I had been making the same hourly wage as the primary accounting contact at my company for three years. Every year, on my anniversary date, I was supposed to get some sort of wage increase, but it never happened—entirely because I didn’t ask for it directly, because negotiating for money is terrifying. I received other benefits—a bonus here, extra vacation time there. Three years in, I was the most senior member of my department, but was still pulling the same hourly wage as when I had first been hired. I blame myself entirely. Here’s how you can avoid making the same mistake, and maybe come out a bit better for it in the end.
You can’t have what you don’t ask for
You are not going to bankrupt your company by asking for a raise. I know people who think like this, and it boggles my mind.
You probably deserve a raise if you’ve been working for your company for several months, or if your work load has increased, or if you have actively contributed to increasing the income of your company. Your employer knows this; your job now is to convince the powers that be that you are worth what you say you are worth, and their job is to convince you that you are worth less, but not worthless.
My CEO and I had been going in circles for literally months, trying to figure out an appropriate wage and title for the work I was doing. Because we all worked in different locations (I was telecommuting from London, something else I had negotiated for in lieu of a raise), it was nearly impossible to pin down a time for a conference call for us all to come to a consensus of what would be most appropriate for my circumstances. My telecommuting came to an abrupt halt when I attempted to enter the U.K. after a weekend trip to New York, and was refused entry and sent on my merry way back to the States, so I found myself back in the office, where I realized three crucial things:
• I was among the most valuable member of my team.
• I had the most seniority of my team.
• There were members of my team making more money than me.
That last realization destroyed me. Betrayal and disappointment flooded my sleep, and I wanted to walk away from the office right then and never look back. I threw myself a fabulous pity party, after which I decided I was done negotiating, and it was time to tell my employer what I was worth to them.
Do your research
You could totally just make up a number on the spot and hope for the best, as Logan’s friend fortuitously pulled off, but your chances of getting what you want improve greatly if you can back it up with research. Meet your new best friend: salary.com.
Arming myself with median salaries from salary.com for job titles with descriptions that were similar to the work I was doing, I approached the person I reported to and gave her the information I had gathered. I provided a bulleted list for what I had done for the company over the years, and a description of what I intended to do going forward with firm goals to meet. I told her the number I needed to make it worth my time based on the median salary for my area (plus 10 percent negotiating room), and to give her a sense of urgency, told her that I had another offer on the table (this was true!). I was very polite but straightforward in my verbal request: I told her I didn’t want or intend to leave the company, but that I knew what I was worth, and that because we had been negotiating for months, I needed an answer within a week.
Make yourself invaluable
Over the years, I had developed a fantastic working relationship with the CEO. I created a reputation for myself throughout the company as being efficient and trustworthy, and based on feedback I received from a variety of employees, I knew that I would be sorely missed if I left of my own accord. I made sure he knew that not only was I good at my job, but that I helped other people be good at their jobs – and word got back to him.
The best advice I can give for making yourself invaluable to your employer is, well, first of all, do your job and do it well, but also: communicate. Communicate when you accomplish a task that affects other people’s jobs. Communicate when your team meets a goal, and give credit where credit is due—in fact, give away all the credit. And in the worst case scenario, make your employer jealous by finding someone else who will pay you for your time.
Always have a backup plan
When the person I reported to told the CEO I had another offer on the table, he emailed me that day and told me he could approve a 25 percent raise. Armed with the data of what other people in my office were making, I told him that I was worth what amounted to a 35 percent raise based on my productivity levels, and gave him examples that I knew he was already aware of. He immediately approved it, and that’s when I went in for the kill: Since I had gotten the number I wanted, I told him I wanted the raise to be effective as of my anniversary date. I received a check for retroactive pay a few hours later.
Maybe your boss gives you a flat no to a raise. There are other things you can negotiate for: more vacation time, flex time, a higher 401(k) match. Maybe your employer pays your health insurance premiums for the year; maybe you just work in a different office space.
If money is off the table, what is valuable to you? Time? How you spend that time? Where you spend that time? Figure out how your employer can provide that, and present a reasonable plan for achieving that.
Make yourself worth it
Negotiating for a raise is generally a yearly event, so once you’ve come to an agreeable solution, make it worth your employer’s money and your time.
If your employer won’t budge an inch, and you can’t walk away from the job, ask to revisit the topic after 90 days, and KICK ASS all 90 of those days. (And keep looking for jobs. Always. Knowing other employers want you is your best negotiation strategy.)
Morgan Balavage tries to avoid lifestyle inflation as an accounting manager and yoga instructor in Santa Barbara, CA.