How do young professionals successfully negotiate a starting salary?
July 21, 2008 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Do young professionals stand a change when negotiating a starting salary after a three-month probationary period?

I started my current job a little while ago and it is now time for my three-month review. At the time I accepted this job, I was told that the salary I would be receiving ($35k) is non-negotiable during the probationary period, and could be reviewed at the three month mark. Although I found this somewhat suspiciously, I felt that this job was the best fit for me and was excited to start.

I’m feeling a bit more realistic and familiar with how things work at the land planning and design firm I work for, however still not 100% comfortable or confident in my skills. I am trained as a landscape architect, and have spent the majority of my time doing graphic design, editing and formatting using InDesign.

However, friends of mine in the same profession are receiving an annual salary of almost $10,000 more. I get the same types of benefits they do, and two weeks holiday time. At this point, there has been no discussion about perks, bonuses, or any incentives. I don’t drive, so cars/mileage isn’t factored in.

During my interview, I specifically asked if there would be a considerable amount of overtime. They answered no, as long as you finish what you need to do. However, in one two-week pay period, I worked double the time I was supposed to, twelve days in a row, and spent the entire weekend at the office. I received one day off in lieu for this time.

It is a 9:00am-5:00pm job, however everybody knows you come in at 8:00 and you leave at 6:00pm at the very least. Nobody gets up from their desk at lunch time, and in the summer we are supposed to have half-day Fridays… but nobody ever takes their half days. The idea is that you come in to work earlier and stay later to take a half day off, but really… you just end up working more.

The office is severely understaffed and during the time that I’ve been here (3 months) I’ve attended three good-bye parties. Prior to my arrival, one of the partners quit and took two employees with him to a different firm. Am I wrong to see this as a red flag? This is a small firm, with about ten people.

I believe that I’m worth more than my current salary, and assume that they would expect some negotiation during my hour-long review tomorrow. However, if I ask for an increase, I don’t want to slave away and feel obligated to stay late at night and come in on weekends. They’re severely short-staffed and I believe that some of the project managers lack proper organization skills – but how does a Junior Designer bring this up?

My ideal salary would be $41,500 – given my education and overseas work experience. I’m trying to gauge what other young professionals make in Toronto, but everybody is pretty tight-lipped. I highly doubt they will give me this. I do enjoy my work, and money isn’t everything, but I’d like it to be fair.

How do I politely ask for at least what I feel I’m worth? How can a young professional argue that they’re worth it, they’re willing to work hard but not sell their soul?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are not going to get an 18% raise at your three-month review.

You are not going to get a raise, ever, if you imply that you're not willing to work in the same manner as the other people in your office, even if that manner seems unreasonable to you.

If you're worth more than your current salary, you should start looking for a job that will pay you what you think you're worth.

/grumpy old lady
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:24 AM on July 21, 2008

You can absolutely negotiate a salary raise at 3 months. I asked for a 12% raise at four months and got it. (And I am, coincidentally, also in Toronto and in my twenties, although I am sure how relevant that is.)

The way to politely ask for what you are worth is to say, "Now that I have put in X months, I believe it's time for our agreed-upon salary review. I would like Y salary."

There is no need to feel you have to "slave away" after a salary increase. You're already working a lot and doing good work and there is no need to promise to do more! more! more!

And: start leaving at five. Working twelve days in a row without overtime is bullshit in any field.
posted by kate blank at 8:29 AM on July 21, 2008

If you are confident that your employer will perceive that you have been a good contributor, it would be perfectly reasonable to ask for an increase at your 3 month review. In general, I think the best way to ask is in a direct and straight-forward manner. Something like "I think I have made a lot of contributions here, especially my work on the ________ project and I believe that my skills and talents are worth more than my present compensation. I really think that a total compensation of $XX would be more in line with my performance." You may not get it, you may get less or nothing, but you won't lose by asking. If they turn you down, you should ask what improvements you need to make to earn more and what would be a reasonable timeframe to discuss your progress towards those goals. If you don't like that answer, it is time to start searching for your next job.

The culture of a shop generally is not something that can be changed. If the average person works 45-50 hour weeks, you have to do the same or you will look like a slacker. In many cases, this is especially true for more junior staff who are often seen as "paying their dues." I wouldn't bother complaining or commenting on that, if I were in your shoes. Along those lines, I also would avoid discussion of your suggestions for how they improve their organization unless they very specifically ask for your input. Even then, saying they are short-staffed is probably OK, but pointing out areas where the managers lack organization skills is probably always going to be a problem. The way to tackle issues like that is to try to help the manager by doing some of the tracking or reporting for them -- find way to help them organize better and perform better. Even trying to help needs to be done carefully. Simply pointing out their flaws (especially to their boss) is likely to make enemies at best, and make you look bad in the process.

Having a partner leave and take his crew with him/her is not necessarily a sign of trouble. If it happens over and over, it is. Good luck!
posted by Lame_username at 9:10 AM on July 21, 2008

The office is severely understaffed and during the time that I’ve been here (3 months) I’ve attended three good-bye parties. Prior to my arrival, one of the partners quit and took two employees with him to a different firm. Am I wrong to see this as a red flag? This is a small firm, with about ten people.

Not for a small firm that is service oriented. It depends on the reason for leaving, of course, but I would expect high turnover at a firm that is small and successful. Or, at least, I wouldn't be afraid of it.

My ideal salary would be $41,500 – given my education and overseas work experience.

I don't think this is absurd, given the hours you work. It all depends on how easily replaceable you are. Good companies want to retain employees. I would not expect to get $41,500, but it shows that you value your work. I would expect them to counter with $39,500 or something around there.
posted by geoff. at 9:14 AM on July 21, 2008

In the architecture field (and I gather you're working for a landscape/planning firm), the type of situation you're describing is pretty common. It's unfortunate, and there are plenty of firms that don't work that way, but I've pulled plenty of weekends and late hours just to get stuff done with no expectation of overtime compensation. If you've only done two weeks like that in three months, you're about par for the course. I've done that and gotten absolute jack, but those types of things don't come around too often (the last stint like that for me was in August last year). Stretches like that do happen, though, and you're probably going to run into it no matter where you go, but there should be pretty good periods of time where you're able to come in and leave according to regular office hours.

Your post doesn't do a very good job of describing why you should be getting more; you just feel that you deserve more, and perhaps given the employment market, your base starting salary should be higher. There may be professional organizations that compile salary data based on position and location that you can look at(the AIA does for architects--ASLA might do the same for landscape architects, but I don't know what its equivalent would be in Canada). I don't know what your overseas experience entailed, but just the fact that it was overseas doesn't necessarily make it better than working locally from your firm's point of view. Also, everybody they give an interview to is going to have a similar education to yours, correct? Your education only counts for so much--after a couple years, in the field, your experience will be much more valuable.

Anyway, you're correct that the turnover in your firm, along with partners poaching employees for other firms, isn't really a good sign, although it happens quite often. I'd bring up the understaffing issue at your review (it's a chance for you to review your office's performance as well as for them to review yours), and ask if they have any plans to do anything about it--this is probably the best way to couch your concerns about overtime and working past office hours. You can also ask about the turnover rate and why they think so many people are leaving.
posted by LionIndex at 9:35 AM on July 21, 2008

To me that much turnover in such a short period of time sounds like a huge red flag. Are they all going to the same competitor? Or are they just scattering to anywhere they can find? If it's all that the ex-partner is continuing to poach employees, then don't worry about it, things will return to normal eventually -- but if people are just bailing out for anything they can find, that might indicate more substantial problems at your current firm.

In any case, absolutely ask for a raise. Ask for more than you think you're worth; give yourself some bargaining room. Use the long hours as a negotiating point. Be willing to trade one for the other if need be. You might well not succeed in these negotiations but it'll be good practice, and the worst they can do is say no. (If they're that understaffed, they're not going to fire you.)

Don't get into talking about the project managers during your review; it should be about you, not them. (Besides, there are going to be some bad PMs wherever you go; that's not terribly unusual.) Do bring up the fact that you know of people with similar skills and experience earning lots more than you, that's a good negotiating point. Don't think of a raise as something that you'll have to work harder than ever to justify; think of it as finally getting out of your probation and starting to earn what you're worth.
posted by ook at 9:37 AM on July 21, 2008

After your probationary period, you are a much better known quantity and they'll have incentive to keep you if you try to renegotiate because if they don't, they have to go through the hiring process again and deal with getting a new hire up to speed, not to mention the possibility that they might be (even more) short staffed for a while. Given that, you should be able to negotiate for more money, within reason (~10-12% doesn't sound unreasonable, especially if what you report about the market rate is accurate). The hours aren't going to change.

You'll need to be prepared to go if they don't come through on what you are asking for, and in this case, I'd have at least some leads on other jobs lined up.
posted by Good Brain at 10:51 AM on July 21, 2008

I also work in Toronto, consulting for architects, and those sort of hours are not unusual amongst many of the firms we deal with (and my own). The construction industry is wildly busy and everywhere seems understaffed. It sucks, I know. The good news in that is that from where I'm sitting it at least seems like there are a lot of opportunities elsewhere.

Regarding your project managers' skills. I work for senior associates and partners at name brand architecture firms who appear to have the most godawful organization skills. But some of that is (see above) they're just slammed busy. Welcome to construction! Personally, I wouldn't bring this up at three months.

But having said that some shops really are just a mess, and maybe yours is one of these.

Like Kate above, I have known a number of people here in TO who have negotiated good raises after probation (my husband is one). But you need to have your ducks in a row as regards why they should give you one and appear upbeat and not whiny. There are many posts on here as to how to position yourself. Another idea may be to be open to other perqs/benefits if the money really isn't there, but it doesn't sound like that's what you want. I can sure sympathize with that. Good luck.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2008

I believe that I’m worth more than my current salary, and assume that they would expect some negotiation during my hour-long review tomorrow.

For employers that exploit new hires with low pay and long hours, part of the "deal" as I see it is that they know you will likely take any betters offers you receive. If I were paying a professional $35,000, I would expect them to jump at the first good offer that came along. They can't expect to keep a professional on board for such low pay.

Given that reality, and given that they said they would review your salary, then yes, bring up the issue of salary at your three month review. As I see it, you will see their true colors. Either they will continue to exploit you by turning down your request for a raise, or they will reward you for being a good employee, proving yourself, and they will give you a raise.

Consider this an opportunity to find out your employer's true colors.
posted by jayder at 1:21 PM on July 21, 2008

You're a bit late to be starting to research salaries. First thing tomorrow morning call the placement office of your alma mater. Hopefully, they can tell you the hiring wage of your class and the wage averages for your field.

Let me get this straight -

It's a 10 person firm. First, partner left and took 2 people. Then 3 other people left within 3 months. If I'm hearing you correctly this is a firm that underpays severely AND has a 60% turnover. Plus, some of the turnover is at the partner level. If more than half of the people in the firm found somewhere better to go, then it's a reasonably good bet that there are better firms out there.
posted by 26.2 at 10:30 PM on July 21, 2008

However, friends of mine in the same profession are receiving an annual salary of almost $10,000 more.

If you want to end up at $41,500, you might try asking for even more than that, if you don't think it will turn them off. (It depends on the culture of the place.) "I've accomplished XYZ [phrase this the way Lame_username said]. Considering salaries of similar positions elsewhere, I feel an appropriate salary would be $45,000. [pause a bit so it sinks in, but then signal that you're willing to negotiate:] I realize this is a big jump and it might take a little time to ramp up to that, but that is where I'd like to end up in the somewhat near future."
posted by salvia at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2008

I actually took a different approach from salvia's in my review and said, "I know I'm supposed to ask for more and then you're supposed to negotiate me down and all that, but that's not my style. I'd like X." And then I got X.
posted by kate blank at 9:02 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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