How do I do this?
December 3, 2008 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I work for a marketing firm, and while I do like my job I recently found out I'm a bit underpaid. Salary review is coming up...

I've been working at this job for about 8 months and the salary review is in January. While talking to a colleague of mine with the same identical experience/who was hired for the same position and started on the same day as me that she makes about 15% more than me (we both get a 10% bonus).

In addition, I didn't negotiate salary (in fact it was a slight salary decrease for me) when I started this job just because I desperately wanted to leave my old horrible job.

As such, I'm pretty sure I'm decently underpaid (i also checked a few salary review websites - seems I'm underpaid from them too)- any way to rectify this? Or do I just have to accept my fate that I'm starting from a lower platform and will have to work my way up to my co-workers level (which is just a little frustrating - that just because I froze up at a salary question during my interview I am forever stuck 15% behind her)?

Some background on the company (smallish place with about 50 employees - we've seen some slowdown - but works seems to be coming in a steady pace - I believe in some presentation I remember the CEO saying that its been a growth year for revenue and profits. I am entry-leverish (this is my 2nd job).

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total)
You're not going to get anywhere unless you threaten to walk. Some people actually get another job lined up with a salary offer in hand; others just bluff and say they have done so, when in fact they have not.

If your bluff gets called, though, and for whatever reason they don't raise your salary, you are done at that workplace. You will have demonstrated your lack of commitment to being a loyal employee and will be viewed as a flight risk, which means they won't waste resources on promoting or retaining you.

So, to do this, you have to be pretty sure that your supervisors actually value you at the higher rate and are just paying you the lower one because they can get away with it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:21 AM on December 3, 2008

I think ikkyu2 would normally be right, but your case is a little different. I would stress that you are happy with the job, but that you want to be paid what's fair. A 15% difference is a lot. If they buck, ask for additional vacation days. Again, I would emphasize that you are happy, but that you obviously want to be paid the going rate.
posted by xammerboy at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2008

As a manager, I'd appreciate it much more if an employee came to me and expressed unhappiness with salary and a desire to rectify that problem rather than coming to me with a threat that they will leave unless I match the offer from company X.

I wouldn't start the negotiations with a threat to leave. I'd simply print out the information from the salary survey website you're using and take it to your manager. Explain that while you really enjoy working at the company you don't think your salary is competitive for your level of work experience and ask if there is any way they could address that problem. I wouldn't mention that you have compared notes with your co-worker, but you may bring that up at a later date if your first attempt is met with failure.

If none of this goes anywhere, you could get an offer from another company and use that as negotiating leverage. However, in my opinion that will force your manager to sort you immediately into one of two categories:

1) Completely indispensable employee that that the company will do virtually anything to keep.

2) Flight risk that will probably return again and again to the salary issue.

If you are placed in category 2, even if you get the raise, you will be hurting your chances for promotion in the future. I'd advise that if your salary negotiations don't go anywhere without an offer in hand, then just go get the other offer and put in your notice that you are leaving your current job. Then if the company really WANTS to retain you they can make a counter-offer to keep you.
posted by sherlockt at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2008

I was in an extremely similar situation earlier this year, though I think the discrepancy was much greater in my case. I actively sought out another job, and had informally accepted their offer when my supervisor and I had a series of candid conversations. The result of all this: while I wouldn't describe myself as "handsomely compensated," I feel I am making a fair salary for the work and industry.

Bottom line is this: hiring and training people is a huge resource drain, and it's easier for them to go 15% with you than it is to go through the recruiting process. Yes, you may be viewed as a flight risk as a result of this. If you want to continue and advance in the same organization, you'll need to put your head down and work extremely hard to earn some trust.
posted by rocketman at 11:41 AM on December 3, 2008

I'm going to have to agree with sherlockt. I've been in a position twice where I thought a large-ish (20-25%) raise was warranted, and my approach was to sit down with my boss and clearly lay out my accomplishments, how I'd performed beyond my current salary range, and how I was being compensated less than the industry average.

Now that I'm a manager, I'd definitely appreciate it much more if someone came to me with an attitude of "I think I deserve a salary increase" rather than "Pay me more or I walk." If your circumstances would warrant the latter approach, just remember that you should never bluff unless you're 100 percent prepared to have your bluff called.

Of course, your mileage will definitely vary depending on the type of industry you're in, your relationship with your boss (and the company as a whole), and your replaceability.

But god, for the love of all that's holy, never ever mention that you've compared salaries with a co-worker. Depending on your companies' policies, you're liable to get the both of you fired. If you have to put your low salary in context, do it in terms of industry standards.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:35 PM on December 3, 2008

And for your own piece of mind, and the sake of your future friendships, I'd also advise getting out of the habit of comparing salaries with anyone (regardless of how close you may think you are to them), especially co-workers. There's no way that conversation ever ends well.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:38 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

peace of mind, that is.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:55 PM on December 3, 2008

Parity with a coworker and industry average is well and good but unless you can explain and demonstrate your expected value, issuing an ultimatum will just put you on the defensive.

Instead you should review and inventory your work from the last 8 months and think about what you want to contribute to the firm in the next 6-12-18 months. Build a folder of your projects, how you contributed to each, and if possible, any associated figures and tangibles like project/client revenue, profitability, results, and/or positive client feedback. Do the same for any ongoing projects/clients and catalog what you expect to happen in the short-term horizon. Then think of some short-term and long-term goals for improvement and growth and how accomplishing these goals will benefit the company in financial ($, # clients) and intangible (new skills, redundancies, company outlook, morale) terms. Also think about lessons learned and weaknesses that you hope to correct/fix/improve.

When you're ready, approach your manager and set a meeting for a review 1 week before the January salary review. Present everything you've assembled in a professional and confident manner. Get the manager's feedback on your goals and set realistic expectations of what you'd like to accomplish. Don't bring up salary unless the manager does. When the salary review the following week comes around, gloss over your goals and expected contributions and then throw out what you'd like to be earning as a % increase to existing salary. Don't mention your coworker's salary or the industry average - just use those as benchmarks when deciding on your own figure. You'll now be in a much better position to negotiate and get what you want.
posted by junesix at 7:29 PM on December 3, 2008

Definitely don't threaten to leave. Don't be adversarial; if you are, you'll only create adversaries.

As a boss, and someone who signs checks, this is what I like in these meetings:

1) Someone who can tell me what they did to earn their money this year.
2) Someone who can tell me how they'll do even BETTER next year.

I don't want someone to do the same thing day in and day out. I want someone who will grow and improve.

Come up with a figure that you'd like to earn. This doesn't have to be based on what your co-worker earns or what a website says you should earn. Then tell your boss you'd like to be paid this figure and ask what performance you need to deliver to be paid at this level. Get specifics.

This way, you've got him/her on the hook to pay you more without looking like a whiner.
posted by b_thinky at 1:17 AM on December 4, 2008

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