How to ask for a raise?
December 2, 2010 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Is asking for a large (~$10,000) raise unreasonable? Java developer specifically.

I'm naive on how these things go, but I've done some significant things that saved the company money. Due to a payroll program I designed, they eliminated several positions and saved themselves $20,000 in licensing costs. I don't know how much they paid the positions I eliminated, but they were full time office jobs so I assume they were at least $30k+ a year. There have also been several data entry tasks that were duplicated that no longer need to be done, which has lead to a reduction in errors, etc.

The maxim I've always heard is that in IT, if you want to make more money you need to move to a better job. Would it be unreasonable for me to outline the money I've saved and ask for a modest $10-15,000 increase?* Or are those sort of increases things that are doled out and not to be asked for?

We don't have performance reviews, and I'm always given a small cost of living increase each year. I just don't know how I could go about it. I guess what I'm asking is, do you always have to be in a position where you should be ready to change jobs if you don't get a raise? Would I be seen as expensive or simply being assertive?

I've been working for this small company for about 5 years out of college.

* I say modest, in that I feel I could apply and get a mid-level Java developer job that, according to Monster, starts at around $70-80k. A $10k increase would put me at $60k, so it is not as if I'm asking to nearly double my pay.

** Yes I've read about how to ask for a raise, but none of the previous questions that I saw really dealt with price. How much to ask for, etc.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you can ask. Do your boss's work for him/her, though. Go in with a one page ask outlining key accomplishments that justify your increase that he/she can take up the chain. Quite frankly, any number is fair game to ask for. That said, you need to know what you plan to do if management says no.
posted by bfranklin at 12:42 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Were these your initiatives? Or were you just the "tool" that was used to implement them?
posted by smackfu at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not in IT, but most places look at raises not in terms of a straight dollar figure, but as a percentage of your overall salary. So figure out what percentage your request is going to amount to, and then compare it to what a standard raise in your field usually is, and you'll begin to see how extreme a thing you might be asking.
posted by hermitosis at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2010

Your employer most likely does not have a spare $10k sitting in a drawer for such occasions. Salaries are budgeted prior to the start of fiscal, and while there are contingencies for hiring someone new, there are usually not contingencies for raising employees two or three salary bands.

So, if you asked for that extra $10k, even if your manager wanted to, s/he would not be able to give it to you. It's just not how business works.

What you ought to do is document all the great things you have done for the company, and sit down with your manager and discuss these successes. Make sure that you agree on 90% of what you have identified as successes.

Next, start looking for a new job. Perhaps you will find a job that pays you what you think you are worth.

When you get an offer, go back to your employer, and say that you are considering moving on, and explain why. See if they can provide you with a raise, or a reason to stay at the company.

Ultimately, the wage you started out with will dictate your wage for the rest of the time you are at a company, and this is not limited just to technical folks.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:44 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of a raise you want, and whether the risk is worth it.

Personally, if I could document specific cost savings plus significant verified savings of an indeterminate amount (as you can) tied directly to something I'd conceived and executed, I wouldn't hesitate to ask for a large raise in response.

However, the larger the raise, the larger the risk (of, ultimately, hearing "no" and suffering whatever fallout there is, be it firing or lack of promotion or just having your boss think you're unsatisfied -- or perhaps no risk at all.) So, you'll have to consider these two variables (unique to everyone):

1. What is the percentage of the raise you're asking for? Banding is used at a large number of companies, and that caps your ability to get a raise outside of a certain range. The lower the percentage, the more likely you'll be staying within your range. If at your current salary $10,000 is a 25% raise, I wouldn't hold out much hope, unless there's also a significant promotion involved, and a 25% raise might involve jumping two bands (unlikely.) However, if $10,000 is less than 10%, I'd say you have a better chance of staying in-band, or of your request requiring a single-band promotion.

2. What is your fallback plan? If you march in there and demand what is effectively a reward for the cool thing you've done, and one that you feel you deserve, what if they say no? Being in a position to justify your raise request with a recent example of measurable awesomeness, but you also have another gig waiting just in case, you'll be in better shape than if you lack one or both of those things. Will you hold your ground, or accept a lesser amount?

Ultimately, depending on how you feel after reading those things above, you might want to consider asking for a bonus of some kind (keep in mind it will be taxable), and perhaps that would be more palatable to your firm.

Whatever you decide, good luck!
posted by davejay at 12:49 PM on December 2, 2010

First, you are asking for a 20% raise, no matter what the dollar figure is a 20% raise is incredibly substantial. Just be aware that you are asking for A LOT in that.

Second, but it doesn't hurt to ask. You don't need to be prepared to move to another job but you do need to be prepared for them to (at best I think) counter-offer with something less than 20% or to flat out say "no".

Third, make it non-confrontational. Don't say you are going to quit without it unless you are going to quit without it. Go in with a list of all the accomplishments you've had and the money you believe you've saved the company (be realistic). If you are going to compare salaries just know that anything online is inflated. Unless you have Bureau of Labor Statistics data or have actual job ads that list a salary range then the numbers are meaningless and (HR people at least) they will roll their eyes at the numbers.

Good Luck!
posted by magnetsphere at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2010

oh and what's mentioned above, that your request should be set as one for the next fiscal quarter/post-review period, not a "gimme now" kind of thing
posted by davejay at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2010

...I feel I could apply and get a mid-level Java developer job that, according to Monster, starts at around $70-80k. A $10k increase would put me at $60k, so it is not as if I'm asking to nearly double my pay.

As a point of reference (as someone who hires Java developers), Monster is quite accurate on the salary, at least in Chicago. Cost of living may vary in your area, but those are accurate salaries here for good Java developers.

I would not be offended if you brought me that request, as long as you made a case for it and didn't treat it as an ultimatum. I have done things like that for people before, but the culture of my company is to reward performance - it does not appear from your description (small cost of living increase, no performance reviews) that yours is. Even if it is possible, it may take some time, but if they can't get it done in two promotion/raise cycles it probably isn't happening.
posted by true at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

At one point at a previous job I came to my boss and requested a raise comparable to the one you're seeking (I asked for $5/hr more). I made my case, and my request was granted.

However, I was in a position where I knew I was very valuable the the company, and it had been 4 years since my last raise (I did not get annual "cost of living" raises like you do). So YMMV. However, I feel that if you have a healthy relationship with your boss, and you make your request friendly and avoid sounding like you're demanding or giving an ultimatum, then the potential consequences of asking usually wouldn't be much worse than being told "sorry, no".

I do not feel that $60,000 is an unreasonable salary for a Java Developer, but of course it depends on a lot of factors that I don't know about in your case such as location, industry, experience level, and the relative importance of your position to your firm.
posted by Vorteks at 1:22 PM on December 2, 2010

We don't have performance reviews, and I'm always given a small cost of living increase each year. I just don't know how I could go about it. I guess what I'm asking is, do you always have to be in a position where you should be ready to change jobs if you don't get a raise? Would I be seen as expensive or simply being assertive?

Everyone else has given good advice. This shouldn't be posed as an ultimatum. You should be looking at what your potential upside is within the company over the long term and deciding whether or not you have a future at the company. If you don't see much potential in achieving a salary in line with prevailing norms, then you should probably (quietly) be looking elsewhere.

Could you perhaps also pose your desire for a raise as part of a promotion based on your achievements?
posted by deanc at 1:26 PM on December 2, 2010

Keep in mind that bonuses are about what you've done (historical performance), raises are about what you're going to do (increased performance expectations). If you go to your boss with this request, it's not enough to point out what you've done already. You need to tell them, based on what you anticipate accomplishing moving forward, why this is a reasonable request.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could probably get another position at that amount. In fact, I would consider saying that you've gotten calls from headhunters, and that while you are perfectly happy in your current position you would like to know if a raise is a possibility. If it doesn't work out, just say you love your current job.
posted by xammerboy at 2:00 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

That percentage increase is far easier to get with a promotion than a straight raise. If you’re a java dev at $50k now, you’re more likely to succeed in making the case that since you’ve demonstrated how much you can do for the company, the company should make you a senior java dev (or whatever the next level is) and that new position should pay $60k.
posted by ericc at 2:32 PM on December 2, 2010

My first raise in IT was 50%, I went from $24k to $36k after one year, so it's possible.

The question to ask is: is it cheaper to give you the raise, or replace you with someone with equivalent and/or better skills?

Are you prepared to walk if they say no?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:37 PM on December 2, 2010

raises are about what you're going to do

Well, that depends. At many companies, raises and promotions are given only after you're already performing at the new level (cynically, this means they get extra work out of you for no additional cost for a while).

There is no firm limit to raises. I've gotten 30%+ raises in one go.

As far as salaries go, well other people covered that this varies a lot. Also based on the kind of company -- pure tech companies tend to value developers more. At a big Silicon Valley firm I'd say $60 is pretty low for a 5 year Java developer. Other places / industries this may be more reasonable. Startups pay less than big companies. Etc.

It is generally true that the easiest way to get a promotion or raise is to go to a new company. But that doesn't mean you can't try.

If you're turned down, you certainly don't have to leave. But either way it sounds like you should probably _also_ go interview other places. Even if you can get that raise, maybe you can get an even better offer elsewhere. If you think there are openings, this is probably an excellent time to figure out what _you_ can get elsewhere, which is more important than Monster or other sites averages / info.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:59 PM on December 2, 2010

Sure, it sounds reasonable to me, but it's not my money. Those savings you generated might not have turned directly into cashflow. So you need to do your research. Is your company public? If so, look up its filings. These kinds of requests go better when the company is doing well.

I have been in your situation, and when I sat down with the boss I was challenged to provide the first number. I threw out what I considered to be a slightly unreasonable figure. The figure the company responded with was well above my bottom dollar, and I was pleased with the result.

So: don't worry about being unreasonable -- worry about being unrealistic. Salary negotiations are not about being reasonable or doing the morally correct thing. They are about you getting what is in your power to get. For that reason, I nth that you should go looking for another job pronto. Nothing will empower you more than having options.
posted by Sauce Trough at 5:25 PM on December 2, 2010

The question to ask is how much would it cost them to replace you? What you did was valuable at the price you did it but if I can hire someone else to come in and do it for for the same price or less, there's no reason to give you more money. A good company will recognize your contribution and give you some incentive (cash bonus, stock) to stay but they generally won't give you a raise of that magnitude without changing your title.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:35 PM on December 2, 2010

I'm going just slightly against the grain and guess that this will be more about negotiation than what's fair. I base this only on the fact you mentioned about the cost savings of the program you helped implement led to the company eliminating positions rather than shifting of resources. Of course, I'm extrapolating from a single datum so I could be way off, but if that is the type of company you're at, it's quite likely that they will want to get as much out of you for as little as possible for as long as possible. This has little to do with what's objectively fair. In fact it, unless it's a small company, or a very sales oriented one, it may not even have a lot to do with the bottom line. If your in a largish bureaucratic environment, the decisions could very well be politically based (i.e., your manager will do whatever s/he thinks will make him/her look good).
However, if you're underpaid, you owe it to yourself to fix that. No one else will. If they won't pay you what you are worth, then you need to implement your plan B (meaning you've already worked out what plan B is and how to implement it).
Good Luck
posted by forforf at 7:21 PM on December 2, 2010

I think if you're getting significantly underpaid (50 vs 70-80K as you mentioned), then you should just get that 70-80k job. 70-80k is the "normal" salary for your job at these other places, and if you have to prove extraordinary accomplishments at your current job just to get to 60K, which is still below what you're saying is the average, then I would say your current job is going to chronically underpay you. What about next year? that 70-80k job could easily turn into 80-90k at a company that rewards performance, whereas you will just get another cost of living increase at your current job that apparently does not.

Obviously, this only looks at pay. If you see significant growth or learning opportunities where you are, then maybe it might make sense to stay. But I'd say that not getting significant promotions/raises in 5 years with good performance is a pretty unreasonable position for your employer to take, and the no performance reviews thing is a huge red flag.
posted by I like to eat meat at 11:57 AM on December 3, 2010

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