How to ask for a raise given my unique circumstances at work
March 7, 2016 7:14 AM   Subscribe

What do you do when you know (uh, think) you're a valuable employee, don't want to leave the company, but highly suspect there is more money to be made? [Long, if you're looking for a good book]

I have been at my company for three years. I was brought on at mid-mid (Senior Associate) level and was recently - about 6 months ago - promoted to higher-mid level (Manager).

I stupidly did not negotiate my offer when I initially joined the company, and now I regret it because I think it very much set me back career-wise with regards to my salary.

Here is why I think I should be paid more:

1. Ex-coworker (who left on their own terms) disclosed that she was making about 15% more than I am currently, and she was not at manager-level during her tenure. While she was higher-level than myself as senior associate when she was with our company, she was not a manager like I am now. This was frustrating news and I believe that my salary should exceed what hers was.

2. I currently carry my department in our regional office. At this moment there are four of us - two associates, myself as a manager, and an associate director. Everyone, including the AD, comes to me for questions multiple times a day. While I'm sure they could figure out a lot of things on their own if I wasn't there, my experience and subject knowledge allows us to resolve/troubleshoot issues probably 3-5x faster and keep things running so much more smoothly. I can answer client questions at the snap of a finger instead of researching for 2 hours and gathering info.

3. I am the best communicator on our team. Our industry is filled with a lot of half-techy people sort of speaking in their own language to each other, so a lot of wires get crossed and a lot of terminology gets confused. This rarely happens with me; both my director and associate director have commended me for my communication/soft skills.

4. I posted asking about HB1 visa salaries earlier and it sounds like they are accurate (if not low-balled, even) - there are many people in my organization who appear to be younger, less experienced, and less knowledgeable than myself - but holding titles that, per HB1 salary data, can pay about 15-20% higher.

5. I have spoken with recruiters and even taken some interviews (though have not received any offers). It appears there are many companies that are willing to pay 15-20% higher.

Here are the complications:

1. Our VP's have finally recognized that our department is understaffed, so we are rapidly growing and bulking up on hiring this quarter. We are even interviewing another manager next week. I sense that the company is in a position to say "Oh, he wants a raise? Fuck him, let him leave if he's unhappy - we're staffed up now."

2. As mentioned before, I JUST received a promotion+raise (about 12%) about six months ago. They could easily say "we just gave you a raise six months ago, let's re-revisit things in a few months" and proceed to dangle that carrot in front of me while keeping me under a microscope. I've been there before; it's a frustrating position to be in.

3. As mentioned before, I have been interviewing for other jobs but...I don't really *want* to leave my company. I came really close to another job offer recently and was planning to use it to leverage a higher salary at my current position, but kind of sabotaged it. I realized how badly I don't want to start over at a brand new organization should my current company refuse to match a new offer, and tell me "nope, sorry, you can leave". People think I do a good job here for the most part, there is a certain level of respect for me among coworkers, and having been here for a few years I have the institutional credibility to be able to push back on things, give input on larger projects/processes, come in late or leave early if I need to, etc. A brand new job would involve really putting my nose to the grindstone for 6 or 8 months and learning the new company culture, new process, risking potentially nasty coworkers/management, etc.

4. My director and associate director seem to love me, but I am not perfect. Mistakes happen, or I am sometimes put on a project halfway through when the project is doomed from the start and I don't have much control over fixing things. This stuff can be stressful, but again, I've learned to take it all in stride and it doesn't seem as stressful as starting over at a new job.

My question: given the above circumstances...what is the best way to ask for more money? While I'm inclined to mention things like ex-coworkers salary, salary research, or calls with recruiters, I understand how those things could also be really damaging. And while I could focus on my communication skills and my value to the company, I'm worried that could more easily be written off as "keep up the good work! That's why we gave you that promotion! Let's dangle another one on front of your face for a while!" While also becoming suspicious of my leaving the company.

Isn't there some magic way to tell your employer that you strongly believe there is more money to be made without sounding petty, entitled, demanding, threatening? Is there a way to hint that you've done your research, that you've talked to recruiters, without making it look like you have a foot out the door? Or am I supposed to make it look like I have a foot out the door? I suck at this and have always been given tiny little promotions and raises to keep me sated, but I'm at a point in my life where I very much want to make more money but very much don't want to leave my company.
posted by windbox to Work & Money (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In re your complications:

1 -- That's not really how (good) managers think: if anything, you're more valuable to the company now that there are all these new people running around who don't know how the company does things, or what's been done and/or rejected before.

2 -- "Just" != "six months ago", especially if other things have changed in the interim.

s there a way to hint that you've done your research, that you've talked to recruiters, without making it look like you have a foot out the door?

Talk about the former, not the latter: "I've been doing some research and find that people in similar positions in this area make $X." They will get the hint (again, if they're good managers). Generally speaking, any good manager knows that their people are talking to recruiters -- if their people are good, then they're being wooed by other companies; if they're not, then that manager should be wooing better people from those companies.

Never be afraid to ask for a raise/promotion/other consideration -- the best-case scenario is that you get it; the less-best-case scenario is that you get something, and the "worst"-case scenario is that you get fired for asking -- and if that happens, you are so much better off, because that's a shitty place to work, and they would have fired you for something else stupid sooner or later.
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

present why your performance is exceeding expectations, and how you are happy at the firm, but you have done your research and know you are underpaid for how you produce

I guess the crux of my mess of a question is, how do I phrase this? I tell them I've spoken to some recruiters? I mention some of the public data I've seen? I would never frame it as "X got paid 15% more; I should too" but is that even something I let an employer know I'm privy to? Do I ask for a hard number/suggest an actual percentage increase (ie "In my research, I've found that people in my position make 15% more/make $x amount")? Or let them make an offer and try to negotiate from there (ie "thanks for that, is there any wiggle room to bring it up a little further to $X amount which seems more in line with my research and conversations I've had").

Again, suck at this.
posted by windbox at 7:43 AM on March 7, 2016

I guess the crux of my mess of a question is, how do I phrase this?

"As you know, I've been an excellent contributor to XYZCorp's success, most recently with Project A and Project B. [up to here is less than 50 words] Based on my understanding of the market, I would like XYZCorp to increase my salary to $X. Is this something XYZCorp can do?"

If yes: "Great, thanks for your time."
If no: "Just to let you know, I will be looking for new positions starting now. If you change your mind at any time, please let me know"

State this as simple and bluntly as possible. Wait for your manager to respond. Your manager knows what you're saying, they aren't dumb (hopefully).

Your manager doesn't actually care why you want a salary increase, just that you do. It's irrelevant whether your salary increase is because of the market, because you want to buy a new car, or because your coworker was making more. Excessive justification for the salary increase indicates you are nervous, which means you can be more easily satisfied with a smaller (or no) increase.

You need to reconsider your position on other job opportunities. It's almost impossible to negotiate on your side without an alternative. Your alternative right now is either non-existent (if you aren't willing to even consider other jobs) or quite weak (if you only propose looking for new jobs if you don't get the increase). This reduces your bargaining power. I will never give a large salary increase to an employee without a competing job offer. Most prominently, HR won't let me, but secondarily, I don't need to - the employee hasn't demonstrated that the market actually values them more than I pay them. Even if you don't want to switch jobs, having a job offer in hand makes your negotiating power significantly better - even if you have no intentions to take that job offer (which they don't know).

Fundamentally, your problem is that your employer is paying you the right salary right now. A rational employer pays an employee the lower of two costs:
  • Cost A: The minimum cost to retain the employee in their current position.
  • Cost B:The minimum cost to hire a new employee from the market plus all hiring costs and costs associated with them getting familiar with the role.
Right now, you are setting Cost A as your current salary, which means that you will always be paid that. Fundamentally, why would they pay you anything more?

If you want to get paid more, you need to reconsider what Cost A is.
posted by saeculorum at 8:08 AM on March 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

If no: "Just to let you know, I will be looking for new positions starting now. If you change your mind at any time, please let me know"

This sounds like a great way to fast-track getting let go. Let me be clear, I can't afford to lose my job here.

It sounds like the prevailing advice is to be prepared to accept another position, which could mean many more months of job-searching for something that seems like a great fit, in case I find myself in the position that I end up having to accept it and make a move. The last time I came close to an offer, I got really anxious realizing I probably wouldn't be happy there if I ended up having to accept.
posted by windbox at 9:35 AM on March 7, 2016

You know that you're being paid less than market rate, and you know (from the fact that your colleague was making more than you - and still left for another job) that they know you're underpaid. Tell them you've done some research but leave it at that - if they dispute it, they are either clueless, or they have their own reasons for thinking they can get away with paying you what they're paying you. By bringing it up, you've given them an opportunity to make things right & retain you. If you do go out looking, do so with the expectation that you are indeed looking for a job, and that if you find a better job you'll probably end up taking it. If your current employer surprises you with a counter-offer, then great, you have two options on the table. But don't count on that, and whatever you do, don't present them with your offer & end up staying in the event they don't at least match it - you will never be looked at as a loyal employee again.
posted by mr vino at 9:39 AM on March 7, 2016

If you want to stay at this company, then have the conversation in that context. "Where am I in the salary band for my job" is a legit question.

Understand that the salary band reflects a range of experience levels. You are now a manager with six months of experience. People with little experience in their current role are generally low in the pay band. Depending on the sophistication of the compensation strategy of your company, they probably have a pay band, a hiring rate, and a compensation target for all employees. Your company may well have a compensation strategy that they pay under-market (but offer richer benefits or immigration sponsorship as retention plays). Or they may pay under-market and plan for turnover. Your manager should discuss this with you. Some managers a squicky about discussing comp and that's a problem.

The other thing is that there are probably policies with regard to increases in compensation. Is 12% a typical increase for a promotion or was it under/over guideline? This is where not negotiating on the way in continues to damage your salary throughout your tenure. If your coworker negotiated a much better hiring rate, then good for her. I've gotten that fixed for employees, but it took several incremental increases. You might also ask how porous the compensation policies are. If your manager only needs to get sign-off by one level up, then she can probably get that. If a compensation waiver needs to be signed off by someone in the C-suite, then it's tougher.

If I was looking for a job and I could ask one question about compensation, it would not be about my own salary. It would be about the sophistication of the compensation policy overall. Companies that have their act together about comp avoid lots of equity issues (internal and external).

3. You want to be very careful here. If you are at the offer stage with another company, then many managers will assume you intend to leave. You may not leave for this offer, but you will leave shortly.
posted by 26.2 at 10:00 AM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a great way to fast-track getting let go. Let me be clear, I can't afford to lose my job here. [...] The last time I came close to an offer, I got really anxious realizing I probably wouldn't be happy there if I ended up having to accept.

You are telling me you are appropriately compensated.

If you can't afford to leave, that means they are paying you enough to stay.
If you can't find a place you'd be happier, that means they are paying you enough to be happy.
If you can't find something better, you are being paid as much as you will ever get.

If you want to get paid more, then something I stated above has to be false. Which one is it?
posted by saeculorum at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

. You are telling me you are appropriately compensated.

Fuck this noise. This kind of thinking is how disadvantaged minorities get paid less, because sociopaths prey on their fears. Just because you are nervous about changing jobs does not mean you are being appropriately compensated, it means you are vulnerable to being fucked over.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:44 AM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

You don't know precisely what your employer would do for any of these scenarios, and that uncertainty I think is what's messing with you. It messes with me too (hate hate uncertainty), so personally I like to think of the probable best case and worst case scenarios for each course of action, and pick the one that maximizes the things I care about. So, for the possible things you can do / say to your boss:

Option 1:
"I have another job offer. I require X amount of pay increase or I will take it"
Probable best case: you get 0.75X-X pay increase and keep your job. Feel like a baller.
Probable worst case: They tell you take the other offer. Either you take it and are happy or unhappy at a new job, or you admit your bluff and stay. You are marginalized at your job, your manager distrusts you, and they replace you later. You end up let go.

Option 2:
"I've done some research, and I think an increase of X is commensurate with my responsibilities and value to the company."
Probable best case: Your manager thinks you might leave or be looking for jobs, and gives you an increase of 0.5-0.75X to get you to stay.
Probable worst case: You're told they'll re-evaluate in a few months and feel dangled.

Option 3:
Say nothing.
Probable best case: You realize that you really enjoy the fringe benefits of your current job and decide that it's worth it not to be paid the max you can expect.
Probable worst case: You make much less money over the course of your life than you would if you had asked for a raise.

I would go with option 2. There's possibility for reward, and certainly not as much risk as Option 1 if you do really like your current job. To get a raise you don't necessarily HAVE to be willing to leave, but your employer has to think that you might. You don't have to show your cards either way.
posted by permiechickie at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2016

I'm coming at this from another angle, and I already strongly agree with a couple suggestions above (already fav'd). The one point in particular that I agree with is: Do ask for the raise now, but do not lay your card on the table and make a threat (that is your card, keep it close to your chest, don't show anyone the card.)

I've watched this scenario many, many times (although probably a different industry). That does not mean it will apply to every job and industry, but what I have often observed, the significant raises almost always happen when someone jumps ship (either offer before they leave to negotiate, or at the new job). The other thing that I've seen over and over again is scenario B that permiecheckie lists, in particular, here is tiny raise, we will re-evaluate in x months and/or bait and switch (you will get a special title). When time X elapses, a small set of companies make good on the promise, many forget to meet, or give an arbitrary reason for not granting it.

So mercenary route, and I believe you can succeed based on what you are telling us. I would absolutely go for it, I don't think you have been paid fairly, and unless things change, I think it will continue:

-Do Permiechickie's suggestion above, option 2. However, ask what you think you deserve (in my mind, it is over 15% -20% based on all the factors and research you have done). So ASK for it...the worse they will tell you is no. In your mind, be aware that they are likely to do the pat on the back and "in a few months/year" speech.

-But this is not the end of your plan. They told you they will revisit this in X months, right? Do go look for job, but don't sabotage yourself. Think a bit more about: What skills do you want or would be great to get for your industry (or something that could make you even more marketable)? What are some of the best companies in your industry? What should your salary be based on your calculations (ie, assuming your 15 to 20%). Find jobs that meet your criteria with recruiters, or however it is that you look for jobs. I know that you are already saying the speech above about ...what if you don't get along with them/burning ship/fail....get that out of your head. You emphasized that your strong skill is communication, right? My assumptions are that you can read people, too. So you interview the company using strong criteria and assess them for: Do pple get along, is there a problem in this company, is there high turnover rate (screen them out for any red flags). So then when you find a job (and assume you will take it)..So you will start the new job, great communication skills, new impression, excited about new thing you will learn, plus happy that you are paid appropriately, and ....go! So the new job should be something you want, not a jump out of the frying pan and/or use it to get someone to pay you pennies. So if everything works out well, by the time X months elapse, you walk in with your new job offer. But if I were in your shoes, why not? More skills, better salary right now? Flip how you are looking at this (not worst case scenario, even the middle scenario would be better).
posted by Wolfster at 12:04 PM on March 7, 2016

Probable best case: Your manager thinks you might leave or be looking for jobs, and gives you an increase of 0.5-0.75X to get you to stay.

I have stated enough in this thread. I will, however, note that I think these sorts of answers are somewhat variant company-to-company. As a manager, I could never get away with a 0.5X-0.75X increase, where X = 15-20% (for a net 10-15% raise). My HR contact would laugh at me. If I pressed as much as I could, I might be able to get a 2-3% raise with a $1000-$2000 one-time bonus. If I managed that, it'd take a couple months to get everything approved. Further, if I managed that, when the next yearly review came along, it's likely HR will force me to give them a 0% raise (ie, I'd just be giving them their yearly raise early).

On the other hand, if my employee has a competing job offer, I can - and have - get anything them almost anything they ask for. The competing job offer is undeniable proof of what the market compensates the person for. It means that if that person leaves, we'll have to pay the replacement that much money anyway - so we might as well save ourselves the trouble of having to find and train a new person and just pay the old person more.

I will reiterate this for the last time in this thread - in my industry (high tech manufacturing) and in all industries I am aware of (generally science/tech oriented), the only way an employee can get a substantive raise (>3-5%) is with a competing job offer. Period.
posted by saeculorum at 12:15 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Let me be clear, I can't afford to lose my job here.
Then if they know that, or suspect it, you aren't in much of a negotiating position, are you? Try the less aggressive suggestions but if at all possible start making changes in your spending so that you have some negotiating power. Otherwise you're far too much at their mercy. And even if they're not out to deliberately exploit that, as long as you're in a position where losing your job would cause a crisis in your life you're exposed to all sorts of risk you can't control. What happens if something happens to the company you're working for -- if they fail or if they merge or they are acquired or they cancel your project(s)? You need a way to protect yourself against those outcomes and the happy side-effect is that it will allow you more ability to set your own terms.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:14 PM on March 7, 2016

I'll speak as a mid-level manager. Not your manager I'm pretty sure and presumably you aren't at my company, so this may not apply--I'm just saying what I think my reaction would be. I'm at a medium-large company, we're not super bureaucratic but we certainly have HR and salary guidelines.

At a high level: What you've laid out is honestly a very good argument for a raise. All are relevant points, including that you clearly care about doing a good job and being experienced. Assuming what you say is roughly true--you were paid less than other comparable level employees, it's below market value, I would try to get you a raise and probably succeed in 4-6 months. On the other hand it's extremely unlikely I could come up with 15% in one go. Depending on specifics maybe over two years (in addition to, not instead of, other normal raises.)

So I wouldn't be that nervous with this basic case about asking. Personally can't imagine being upset if any good employee politely asked about a raise*. Tell me you want to schedule time about your career so I'm not thinking about five other things. And in tone, convey that you want to work with me and you know that I'm not going to be able to unilaterally fix things tomorrow. (Yes, this will completely guarantee you're not getting all 20%, but you aren't getting 20% from me anyway--see below.)

Of your points, hit on market pay rates**, your desire to keep working for us, and also "I think I hurt myself by not negotiating years ago" is a fair point (phrase it roughly like this so you don't sound like you think it's my fault.) My response will probably be "You have a good case, I'll see what I can do.". You should then try to get a time estimate out of me at which point I'd explain midyear adjustments usually give our VP a budget for equity changes. (You should then remind me in June that you are still excited to be recognized for your hard work.) After you leave the office I'll look at everyone's salaries and HR guidelines to confirm what you said. I give a lot of weight to internal equity, so if it's true I'll completely go to bat for you. Which still does not mean everything you want or, alas, even what I think you deserve. If the one salary you saw was an outlier, or our internal market estimates don't match what you saw, I'll let you know it's not as clear a case as you think. I'll still raise it but how hard I push will depend on whether I think you're a superstar (internal equity cuts both ways.)

Mentioning recruiting calls and the like won't usually do much--in the abstract every employee who can find a new job (which I hope is all of my employees!) can probably get a 10-20% raise, and I'm not giving across the board 20% raises. It would also undercut the idea that you want to stay, which means I'm less likely to stick my neck out if I need my HR to make an exception or my boss to blow his budget. Trying to make me move faster probably won't work--you've presumably been living with this salary for a while, so trying to convince me it's a crisis now when you could have brought it up earlier is likely going to backfire.

So, the ultimatum game is probably the only way you could get more/faster from me. FWIW in my current situation there are some people I'd be really depressed to lose, but faced with an ultimatum I don't think even they would get anything but sincere well wishes.

Huh, turned into long post for one person's idiosyncratic set of reactions. It may be totally non-applicable to you.

*Except in the selfish "Wow, I have another thing to pay attention to now" sense--but that's my job, wouldn't blame you personally.
**Don't mention the internal salary specifically, and if you have to bring it up make it clear you found out after they left. A lot of places get touchy about employees sharing salaries, to the point of it being fireable. This doesn't apply to me but is the one piece of general advice in the post.

posted by mark k at 8:25 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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