Mo’ Problems Getting Mo’ Money [Horror Stories]
Any tips on how I can get a raise? The 2% they’ve been giving me every year is not enough. I was looking on salary.com and it says I should be making thousands more than I am. How do I get them to pay me what I’m worth?
–I Deserve More
You’ve been getting 2% every year? Wow, lucky you! Since the economy exploded a few years ago, I think it would be difficult to find many people out there who have been getting steady increases every year. I think most who are employed are grateful to have a job and most who aren’t employed just really hate you right now.
Here’s a universal truth for you: EVERY employee thinks they are underpaid. Every single one. Those oil company CEOs you hear about on the news making 90 ba-zillion dollars? They want 95 ba-zillion dollars. It’s a fact of life. The difference between what an employee thinks they’re worth and what an employer thinks a job is worth is usually pretty wide.
From the employee’s perspective, you are thinking about your cost of living, that new Lamborghini Aventador that looks super sexy in lime green, the fact that a freaking box of Peanut Butter Cheerios costs about five bucks, and have you seen the price of gas? Aventadors get about 2 miles to the gallon, those babies ain’t cheap.
Add in the fact that, according to you, you do an awesome job, you are on time every day (mostly), get all of your work done, you are the epitome of the good employee. So yes, you deserve a raise, goddammit. And not one of those Cost of Living trifles, a real, honest to goodness raise. Something that, when you get your next paycheck, you’ll actually notice it’s higher. You know, one of those fancy types of raises.
From the employer’s perspective- they have thought a lot about what you are worth to them. They probably have a whole person in the HR Department who just sits around figuring out what people should get paid.
What a company decides to pay employees is like any marketplace. It’s like buying a Lamborghini Aventador, let’s say. You want a lime green one but you don’t want to pay too much for it. Turns out, everyone else wants the lime green one, so to procure your snazzy new supercar, you might get into a bidding war, or you might have to pay full price at the dealership.
But who knows, maybe you’ll find one cheap on Craigslist. Companies are the same way, they want the best employees to fill their positions and they don’t want to pay too much for them. They do research, invest in trusted salary surveys, create salary grades, and do all sorts of boring things that lead them to only giving you 2% a year. There are all sorts of math, charts, theories, and power point presentations behind that 2%. You’d be amazed.
So, you want tips? Here are some tips:
Salary.com is evil, and I’m not just saying that cuz I’m a mean old HR hag who sucks the joy out of life and wants to make sure no one in the world makes the salary they deserve. While some of that may be true, everyone should understand that the data on salary.com is not always good data.
Compensation data collection is a bit of a science that involves benchmarking job duties, factoring in things like experience, industry, geography, trends, etc. A lot of comp professionals think that salary.com data still includes information from the tech boom (wasn’t that like, 100 years ago now? I find this dubious, but I still hear that theory a lot).
It’s kind of like when you are watching Pawn Stars (theoretically) and some dude is trying to sell the storm trooper helmet he made from scratch out of marshmallow fluff.
The big guy behind the counter asks: “How much do you want for it?”
Nerd with sticky fingers says: “I’ve seen them on the internet for $1,000”
Big guys comes back with: “Yeah, but is anyone buying them for a $1,000?”
So there you go, salary.com is like a storm trooper helmet made of marshmallow fluff: everyone thinks they’re worth something, but no one’s willing to pay for them. Or, in simpler less abstract terms, something (or someone) is only worth what someone (or some company) is willing to pay for it (or them). Yes, that was my less abstract explanation, sue me. Wait! Don’t sue me.
So how do you do research? If you belong to a professional organization, you might want to start there. Or, one thing I’ve done in the past is look at Monster or Careerbuilder, or yes, even Craigslist. Sometimes companies will list the salary range they are looking for in their job ads. Find a job that sounds like what you do and see what others are willing to pay right now, in your geographic area. And here’s a good side benefit, maybe you’ll find a better paying job somewhere else!
Other salary data out there: check the websites of staffing agencies. Robert Half, Accountemps, etc. all post salary guides which are usually free. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) publishes salary data. The key here is to make sure you are looking at a position that has similar duties to your position and is in a similar geographic or metropolitan location, titles don’t count.
Remember how I said that compensation is a marketplace? Figure out what you know or what you have done that makes you worth more. Maybe you’ve gotten a certification (or maybe you should). Maybe you saved the company millions of dollars when you managed that software implementation. Make a list. Focus on ways that you have added value to your department and the organization. Be persuasive. Don’t be coy.
Specialize/Find a Niche.
Look for areas in your job and/or your company where you can specialize. Look for underserved areas, or maybe complex areas. Think of it this way: if you are a receptionist, it doesn’t really matter what industry you work in or where you live. It’s not too difficult for your company to find a receptionist to do that job.
However, let’s say you are a computer programmer who just happens to know the particular programming language that your company uses that is very rare and specific to the industry. In this case, there are few people who can do that job, and they probably get a premium for their knowledge.
Not to say anything bad about being a receptionist, but it’s kind of like being a silver Honda Civic, they’re reliable but everywhere. However, if you are the programmer in this example, you are the lime green Lamborghini, you may be ugly as sin but you’re rare and super cool. And rare and super cool can equal money in the bank.
The most successful way I have ever seen to get a raise that is higher than the yearly merit-cost of living-token 2% is to find another job that wants to pay you more and then threaten to quit.
It’s a sad fact that most companies will only give you a raise if you leave.
It sucks, but it’s true. Hiring and training your replacement is more costly, and more annoying than paying you more. But, here’s a warning that applies to any advice I’ve ever given you: I’m speaking in generalities. I’ve also seen this backfire on people, so don’t make the threat unless you mean it.
However, I think it’s healthy to stay in touch with the marketplace, send your resume out occasionally. Something may come of it, something may not.
You’ll remember that, my dear loyal readers, Mme HR likes to listen to NPR. A month or so ago they were doing a story about how women don’t really know how to negotiate. It was an interesting story, but here was the takeaway for me: I never flat out ask for what I want.
I feel like I have mastered the dance, the ploys and manipulations were I talk and ask and suggest about every point in the circle without ever hitting the bulls eye. And when the bulls eye finally gets hit, it is usually someone else’s idea, and I’m freaking exhausted.
After listening to this radio story, and processing it through the Rube Goldberg machine that is my mind, I decided to start asking for what I wanted. No more dancing around the real subject, no more prevarication, no more games. Just be direct.
And you know what? So far, it’s working. I’m not a 100%, but my first success: I was dealing with a particularly vexing problem that I knew a solution for, and I had come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they would say no to my suggestion, so I was dropping hints and asking for things that were close to what I wanted, but not exactly what I wanted. Then, I just decided to ask for it directly.
And I got it.
And I was right.
I couldn’t stop smiling that day—my best day at work in a long, long time. And, it was so much faster than the usual song and dance.
In the spirit of being direct, I’ll get to the point. You want a raise? Ask for one. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if they say no, you’ve planted some seeds, you’ve kicked open a door that will stay ajar for the next time you want to talk about it. Keep asking.
Oh, and shoot for the moon. You want to make $60K a year? Ask for $75K. This is another thing I’ve learned the hard way. I guess that’s why it’s a negotiation, right? Be brave. Don’t come up with the reasons it’s a bad idea before you even ask, don’t hand them the excuses. Let them come up with the reasons it’s a bad idea.
So there you have it, good luck! I wish I could say with any confidence whether or not any of these tips will actually work. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! Maybe you’ll get a raise! Maybe you’ll get a new job! Maybe you’ll get fired! (No, wait, probably not that). Maybe you’ll just get that 2% again, but you were going to get that anyway. So either way, you are that much closer to that Lamborghini! Lime green, really?
Good luck out there,
Don’t forget to send your questions! You can leave them in the comments, or email them to askHorroR@gmail.com