New Raise Buzzkill - I should still get paid more!!
April 15, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Advice on negotiating a raise when I've just transferred to a new office?

I'm an engineer and have been with this company for 2.5 years. I started as a new grad (M.Sc.) in late 2009 - given the economy at the time, I was lucky to find a job.

When they hired me, I was offered $5K less than I felt what I was worth, given other friends recently hired in my profession. HR said that's their standard for new hires. But I managed to negotiate another $2K because of my M.Sc. and previous experience. Through annual performance-based raises (I did well, my boss sang my praises) and company-wide raises over 2.5 years, as of next week my salary will be up ~$11K from where I started. That's not including the christmas bonus, or the additional money I've made from living allowances when traveling for work.

This month I transferred to this new office (by my request). Not given a raise for the move, but I got a relocation allowance. The work's fantastic so far, and we just found out about the raise. I was told I'm getting ~5.3%, which is on the high side, so I was proud.

When I went out for drinks with one of my new office mates on Friday, she vented about how mad she is that she's only getting 3.1% (the average is 5%). She was told it's because she's only been there 7 months (she's effectively new grad, with a B.Sc.). It was then I found out she currently makes $500 more a year than me. Not a lot, and given the % increases I will end up making about $1K more than her. She's a junior, I was recently promoted to intermediate in January. So, I'm feeling undervalued - the discovery's reaffirmed the sentiment that I'm still being underpaid by at least a few $K, and I won't make the same extra cash in this new office for travel to make up for it, like I used to.

I'm not on solid footing to ask for an additional raise at the moment - I just got here, so though my reputation's great I still have to prove myself to my new boss and group. I'm also waiting on my formal Professional Engineer qualification - should go through in a few months. I've heard mixed reviews on raises for getting licensed - some say 10%, some say no raise. There are engineering salary surveys online that indicate I'm slightly lower than the average for someone with my experience. I don't know how much I should ask for, all things considered.

In regards to making more money by jumping ship to another firm - well, I am getting ~$4K in relocation money, and if I leave within 2 years I will have to pay back a percentage of that. Competition is fierce for engineers in this city though, so management has outright told us to come talk to them first if we're unhappy with our jobs or salaries.

I'd like your advice on how to go about setting myself up for success in asking for a raise in a few months, when I'm new to the office but not the company, and we do get regular raises. Should I go talk to HR confidentially about their policies on this stuff, or reserve that for when I'm in a good position to ask formally? And if any Canadian engineers can chime in on raises for getting your P.Eng., I would be extremely grateful.

I don't intend on bringing up that other girl's salary in the discussion, as the other askmes on negotiating raises have said.
posted by lizbunny to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
** the new raise spoken of is another company-wide one, announced Friday.
posted by lizbunny at 11:04 AM on April 15, 2012

Having transferred recently is immaterial. If you feel you're worth more (you almost certainly are), ask for it. Companies will let you be underpaid for a long time, even if they'd happily give you more if you'd just ask for it. This is especially true for people who don't have a lot of experience at different firms and negotiating salaries, or who are nervous about asking.

I once felt like I was underpaid, after having been a fairly junior person at a startup that was purchased by a bigger company, but didn't have any info to go on because of course nobody discusses their salaries (you do start to wonder when the office parking lot is full of German luxury sedans you cant afford, though). When I did bring it up with a manager, I was immediately offered a 33% raise, no questions asked. The company had known I was underpaid all along, they just weren't going to do anything about it until I asked.

Another time, I asked for a 20% raise, and was offered a 10% raise, plus the standard ~3% raise that I would have gotten anyway as an annual cost-of-living thing. That was the *least* successful I've ever been in asking for a raise, so if anything, I feel like I should probably ask more often.

Ask, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:00 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You got 5.3%, she got 3.1%, the average is 5%, some say 10%...

I think you're placing too much significance on percentages. If you'd been making eight dollars an hour and then got a 50% raise, I bet you'd still be unhappy. If you were making $150K and got "only" a 2% raise, you probably wouldn't be too disappointed. Besides, talking in terms of percentages will only hurt your argument because in percentage terms you just got a higher-than-average raise.

Also, be skeptical of the online survey that suggests you're a bit underpaid. Unless that survey is sophisticated enough to adjust for the cost of living in your particular city AND has a lot of very up-to-date data, your salary's deviation from the average might well be in the margin of error.

Hard numbers as to what you're worth are basically impossible to know because there are so many variables and intangibles involved, which is why setting salaries is a negotiation and not a process of looking up a number in a table. When you're new to such negotiations, you're more likely to take ideas like percentages, job titles and "standard" starting salaries way too seriously. Neither you nor your employer really knows what you're worth with any precision. You're both guessing, but your employer has more practice at this guessing game. Try not to further disadvantage yourself by letting jealousy and regret over not negotiating harder than you did two and a half years ago cloud your thinking. You've gotten some solid raises, and they transferred you at your request (and paid your expenses for the move!). It does not sound like you are being taken advantage of, so don't frame it that way to yourself or your boss; it will only sour things unnecessarily.

Competition is fierce for engineers in this city though, so management has outright told us to come talk to them first if we're unhappy with our jobs or salaries.

So maybe when your Professional Engineer qualification goes through, you arrange a meeting and have a conversation where you say something like, "I really love working here, the job suits me so well for ABC reasons and I feel great about being able to contribute in XYZ ways, but I have a little problem. I keep seeing evidence that suggests my salary is rather low for my experience and position. I realize that not everyone can be above average but I'm finding this hard to square with my consistently strong evaluations, and now this new qualification is making it even harder to ignore. From what I've been seeing, and being as objective as I can be, it looks like I should probably be making somewhere around $X, which is enough of a difference that I'm inclined to think an adjustment is in order. "
posted by jon1270 at 6:52 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

she vented about how mad she is

Reason #347 for why you should NOT discuss compensation with co-workers.

There is no percentage in it. EVER
posted by John Borrowman at 3:42 PM on April 16, 2012

Thanks, jon1270. That's some smooth wording.
posted by lizbunny at 6:22 PM on April 16, 2012

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