4 Ways to Successfully Quarterback Your Career

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 26, 2015

The Big Game Is Just Like Your Career

It’s no secret Americans love NFL football, especially considering more than 100 million people will tune in for Super Bowl Sunday. But even if you hate football or just watch the big game for the commercials and the nachos, there’s something you can learn from the quarterbacks involved. Things that can be directly applied to your career.

4. You Need to Take Charge

One of the defining characteristics of a quarterback is leadership skills. Against all odds, at the end of the game, great quarterbacks take charge of a situation and make things happen -- even if teammates are ready to give up or are feeling deflated (let’s just get that joke out of the way early).

The same thing can be said in terms of your career and your salary. Yes, there are times when a company will recognize your accomplishments and reward you with a raise or bonus, but more often than not, they’re going to let things continue along with the status quo.

Are you looking to get promoted? Feel that you’re underpaid in relation to your peers? Crossing your fingers to be selected to work on that new project? The easy thing to do would be to sulk and simply hope things change. To be happy in your career you need to take the tougher road, learn negotiation skills, be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation with your manager, and ASK for what you want.

3. Potential & Passion Are Key

If you’re a manager or your company is hiring new employees, there’s the traditional way of hiring new people. You put up an ad listing qualifications, collect a bunch of resumes, and primarily look at the experience someone has: drilling down into the traditional numbers and facts; where did someone go to school; what was their GPA; how many years of experience do they have; and so on. But if you just look at numbers, you’re doing it all wrong.

So many times it’s not the numbers, but the immeasurables that really count. We’re talking personality, potential, and passion. What is the person’s work ethic? Do they have that killer instinct, the drive and determination to get ahead? Grit. Gumption. Call it what you will.

For example, Seattle’s Russell Wilson was projected to be a middle round pick due to his height -- 5’10 5/8th. When he was being scouted, former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said, “If he was 6-5, he’d probably be the No. 1 pick in the draft."

As predicted, Wilson was drafted 75th overall in 2012, and 5 other quarterbacks were taken before him. The end result? After winning the starting job as a rookie and leading his team to the playoffs, the following year he became the shortest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.

Tom Brady followed a similar path. Chosen 199th overall and with 6 QBs chosen before him, he also led his team to a Super Bowl title in his second year.

2. Top Performers Get Paid

Even though they both have the same “job title” (quarterback) and work for the same “company” (NE Patriots), quarterback Tom Brady is paid roughly 17 times more than teammate Jimmy Garoppolo ($20 million vs. $3.5 million contracts).

Why? Because Brady is a proven performer, leading his team to 6 Super Bowls.

When asking for a raise or promotion, the same thing holds true. Positioning yourself as a top performer or the rock star of the group and performing at a higher level can pay dividends. However, a common pushback from managers sounds something like this:

“Well, we can’t pay you more money right now, because you’d be earning more than everyone else around you.”

To be honest, that’s simply not how most of the world works. Does every actor in a movie get paid the same rate? Does every student in a class receive the same grades? Does every salesman take home the same paycheck? No. There will always be employees that work harder, close more deals, or produce higher-quality work than their peers, and they should be recognized for it.

In fact, many companies have moved toward performance-based bonuses. For example, let’s look at a department given $10,000 to distribute to four employees:

  • Old way (the bonus is split evenly): Rock star $2,500, Average employee $2,500, Average employee $2,500, Slacker $2,500
  • New way (bonus distributed based on performance metrics): Rock star $5,000, Average employee $2,500, Average employee $2,500, Slacker $0

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Why did I add the word “eventually” in the previous section? Because sometimes you don’t always get paid immediately. Despite the fact that Russell Wilson has proven to be one of the league’s best quarterbacks with two Super Bowl appearances, his 2014 salary is “only” around $800,000 – by far one of the lowest in the league at his position.

Why should he be ok with this? First, he’s going to cash in big-time when his next contract comes around. Second, he can make money through endorsements, predicted to be around $5-$7 million this year. And lastly, the fact that he has a lower contract right now enables his team to sign and pay bigger stars, an advantage that leads to the one thing that really matters to him – winning.

How does that affect your salary negotiation? First, it’s important to look at the big picture in your career. Factor in things that matter to you in addition to the bottom line, such as a flexible work schedule or working at an amazing company. Second, often there are other ways to make money outside your main income, with a “side hustle.” And lastly, it’s about knowing when to take risks. That’s why so many people opt to work at startups or found their own company. Sure, the salary might be low now, but the upside to earn many times your income down the road is worth it.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons why the Seahawks are even in the Super Bowl this year. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy continually “played it safe” in the NFC Championship, refusing to take risks early in the game when they could have put Seattle away. Same for the Patriots, who took risks with trick plays and advanced formations to advance past Baltimore.

Negotiate Your Way to the End Zone

Whether you’re rooting for Brady, Wilson, or looking to go into advertising to make a better commercial, take risks, prove your worth, and quarterback your own career. But to do that, you'll have to negotiate. Thankfully you can use Salary.com to help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.