Good strategies on getting a pay raise?
June 1, 2016 3:46 AM   Subscribe

I currently work for an organization in D.C. as a copywriter and earn $40k a year (with taxes, so my net income is much less than that). When I accepted this position last year, I didn't negotiate because I was nervous about losing the job offer (newbie mistake, I know).

I'm now 30, and realize that $40k a year doesn't take me far in D.C., given the rapid growing COL factor and apartments going up in price (D.C. is growing more and more pricey these days). I'm lucky to be grandfathered into a cheap lease that I can afford, but this ends next year. I want to be able to get a better salary so I can afford to move and live somewhere decent, as well as pay bills (student loans, etc). I earn about $2,000 per month (net pay). I'm fortunate not to have a car/bills, but want to feel more comfortable with money so I can get a car, should I consider it, as well as be able to afford other stuff more comfortably. TL;DR, live more comfortably.

The question is: how can I justify the salary raise? My organization isn't hurting for money, but it's not rolling in cash, either. I looked at and similar positions earn much more than mine ($50k-60k a year). My first-year anniversary recently passed a bit ago, so I'm thinking the time is prime.

Any tips from the community could really be beneficial. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Did you get a raise during your first year or at your anniversary? If not, check your employee handbook and see if there's an explicit policy on pay increases. If there is and your manager hasn't gotten around to giving you one yet, that's the perfect justification to approach him/her. If there isn't one, you can still try it; it's only if there's a policy and it says you have to wait more than a year from hiring that it would hurt your negotiating position.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:07 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

As for how to get it, without knowing more about your situation I can think of two arguments you could make:

1) Justify it based on your improvement as a copywriter since you were hired, and be as specific as possible. Compare what you're doing now to the responsibilities that were laid out for you when you first started the job -- have you taken on new duties after growing more comfortable with the ones from day 1? Has your output notably improved, either in quantity or quality? Does your editor/supervisor regularly praise the work you turn in?

2) Justify it based on cost of living. Everybody in DC knows that $40K is not a lot of money here. Ultimately, if you can't get more pay from your current job, you will either need to find a new one that will pay you enough to keep living there, or move to someplace you can afford -- potentially meaning getting out of the area altogether. Ultimately, if they don't hike your pay they're going to lose you. Let them know that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:18 AM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you are looking to go from $40k to $50k, I would suggest you start looking elsewhere, it's unlikely you would be able to negotiate anything near that amount at your current job. So firstly, set your expectations. Even if you are doing a phenomenal job, unless you are getting a promotion you are likely to get something between a 3-7% raise. If you are get say a 5% raise, this will be $2,000 bump to your salary pre-tax. So that's like... $100-150 more a month? If you are getting a promotion, you'd be in a different pay band, so perhaps upwards of 10% higher. As you have only been at the job a year, a promotion seems unlikely.

The other thing to consider, is that in my experience, raises usually happen yearly. There are some circumstances where they have some people do a mid-year raise, but this is usually an exception. For budgetary reasons they are usually all done once a year for everyone. You should check with your manager when you will qualify for this assessment.

How did your one year anniversary go? Did you have a review at all? If you have not had a review, this is a good way to start the conversation. Tell your manager that since it has been a year, you would like to have a performance review with the consideration of a raise. They should be able to tell you right off the bat if a raise is at all possible or how/when the raise cycle normally happens.

Then get ready for the review. If they do not have a formal assessment format, take some time to do some self-reflection.
- What have been your accomplishments this year?
- Have any of those accomplishments had a wider impact beyond your defined remit?
- Have you taken on additional responsibilities that were not part of your job description either through your manager tasking you or you taking on those responsibilities pro-actively (assuming in this scenario you still got your manager's permission, don't just start doing stuff without their knowledge!)
- Of the tasks that are within your job description, where have you excelled? Where have you made a positive impact to the business either through stellar performance or through improving processes/efficiencies?

If you have had a review, if these points did not come up it is worth asking for another meeting with your manager to present this case to them.

Do not go with:
- You want more money to live comfortably (Not relevant as far as the company is concerned.)
- Other companies pay more for this role (This is more appropriate at the offer stage, not a year in the role. Do not threaten them with leaving unless you have an offer in hand, and even then this is not conducive to a positive relationship with your employer.)

It is totally possible to get a raise, I just wanted to make sure your expectations were realistic. Good luck!
posted by like_neon at 4:22 AM on June 1, 2016 [17 favorites]

getting another offer at a much higher rate (using the justification that you are grossly underpaid currently) and then leveraging that into a much better deal from your current employer seems like the only mostly-surefire way of doing this. otherwise, has there been turnover within management, personnel or your direct supervision such that they might be amenable to hearing why the pay rate they hired you at a year ago was just not acceptably competitive?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 4:56 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a bit outside your ask but I'd strongly advise you not to make the mistake of ramping up your expenses if you do in fact get a raise. It would take a huge raise for you to get and maintain a car, move to a more expensive place and pay off debts. In fact if you are not currently paying off debts you should probably down shift your expenses even if you do get a substantial raise.

If you model out those expenses you are probably looking at more than 10K more in spending a year. Does a 20% raise seem possible?

Young employed adult financial over-exuberance is absolutely deadly to good financial planning.
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 AM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah a 10% raise is typical with a promotion which would bring you to 44k per year. 3 to 5% is normal without one and you can certainly ask your boss for a review and then point out your good work and ask for a 5% raise.

You could look for a job at another company. Can you work at a more lucrative position?

I think you need a budget. Figure out how much you spend now and how much more a car, rent, debt would cost you. D.C. is one of the most expensive places to live. You may need to comprise on rent/car or location or all three to make your finances work. Glass door salaries may be inflated, but you could use it to figure out how much you'd make in other locations or jobs by comparison.
posted by Kalmya at 5:48 AM on June 1, 2016

They screwed you on your initial offer and it is likely that it will take them years to pay you close to market pay in the $50-60k range. I would suggest searching for another job that pays you appropriately and, when you secure a new job offer, leveraging that by saying that while you would love to stay, you simply can't afford it. Your employer may try to convince you to stay with better compensation. The caveat is that they may not do that at all and you may have to take that shiny new job offer. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 5:48 AM on June 1, 2016 [8 favorites]

There is no harm in asking for a big raise, especially if they see you as worth it. I have done this several times (negotiate a much higher than average raise outside the review cycle), including at a non-profit in DC. Here's what has worked for me:

- I was either a top performer, or very well liked, or both.
- They were scared of losing me if I wasn't happy.
- I did salary research across my industry and showed the median, high, and low for the DC area (plus NY and a smaller place, so they could see where DC fell on a continuum of industry salaries.)
- I outlined the monetary value I brought the organization with a few bullet points.
- I never once mentioned my expenses. That's not their concern, which was only paying me just enough to keep me from leaving.
- I wanted to create a paper trail. I sent it all in an email to my manager and her manager. YMMV on who needs to see this.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:52 AM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

It really depends on your organization what the best tactic to take might be.

I recently helped my employee get a 10% raise. Now, we're friendly so she felt comfortable coming to me first and telling me she was unhappy with her salary, even though I'm her boss. But I also don't have a lot of say in how she gets paid. This is because our organization has a whole process for grading out positions and those grades determine salary ranges.

So, just to let you know how it might work, this was our process:
1. Approach my boss and VP to let them know we thought my employee was doing a higher level of work than we originally envisioned. This worked because it was a newly created position when she was hired and we couldn't have known exactly how she was going to fit into our work processes. (She ended up doing higher-level design work and more project management than we had anticipated.)
2. With their approval, re-write her job description and submit to them and then HR
3. HR goes through the job description grading process to see what salary range the new description is.
4. In this case, she didn't move up a grade but moved from the "low end" of a grade to the "high end" (it's a complicated points-based process.)
5. Additionally, we gathered information about what competitive salaries are in the area and in the industry for similar positions.
6. I presented the results of the grading of the new job description and the competitive salary info to my VP.
7. With my boss and VP's approval and support, I had to make a formal presentation to our CEO in which we asked for the salary increase.
8. We got approved for 10% - this was not as much as my employee wanted but is higher than is typical for non-promotional raises in our company.

It was a long and arduous process that had me really sticking my neck out for my employee. It had to be done that way because my VP is very big on chain-of-command, but in other departments or other organizations it might be easier to accomplish without all those steps.

If you are not going above and beyond what they expected when they hired you, I think it's a harder case to make that you should get more money. Your company just might not be competitive salary-wise, and they are ok with the turnover that results. Mine is similar, at least for some positions, partly because we have good fringe benefits so they feel justified low-balling on salary. If you are doing higher level work than originally anticipated, then a revised job description hand-in-hand with competitive salary data and results of your accomplishments over the last year could get you somewhere.

Do not in any way bring up your own personal budget or expenses. No employer wants to hear about that and they will immediately brush you off.
posted by misskaz at 6:23 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd say ask for the raise (I like the advice from ImproviseOrDie just above), but don't threaten to leave or talk about outside offers unless you are ready for them to say "oh, too bad, we will miss you but good luck." The reality is that if you are working at a place that simply has lower salaries, you will need to change jobs to really increase your pay, and you will need to look carefully at the big picture (eg benefits, expectations of hours worked, etc) to be sure that you are comparing apples to apples.

Good luck, asking for a raise isn't easy but it's an unfortunate necessity from time to time.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:26 AM on June 1, 2016

I've been taught over the last few decades that asking for a raise outside the annual review process was a quick way to get a "no." Most company middle-management CAN'T give you a raise because they're bound by that very policy.

Look for another gig. As the person said above, even if you DID get the raise, 5-7% is nominal. Go outside the organization and don't let the next one take advantage of you.

(I, too, live in DC and totally understand about the COL. It's insane.)
posted by Thistledown at 6:49 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Organizations that pay below market have decided that it is cheaper to take the gamble that someone will leave in search of a better paying job and replace the lost worker with someone at a similar or higher salary than to give the current employee a raise in line with market rates. Leave. The organization has already made plenty of money off you.

Apply for jobs elsewhere asking for the very high end of the market rate salary. If you really like your current organization so much, consider applying their again after several years at a more senior level after you have more experience and a higher salary track record.
posted by deanc at 7:13 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You made a noob mistake. It's okay. Raises aren't really the way to get more money. Promotions are.

Do they have a chief copywriter? Perhaps that's a goal to work towards. I might approach it thusly:

Boss, I've taken on additional responsibilities in the last few months, I do Foo and Bah and Blah now, and I have authority to approve X. Additionally, I'm managing a small staff. Based upon this, I have earned a promotion to Chief Copywriter, with a commensurate increase in pay. What needs to happen in order for this to be approved?

Your chances of getting more money to do the same work are very slim.

I might take this experience and shop the marketplace. You never know, something bigger and better might await you elsewhere.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

You are not going to get close to the salary range you want without a) a promotion, or b) a job offer. I have occasionally heard of people getting substantial salary adjustments to bring them in line with established pay grades at their organizations, but I don't think this is normal and it doesn't seem like it would apply in your situation.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:50 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I hate to advocate for jumping ship, but unless you can point to any drastic change in your work expectations or responsibilities that might justify a change in title (and accompanying salary adjustment) over the past year, it's going to be tough to argue for a raise higher than 20% (best case) without a competing offer.

If you have a good relationship with your boss or other office mentor, I might even mention it to her/him. Say that you love your position, but that you're concerned you didn't "lean in" hard enough with HR in the beginning, and now you're locked into a salary bracket that you know is far below the median rate for your position in your industry, especially in a large city like DC that has such a high cost of living. You may be able to work with her/him to set up a meeting with HR and figure out how to come to a solution you're all happy with.

Otherwise, if you do start looking for a new job, figure out what salary and benefits best suits your position, your experience, and the COL in your location, and push for at least 10% more than that when you get the offer. Once it's set in stone, you can either use this job offer as leverage at your current location, or simply give your two weeks notice and thank everyone for the experience.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:06 AM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

You already took the first step, which is to check out similar salaries on Glassdoor. Now you have to do something about it. As others have said, you can't just walk up to your boss and say "according to Glassdoor, I should be making 10k more than I do". Polish up your resumé and starting making contacts in other organizations. Find out about their open positions and apply. Before too long, as a candidate with good experience, you should be able to get an offer or two. That's when you go to your current boss, because at that point, you can say something more concrete: "Mr. B of ABC Organization offered me 50k. I'd like to stay here, but are you able to match that?"

Two things about this: First, you have to be ready to walk away from your current job. If you're not, you're just bluffing, and when they call it, you're back to having no leverage. Second, when you're interviewing, people are going to ask why you'd leave your current job for a lateral move. Do NOT mention anything about money. Say something like "I'm looking for more of a challenge" or whatever.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am also in DC, agree that $40k is not enough to cover rent for most people here unless you want to live in a not-to-code unit (which is extremely screwed up, don't get me wrong), and I think you have to search for jobs elsewhere. It is very unusual, if even unheard of, to get a 40-50% raise. To avoid getting lowballed again, when you are job hunting, do your best to avoid mentioning your current salary and/or look at larger companies where there are more likely to be set salary bands, and government where salary bands are mandated by law.
posted by capricorn at 10:34 AM on June 2, 2016

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