more opportunity to negotiate with organizations that provide unique services or have eclectic clientele. 

After you make your calculations, you may discover that there isn't much wiggle room. If you are working for a new company, or one that has high overhead, don't bother asking for a higher wage right away. This is not always a bad thing. If you like the people you work for, this is a HUGE ​opportunity to make the company grow. If you put in hard work that yields ​a substantial profit, you will be able to do two things:

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    You can ask for some of that profit margin once things stabilize.
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    you can add the experience to your resume as more tangible proof that your work provides results. 

Step 3: Build a Relationship to Establish Value and Carefully Write the Request

​If you haven't read the book "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek, you MUST read it. He mentions that 250,000 people didn't show up just to see Dr. MLKJ speak. They showed up because they shared the same belief. Try to identify the common cause with your employer. This is how you establish your value as an asset to the organization. 

Here is a  short 10-minute overview from 20,000'.

If the pay is so low that you can't survive, then think twice about working there. You'll just build resentment and start the vicious cycle of opportunistic job hopping. Try to establish a career mindset, but make sure that your employer is going somewhere.

Don't be afraid to ask. Worst case scenario, you can be rejected, but at least your boss will know that you believe that you will put out a high-quality service.

PRO TIP: Don't be afraid to ask!
Worst case scenario, you can be rejected, but at least your boss will know that you believe that you will put out a high-quality service.

Comment below if you have any other tactics to share!


About the Author

While I get land sickness if on the ground for extended periods of time, I have discovered my true passion when helping aviators grow and succeed. Feel free to connect with me. If we put our heads together, maybe we can discover something great. - Ian Robinson

  • Anthony Lyons says:

    Ian, I think your advice is very practical from what I know about pilots, especially helicopters pilots. I was an education partner with Dr. Gordon Jiroux of Universal Helicopters, Inc. Gordon pays his instructor pilots, directors, assistant directors, and A & Ps way above the going rate so he can keep good people. In addition, he treats his employees like family!

    • Ian Robinson says:

      Thanks for the input Anthony! I agree with that concept and I have an article in the works regarding exactly that. Make sure to subscribe so you can get the notice when I publish it.

      Fly safe.

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