Should I attempt to ask my boss to give me a raise?
May 17, 2010 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Should I attempt to ask my boss to give me a raise?

I've been working for my current company (employee-owned, 30 employees total, DoD Contractor) since I graduated college in May of 2007 with B.S. degree in engineering.

Since I joined the company, I've occupied 3 positions:

#1. entry-level analyst work in MD (1.5 years)
#2. #2 out of 2 people working on-site in Arlington, VA on a very large DoD program (6 months)
#3. #1 out of 2 Project Manager on the same large DoD program (1 year)

The program I'm working on in Arlington now is my company's most lucrative contract. Our CEO refers to it as our flagship program. I inherited its PM position due to the guy I worked under taking a new position elsewhere.

I'm currently living with a friend from college but he's moving out and our lease is up on 3 July. This has my head spinning due to both the rapidly approaching lease end date and the price of 1BR apartments in the area. I don't have any leads on living with friends. I moved to this city for life first and work second. I don't want to take a lifestyle hit because I can't afford a 1BR in the city. I loathe the thought of the suburbs. On top of that, my car is approaching the end of its lifespan.

I feel that my job title should give me more financial freedom than it currently does, specifically in the rent department. I make a good salary but I'm in a very expensive area with more responsibility than anyone else I know at my age. Our CEO gave me position #2 because he thought I could handle it even though I was only a year out of school. Since then, I've moved up to PM and done a great job. I'm confident our management feels the same. I sometimes feel like my salary is less than it should be given the level of responsibility and exposure I have in this current situation. Additionally, having to move out in the middle of the rent season is really going to hamper my financial situation. Living in Arlington or downtown is very expensive and its worse at this time of the year.

My company is usually pretty hardline about only giving out raises during our yearly reviews. I'm 90% sure I'm only going to receive the standard 3% raise when my review comes up in October.

Should I attempt to ask for a raise on the basis of my performance and approaching living difficulty? If so, how should I go about it? Email? Phone call? Face to face if I can get my boss to come on-site?

Does anyone have any tips? I'd be a little nervous with pulling the "give me a raise or I'm gone" type of thing but I don't know how best to go about it. I don't want to come off as an ungrateful kid in a company full of people my parents' age. However, this small company is almost like family and our management loves me. I feel that I would really have to do something stupid to offend them but I'm still worried I might.

Any insight would be great. Thanks!
posted by decrescendo to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Face to face is best, a phone call is second best.

Lay out your case with specific numbers: I earn X after taxes, rent in this area is Y per month, my other living expenses (car, gas, food, etc.) is Z, and X + Y + Z > monthly after-tax income.

If I were your boss and you came to me for a raise I'd want facts and figures presented which argue your case for you, not just a complaint that you think you're worth more than you're paid presently.
posted by dfriedman at 4:01 PM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: If I were your boss and you came to me for a raise I'd want facts and figures presented which argue your case for you, not just a complaint that you think you're worth more than you're paid presently.

Very good point.

Taking that one step further, I think I'm going to talk to other people I work with on-site. EVERYONE I work with works for the government or a different company and I think they'd be able to offer some perspective on what I'd make if I worked for their respecitve organization doing something similar to what I do now.

I might not want to say "I would make X working for Y" but at least I would have something to compare my current or future salary to.
posted by decrescendo at 4:11 PM on May 17, 2010

You should leave out any discussion of your living situation; it's not relevant to them. If I were your boss and you came to me with some sob story about your rent I'd tell you to find a cheaper place to live. Don't even dream of mentioning "taking a lifestyle hit" or "moved to this city for life first and work second" or "I loathe the thought of the suburbs." Not their problem.

Focus on the job. Any increase in responsibility should come with an increase in pay; you should have addressed this before you accepted the promotion to PM, but it's never too late. Do your best to find out what others at similar levels of responsibility earn, at your company or elsewhere; if you're below par, you'll have a convincing case if you bring actual numbers.

more responsibility than anyone else I know at my age

Your age is not a salient point; only your skills and performance are. If you're asking for more salary than other PMs at your company you'll have to justify it by explaining how you have more responsibility or otherwise create more value for the company than the others. Stop thinking of yourself as a kid in a company full of grownups -- you're all grownups.
posted by ook at 4:32 PM on May 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

I might not want to say "I would make X working for Y" but at least I would have something to compare my current or future salary to.

Rather than say that, you might say "I think people working for Y (and Z and W), doing comparable work to me, make X".

That way it sounds more like you're saying that you'd like, when thinking about your salary, to consider the market price for someone with your skills/responsibilities, rather than that you're threatening to leave.
posted by ManInSuit at 4:35 PM on May 17, 2010

Yeah, Ook is right. You don't want to petition as if you were asking Mommy for more allowance.
posted by Sallyfur at 4:42 PM on May 17, 2010

Don't ever lay out your household budget to your boss--that's not his business. Don't threaten to leave if they don't pay you more.

What you SHOULD do is find a bit of evidence that you are being paid less than market rate for the job you're doing. Check or similar. Present that to your boss, explain that you believe that you are bringing more value to the company than you are currently being paid for, and that your responsibilities have increased over the past few years without a subsequent increase in pay.

You need to frame this request in terms of the value you've brought to the company, and the increased responsibilities you've taken on. If you can put together a list of specific achievements that's even better. Give them something concrete to look at.
posted by tybstar at 4:43 PM on May 17, 2010

Let me clarify: I'm not saying you should tell your boss your budget problems. I'm saying you should understand these numbers before you meet with your boss so that when you are in negotiations with him, you know what you're negotiating for.

But you definitely do not want to tell your boss irrelevant details about your budget.
posted by dfriedman at 4:49 PM on May 17, 2010

I wouldn't try to get a raise in between reviews. However, if I did, I would certainly make it an argument based on salaries in comparable industries/organizations, not anything related to my living situation. But, again, I wouldn't ask for the raise in this market unless you work in a really lucrative industry that hasn't been hit by the economic downturn.
posted by ishotjr at 4:55 PM on May 17, 2010

I started working full-time in America in college - thirteen years ago. Since then, my salary has increased an average of between 11% - 12% per year. Some years, it increased as much as 30% over the previous year, other years it increased by as little as 2%.

Why the big differences in pay? It's almost solely from changing jobs - the pay increase when I've gone to a different place has tended to be about 20%. The pay increase (from year to year) when I stay in the same place tends to be around 3%.

Obviously, I can't change jobs every year. But I'm in a field where no one expects to be at the same place for ten years; in fact doing so would be taken as an obvious sign of lack of ambition.

So for me, the obvious thing to do would be to start looking for jobs that would pay somewhere in the double digits more (percentage-wise) than what you make now. You've got a degree in engineering, a high-demand field, and with three years of experience, this would be normal anyhow. Three years after I began working, my pay was about 60% more than when I started - the explosive growth is more likely in the beginning of one's career, of course. If you're not making 20% more - after three promotions and much more responsibility - than you were when you started, something is drastically wrong. (By my reckoning, you should be making much more even than that by now.

I agree with Sallyfur, ManInSuit, tybstar and ook - your "value" can be quantified and should have nothing to do with your expenses / lifestyle choices. Find out what others with similar experience and responsibility make and point out these facts and figures. If you don't get something else - start looking. I take pride in my work and accomplishments and tend to feel that if my employers do not voluntarily pay me what I'm worth (albeit maybe with some sort of push on my part) that I should find an employer who does. It's a philosophy that has worked for me, but of course it depends a lot on one's unique personality and comfort zone.

You definitely need to meet face-to-face. The phone call idea is hideous. Schedule an interview and meet him at his office - he'll expect what's coming, and he's more likely to handle it well when he's not on-site or something.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:13 PM on May 17, 2010

Response by poster: Dee Xtrovert,

I started out making 50k in MD, about 1.5 hours from DC. When I moved to DC I made 67k and then I moved up to 70k upon my first yearly review after becoming PM. My company had a raise freeze that year and they told me I was one of only a few people who received raises because my level of responsibility increased.

Does that sound average or below-average to you?
posted by decrescendo at 5:23 PM on May 17, 2010

posted by gjc at 5:32 PM on May 17, 2010

As a junior PM at $70K, you're about average for DC area. Three years out of college, I'd say you're doing just fine. However, that's "average" as in "guys whose title is Project Manager but who barely manage when they can take their own lunch breaks." Ask your boss for more, BUT do it solely on the basis of your level of responsibility and value to the company. Do not, at any time, even in casual conversation, from right this minute, tell your boss about your financial situation. He doesn't care. It's not his problem.
posted by Etrigan at 5:32 PM on May 17, 2010

70k just three years after school isn't bad - it's really good in comparison with most jobs. But I'm not an engineer and don't really know what "average" for your skills, responsibilities and experience would be. It might be much more than 70k; I can't say. I will say that going from 50k to 70k in three years is about a 12% annual increase - that's good and I'm sure it's above average, though it doesn't mean necessarily that you don't merit more. (It's about what I've done and I know I've done well compared to friends and peers, but I work like a maniac and I'm quite good at what I do.) You're in the position I find myself in every few years - staying at the same job is going to mean much smaller percentage increases, unless you can get a big adjustment from present employers. So you've got to do your homework, and with a little luck you'll be able to substantiate the idea that you're underpaid to the guy with the checkbook - good luck!

Also, I don't know what rent is where you are (although I quickly looked on Craigslist and saw a fairly swanky apartment in Arlington for $1500.) By my calculations, you should be bringing home around $4500, so I suppose - to take this in a different direction - if you discover that $70k is reasonable relative to your situation and you're really having a tough time getting by, it might be worth doing an overview of your expenses. Rent for that place would be about a third of your take home, or slightly less than a quarter of your gross - lots of people pay a higher percentage than that and get by, but of course loans and debts and other expenses make this sort of thing tough to compare. It's always good to inspect your spending and honestly examine whether you're being wasteful in some area or another.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:18 PM on May 17, 2010

I think I'm going to talk to other people I work with on-site. EVERYONE I work with works for the government or a different company and I think they'd be able to offer some perspective on what I'd make if I worked for their respecitve organization doing something similar to what I do now.

I'm a government contractor, and I've been explicitly and expressly told to never, ever, ever do this under any circumstance by my boss.

I'm not sure if that's normal in the contracting world (I'm still new to it), but you probably don't want to tell your boss that you've discussed your salary with the customer and competition.
posted by schmod at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, you can live quite well on that salary in Arlington if you're only supporting yourself. I know people in Crystal City who live on much, much less, and others in the District who live on half of that, albeit with several roommates.

If you're feeling really adventurous, you can buy a house in Southeast DC for less than your annual salary. If you've got some money tucked away, you could also make a down payment on a non-sketchy place in NE, and have mortgage payments that are probably less than what you're currently paying in rent. Unless we have another crack epidemic, DC real estate is going to continue to be a hot commodity.
posted by schmod at 7:45 PM on May 17, 2010

You say you're a PM - do you have your PMP? If not, get it. That adds to your marketability. If you can, ask that the company pay for it. Many DoD contracts require it, so it's another way you can bring value to the company.
Also, when asking for a raise, you need to quantify what you bring to your company. So - projects finished on time, on (or preferably under) budget, process improvements that yielded x% better use of time, etc. When you're square about the actual, quantifiable value you bring, then you ask for a raise.
And n'thing what others have said about your personal life/finances - don't go there.
And REALLY don't go around asking others what they make, what you should be paid, etc. It's simply Not Done, and will only serve to make you appear more junior than you are.
70K/yr three years out of school - that's better than "alright" that's incredible! Take a hard look at your own budget and figure out how to make the most of that - if you can't, more money won't make much difference in the long run.

posted by dbmcd at 9:32 PM on May 17, 2010

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