Bullish: How To Ask for More Money, Q&A


Over the last two weeks, I’ve been writing about asking for more money, and arguing that even if you think you don’t care about money, you should.

People say that no one on their deathbed regrets not working more.

Actually, plenty of people are on their deathbed worrying about how their family is going to keep the house once they’re gone, or who’s going to pay for their wayward son’s rehab, or how much financial mess they’ve left behind for their loved ones.

I think plenty of people on their deathbeds regret not working more cleverly, and not grabbing the rewards owed to them for their hard work.

But let’s stop thinking about death, because you are young and sprightly and can totally sort this shit out!

See Bullish: How to Ask for More Money, Part I and Part II for some ideas.

This week and next, I’m answering questions.

I’ve kept the names of commenters and given pseudonyms to those who wanted them:

Alma asks:

The architecture office I work at is very small (and getting smaller by the month). The people who work here are my bosses (husband and wife), me, another girl and our accountant. We were promised raises at the beginning of the year which didn’t happen, and now one of our major projects was put on hold. So they let go of the other girl whom i worked with because there will not be enough work to keep both of us, though she has a couple years more experience than I and she has a masters degree while I only have a bachelors.

Now that she’s gone I have to take up more of a work load, work later hours etc etc. Would it be wrong of me to ask for a raise even though they downsized? We only get paid salary, not hourly, no benefits , and I really don’t get paid as much as I should to begin with.

I hope you mean strategically wrong, not morally wrong. It’s never morally wrong to ask for more money, but I think in this case you have to tread carefully.

From the perspective of your employers, you’ve already been given the “prize” (not being laid off) — and you know the company is in bad shape — so asking too baldly might be perceived as tone-deaf.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for yourself, or look elsewhere. I think I would feel out the situation indirectly. Something like:

“I know that times are hard, and I feel for [other girl], although of course I’m happy to still be working here. I’m worried, though, that with just me instead of me and [other girl], I’m going to end up doing two people’s jobs — or at least one and a half people’s jobs — at the same salary and with a lot more pressure. Can you weigh in on how this will work?”

So, I’d slip the word “salary” in there, but in the context of a discussion about the workload and new org chart, and feel out the situation. It’s possible that, since laying off that other girl, they’ve got the cash to give you a 10% raise without breaking a sweat, but it’s also possible that they’ll be offended. (Note: An important life skill is not being afraid to offend people who get unreasonably offended.)

Also, I don’t know your bosses. A married couple running an office might be all cool and professional, but they might totally slip into, “YOU ARE STEALING BREAD FROM OUR FAMILY” mode, and there’s no coming back from that. The sleazebag lady I wrote about in Bullish: Three Career F*ckups I Made So You Don’t Have To was prone to exploiting people and justifying it because she “has a kid.” Too bad that kid has a total cunt for a mom.

Network like hell, become ridiculously good at what you do, and keep an eye out for other options.

Avodah writes:

Many recruiters and job applications ask for you to list your salary history. It is pretty much mandatory. Thus, one has lost the negotiation before it even began.

Further, I believe (I could be wrong) that previous salaries can be verified in a background check.

How does one move forward?

I’m going to point out here that Avodah came back and answered her own question with this link to a post by Penelope Trunk, who suggests that you pad the number with all of the benefits and perks you received. Another commenter suggested adjusting for inflation (YES).

Considering that one of the big points I made in Bullish: How to Make More Money, Part I is that there’s nothing wrong with lying in response to personal questions that are none of anyone’s business, I endorse this advice. Strategically, though, I suggest only lying in plausibly explainable ways, in case you get called on it. For instance:

Sleuth-like HR Person: You wrote on this form that you made $80,000, but I called your old boss, who says you really made $65,000.

You: I was told by the manager above her that my position was supposed to pay $80,000, and that budgets had been cut due to the recession. Considering that it came from high up that my work was worth $80,000, that was a much more appropriate number for the question on the form.

Of course, I can say something like that with a slow, fixed-stare, lazy confidence. Why? I know I can walk away from basically anything, because I have a lot of experience walking away. If you know you can’t play that game, I’d still take Trunk’s suggestions.

Also, keep in mind that the above scenario (getting called out) is just rather unlikely. Theoretically, you could be sued! But probably, you’ll just end up with a higher salary. Especially since half the dudes you know do stuff like that all the time. They spent their entire childhoods having “boys will be boys!” to fall back on. Please keep in mind that those are the other players in this game.

Anastasia:

I just passed my three month probationary period at a new company, de facto. They never gave me a performance evaluation that is listed in my new hire paperwork. I’ve been planning on requesting a performance evaluation and asking for more money at that time, even though I think “typically” they do not consider raises until 1 year of service. I have done an excellent job so far and have noted all my accomplishments along the way. Any advice on how to negotiate a raise before the 1 year mark, based on great performance and having expanded this role to encompass many responsibilities the previous person never did? Just wondering how to phrase it, I have never negotiated a raise, just accepted the standard offered at annual reviews. Really nervous about it as well as how to react should they decline at this time (1 year policy, etc).

Great! All of this is great! Do that! I love this letter. Okay, you want some wording? How about, assuming you get the positive feedback you expect:

“I’m gratified to hear that my contributions are hitting their mark. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. One of the other things I wanted to talk to you about is compensation. Now that the probationary period is over, I’d like to be making $60,000.”

I’d pad that number a bit to give you some negotiating room, and/or think about other perks you could request if you can’t get any more money.

Personally, I try to avoid saying “I feel…”, and I don’t like talking about what’s “fair,” unless you’re actually in a situation in which you are being discriminated against and your goal is to make the same as your peers (which is really a different topic).

If you appeal to “fairness,” you’re hitching your fortunes to those of the most senior dullard on staff. “Well, Joe’s been here for twenty years, and you already make 95% as much as he does!” Do you really want to be arguing about how it’s actually fair that you make more than the dumbest people in the office?

Instead, I like to — politely — appeal to capitalism. As in, “I am making you money and would like more of it, please,” or, “I could get paid this much at another company, or in taking on my own clients.”

Anonymous:

I work for a technology startup and most of the time I enjoy my job. When I took on this role, I knowingly accepted a salary I felt was not horrible, but certainly not what I was worth. I went into it with the understanding that as I prove myself I would ask for more. Being that it is a startup, my role is varied. I handle so many diverse tasks (administrative, creative, sales and marketing…and more) and it is hard to correctly identify what is a competitive rate for what I do. I have broken down my job into each role that I handle, the percentage of my time that I handle that role and applied the median salary for that role in my city. In doing this I have found a figure that more accurately shows my worth. With this background information, my questions/areas of concern are as follows:

1. When is too soon to ask for more money? (I have over seven months)

2. When is the right time to ask? (We are about to begin round two of investor funding)

3. I am trusted with pretty much all company confidential information, including everyone’s salary. How do I separate that knowledge and focus on my accomplishments and value?

Anonymous, good job with the research! In a startup environment, there aren’t really any rules about when to ask. Ask now. If you hit a brick wall, be prepared with a set of startup-friendly “if/then” options — if we get at least eleventy-thousand-hundred dollars in this round, I’ll get this raise when this benchmark happens, for instance. Get some future promises, contingent on the startup’s reaching the next level.

Having access to other people’s salary information is kind of the white elephant in the room. It seems like if you don’t mention it, everyone will just be thinking about it anyway. So you might say, “As you know, of course, I know what everyone else makes, although I try not to let my access to confidential information affect my thinking process. So, considering how my role has evolved over the last five months….”

Sandra:

First and foremost, thank you for writing the piece “How To Ask For More Money, Part 1” as it is a topic that has been weighing on me as a prepare to attempt to make a step to further my career and in doing so, hopefully increase my bank account.

While I know my current salary ($43,000 plus end of year bonus – last year it was $1,500, $800 post taxes), it is seriously frowned upon by my current company to inquire or know about the salaries of fellow employees and peers. I did receive about a 10% salary increase after my first year, but I am now three years in and received a small (I believe around 3%) increase last year, but no word of continued growth this year.

I did some research on the average salary for someone in my position and it seems I am within range as the average salaries that came up were $41,000 on the low end and $52,000 on the high end. I am wondering if I should approach salary questions as I begin to look for a new (and hopefully higher level position) in the same way and note my current salary at the higher end average I found and increase from there? For example, would it be within reason (and smart) to note $50,000 as my current salary and ask for $55,000? I worry I am selling myself short.

My current company is small, so I realize that large salary increases are not always possible, but that is also one of the reasons I am looking to leave and hopefully land at a larger company with not only more monetary options, but more opportunities for higher level positions.

It’s illegal for companies to prevent you from discussing salary with coworkers! I wish we would all just talk openly about money.

In any case, you’ve got great ideas! I like your strategy of researching average salary, even though it turned out not to give you too much ammunition, since you’re actually already in the high range. But it certainly would be “within reason” to ask for $5,000 more, although, if angling for a new position, you might aim higher.

I also wonder whether you could get more specific information from your coworkers. Is there a mentor-type figure you could ask for advice about asking for a raise? Maybe you strike up a cordial relationship with a senior coworker and ask things like, “How soon into a career should I be asking for pay increases?”

Also keep in mind that peers who don’t want to talk about how much money they make total might still be open to talking about the size of their raise. Try your best to draw coworkers into happy hour-type conversations about this. Seriously: Get your coworkers drunk and then ask them money questions.

I’m also glad you’re looking elsewhere!

Keep in mind, though, large salary increases are sometimes more possible at small companies than larger ones. Small companies are more flexible. Individuals often have weird job titles and roles that evolved around them; since there’s no one who is obviously that person’s peer, that person is free to make his case based on the value he’s providing. Conversely, large companies tend to organize everyone into fixed “levels,” with pay scales, like the military. (“Sure, your work is amazing, but here, it takes ten years to become a Director.”)

Just as I always say, “do things that don’t have applications” (our society is arranged such that there is often more competition for mediocre opportunities than for incredibly awesome ones), I also recommend seeking out work environments in which human beings can and will reward you for a job well done, rather than ossified, bureaucratic systems that will lock you in.

Sometimes you can’t squeeze blood from the proverbial stone (what a gross metaphor!) You’re not married to your job. You’re still on the market.

originally published on The Grindstone