Life at Work

Raising the Raise Issue

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sure, negotiating a salary when you're considering a new job is tough. But once you're at a job for a while and think you have earned a bump in pay, the conversation about a raise is nearly impossible.

Most of us are uncomfortable trying to sell ourselves, particularly to those we deal with on a regular basis. We may worry that asking for too much will seem selfish. Or not asking for enough might cheat us out of something we deserve.

Do they know something I don't? Could they take my pending promotion away if I push the salary issue too much? The thing is, I love my job. So how do I negotiate a raise without threatening to leave?

An editor for a District nonprofit publication was recently promoted to a supervisory role. He worked hard to get promoted, going through training and planning for the new position. What he didn't do, really, was discuss money.

"I sat down with my boss to talk about how to get a promotion," he said. "But I never sat down and said, 'Give me the exact dollar amount.' . . . Maybe I should have said, 'Not only do I want a promotion, but I want a sizable raise.' "

He was offered about $4,000 more but was hoping for $10,000 because he would be a supervisor. "I would have expected a bigger bump," he said, though he acknowledged that the organization's budget would have made that difficult.

The problem with his situation, and that of many workers, was that he wasn't about to use his job as leverage. When we discuss salary with a new organization, both parties know there is a good chance we will walk away if the money isn't good. But curse that beloved job! Get a promotion, and it's not really possible to say we'll leave if we aren't offered a fair amount of money with the new job.

"I can't say I'm going to walk, because I don't want to," said the editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he loves his job and doesn't want to appear ungrateful. (He's taking the $4,000 raise.)

Sometimes, workers find, it's best to start the process before you actually start negotiations. Get ready to explain why you have earned a raise -- whether because of a promotion or because you have gone without one for a while, or because you've contributed something notable.

Jody Terry had worked for her company for more than 15 years. She started as the office manager's assistant and has worked her way up to portfolio manager for the District office of a New York investment bank.

Last year, she thought it was time to ask for a raise. She went to her boss and asked what she needed to do to prove that she should be paid more. He suggested she write a proposal.

So Terry started to make a list. She considered the committees she was a part of. She listed what she did on a daily basis. She considered who called her from the company's other offices for assistance. She detailed her performance with clients and wrote down other duties she added to her day, including giving training and doing technical work. It took about two weeks to compile the information. "Once I sat there and saw what I actually did, it surprised me," she said. She gave a three-page memo to her boss in November. In December, she received her raise.

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