Annual reviews and raises for a newbie
April 18, 2011 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My first annual review since entering the workplace is coming up. What should I expect? Can/should I parlay the courtship I'm getting from other companies into a raise?

Background: got out of school in June; entered the NYC software development workplace at $65K in August; got courted and recruited for a new job at $100K that I switched to in December. And I actually really like this latest job! Yay, my life is awesome :).

At the same time, I'm going to a fair number of programming meetups, code camps, etc. just for fun and self-improvement. At these I've had two companies trying to recruit me fairly hard, based on things I said in the discussion, my StackOverflow and Github profiles, etc. (This is in addition to a fairly-constant stream of LinkedIn recruiter emails, but I presume that's nothing special.)

Now, annual review season is coming up, and I really don't know what to expect here. I've performed well and my boss is pretty happy with what I've accomplished and the new ideas and insights I've brought to the team. Does that mean I should expect a raise? Should I ask for one? How do these things even work? What kind of numbers would be reasonable?

Although at least one of those two other jobs sounds like it could be a lot of fun, I actually do enjoy my current job so much that I don't think I'd want to defect. But should being an attractive hire inform my expectations for raises at my current job? Or is that entirely nullified by the fact I'm not really prepared to defect? Should it be brought up?

My baseline instinct is to just not do anything to rock the boat and enjoy my currently very-enjoyable salary at my very-good job; if they offer me a raise, great! But since I'm totally new at this, I'd hate to leave money on the table because I'm acting like a newbie.
posted by Jacen Solo to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Telling your boss that you're thinking of jumping ship for a better offer is pretty much asking them to replace you as soon as possible. Unless you are literally irreplaceable or you've already decided you're leaving and have a formal job offer in hand, I would not do that.
posted by empath at 4:53 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's kind of difficult to answer this question without knowing what part of the NYC software industry you are in. Big tech company? Mid-sized? Small startup? Bank? Hedge fund?

I have to say my eyebrows raised CONSIDERABLY when I saw that a guy that already left one job after 5 months is thinking of moving again after another 5 months. Whoa dude. I'm not saying you have to stay at every job you work for years and years but moving after 5 months a few times in a row is a really questionable move for your resume. The occasional short stint on a resume is no biggie, but if you jump again now and you end up hating the new job, you might find the next search a bit more difficult.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:06 PM on April 18, 2011

Response by poster: Good to know! I'd kind of gotten that impression from browsing previous questions, but it wasn't 100% clear. That pretty much nullifies the "x factor" half of my question; any tips on the annual review process in general, x factor aside?
posted by Jacen Solo at 5:07 PM on April 18, 2011

I'm a developer in NYC and I've never discussed money at a review, if you are at a company that gives merit raises on top of COL increases you may get a bigger bump, are you in line for a bonus? Some places give quarterly bonuses if you have a good review.

It's only been five months so if I was your manager I would be a bit worried if you threatened to jump ship so soon. But I suppose fortune favors the bold. I would reach out to a few of your contacts first and see how serious the offers really are.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:11 PM on April 18, 2011

It's really hard to hire good engineers right now. I do a lot of interviews and even the candidates that make it past phone screens are pretty bad.

So I don't really agree with empath that telling your employer about a better offer will get you fired. However, _never_ do it unless you're willing to take the other offer. If they turn you down and you stay it will probably hurt your negotiating in the future.

This can be regional, too. Silicon Valley (where most of my career was spent) is known for constant job hopping and no one really looks down on it. Offers and counter-offers fly fast and furious. People leave for a startup and get re-hired 6 months later (at Google this happens all the time).

NYC may have a different vibe.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:12 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: 1. Always look two steps ahead (the job you want *after* your next job). If you don't know what that is, sit down and think on it for a while.
2. As a software developer you realize that every sw upgrade does something for your users but also does something to your users, such as new features may add complexity and rob performance. In the same way think about what each job does *for* you and what it does *to* you.

To that end, having already made one job change in less than a year, a second "trade-up" in the same year may initially be profitable but may also decrease your personal capital as an "employee" and it probably is not advisable to mention any "courtship" as leverage during the review process. Take your review and your (probably prorated) raise and then think about your next move. It may be that you have the bandwidth and capability to be an independent consultant where you can make lots of moves or take on multiple clients and always have the ability to be involved in something fresh, new, and exciting and be handsomely compensated for your efforts. If, OTOH, you really want to find a team of people you really like working with every day and the work is exciting enough to keep you motivated, you really need to find a place where you can make a multi-year commitment. If you put in good work for 2-3 years and don't burn any bridges you may find that you can easily leave and perhaps come back to those same companies at a later date and at a higher pay grade. Stints of less than 2 years not only don't look as good on a resume, but usually don't afford the same "re-entry" privelages.
posted by Rafaelloello at 5:12 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: ch1x0r: I am in a big tech company currently. (Big by NYC standards that is, not Silicon Valley.)

Thanks everyone for the feedback on the job-switching timeline. As I said, new at this; I haven't been in the workplace for a year, so it's a bit weird to think on multi-year timelines. But obviously I need to be able to do that moving forward.
posted by Jacen Solo at 5:14 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: I'd like to point out that you mention this is an 'annual' review, yet you've only been there 5 months. I'm assuming this is an organization that does reviews 'focal point' style, such that everyone gets their review at the same time regardless of when their hire date was?

If this is the case, I wouldn't walk in expecting anything, nor would I look to discuss it at all. You've only been there 5 months, and you're already making a salary that most of us would drool over. I'm not there, so I don't know what your company's policy is, but again I wouldn't go into this expecting anything.

If they offer you a bump, great! But at least where I am, if review time comes around and you haven't worked there at least 6 months, you aren't even eligible for an annual raise (but some high-performers are offered a discretionary bonus).

Short answer - be happy with where you're at and don't get greedy. If you perform well, your compensation will follow, I promise. And I'll second what was said above - don't wave the 'I have other offers' business as a bargaining chip, at least unless you're fully prepared to take those other offers, or lose a lot of respect in your manager's eyes.
posted by SquidLips at 6:14 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Never tell your boss you have another offer, except in the context of "Here's my two weeks notice."

As for the review:
Ask to speak to your boss, informally, a week or so beforehand. Ask him for a blank copy of the review form ahead of time. Ask him whether he will determine whether you're due for a raise as a result of this review. If so, ask him what the parameters are -- how much of a raise he can approve, how much he can recommend, and whether he has already made up his mind. Be very clear to your boss (and yourself) that you're not negotiating at this point -- you're just getting an idea of your limits so you can negotiate later.

Take that blank copy of the review form and fill it out on yourself. Be brutally honest. Not brutal, mind you, but brutally honest. There's a difference. Read it over a few times before your official review. Get an idea of the worst things your boss might say, and be ready for them.

Get yourself ready for the review. Ask for it to be done right after lunch (people are happy right after lunch). During lunch, do something to "psych up." Do something you would normally do, though -- if you're not a gym person, don't go for a workout because you hear that's a psych-up thing to do. Read a book you know you like; listen to your favorite album; talk to your significant other (and make sure your SO knows that you're about to go into your review and you need to end that conversation knowing that you are the most fucking awesome thing in the universe).

During the review, be attentive. Take it as seriously as you would a job interview. Follow the emotional lead of your boss -- if he or she is treating this like it's just another damn thing, well, then it is. Except it's not, but you want to make your boss comfortable, so act like it is.

If anything negative comes up, don't get into an argument about it. This isn't the time, unless he is absolutely factually incorrect, in which case explain it once, in neutral terms and tones, and then drop it. There is a very fine line between explaining and excusing, and most people can't tell when they've crossed it, and you sure can't tell when you crossed someone else's line, so play it very safe. If there is anything that is even remotely bad (no matter how true it is, and I mean like, "Jacen was five minutes late to work once over the course of the year" level of even-remotely-bad), ask him, person to person, whether this will be an insurmountable black mark on your record, or whether it's expected that there be some negative information on the review. If the former, ask whether he or she really wants to torpedo you like that. If the latter, ask what the negative information on his or her last review was. You'll get a good sense of whether he's telling the truth.

(I've been in companies where the slightest negative information on a review was shorthand for "Never promote, fire if possible," and I've been in companies where the complete absence of negative information was shorthand for the same thing. You should know this before you go into your review, but it's still good to make your boss say the words.)

If this is the time to talk raises, then do it. Don't compare yourself to other people at the company. Don't talk about jumping ship. Don't tell your boss that your rent just went up or your mom is sick or anything about your personal life. Focus on your value to the company. Your boss knows that you're getting recruited (at least, he better hope you are, because otherwise you're not worth keeping around), and he knows that keeping you happy by giving you an extra hundred bucks a week is easier and cheaper than getting someone who just graduated college and training that person.

Sign your review (or whatever else needs to be done to approve it/indicate you've seen it), ask for a copy, and thank your boss. Be sincere in this. Then whip out a blank form and say, "Let's figure out what we want this thing to look like next year." Make your review forward-looking. Have your boss sign it, and then you counter-sign it, and you tack it up in your workplace, and once a month, you send him a summation of how closely you're hewing to it. Once a quarter, ask for an informal face-to-face review.
posted by Etrigan at 6:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In that case, you'll have to see what the policies of your workplace are. Many don't discuss compensation in the review process. You should ask your manager what to expect. At 4-5 months in, a raise may or may not be on the table. Keep in mind that you are already getting paid very well for someone just out of school. I have my doubts that you could expect much more in base salary even if you moved jobs, due to the fact that you're just pretty junior even if you are amazingly enthusiastic and talented. If you're really happy with your current position, look at your review as an opportunity to learn what you are doing well and what you're failing at, and worry about comp as a secondary measure. I promise you, golden handcuffs are readily available in NYC software and they have the potential to make you miserable.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:28 PM on April 18, 2011

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