Raising the Raise Issue

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 30, 2006; F01

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.

Asking for a raise was not something she wanted to do. But after she composed that memo, her self-confidence shot up. "I was so much more confident. I felt much better about it. Of course you're nervous. Who likes to be told no?"

Well, no one, of course. But it's hard.

"Almost everybody gets nervous around money," said Nella Barkley, a career coach with Crystal-Barkley Corp. "You're afraid it's going to seem self-serving."

So to tackle on-job negotiation, she suggests treating raise time at a current job as if it were a new job offer. In other words, think about what you will bring to the organization. "In general, if you can foresee the added value that you're going to make to a unit or an enterprise, then that's the time to negotiate what that will be worth."

When you think you deserve one, it's important to at least try to negotiate for a higher salary. Otherwise, bitterness ensues. But it helps to remember that your boss, most likely, doesn't want to deny you the raise.

You "need to not see the people who would give you a raise as people who in their hearts would want to withhold it," said John Engels, a project manager with a government contractor in Arlington. If he could, he would throw money at everyone who asked for it. But, obviously, companies can't do that.

So it helps, he said, when he gets things in writing. "It makes me realize they've done great things," he said. "And they may be surprised, too."

Engels is looking for big accomplishments that took place between raise periods. He suggests that people include comments of thanks from clients. Note anything that might have brought in specific revenue.

Engels's company has an annual raise system, based on when people are hired. He always hopes employees will remind him when their raise consideration time is approaching and offer a self-evaluation. Many times, however, he has to nag people to do it. "Some are less shy about touting their achievement," he noted.

But what may surprise those on the asking end is that Engels wishes people would just ask for it already and not worry about how it makes them look, he said. "The shyer people do miss out on it a bit."

Engels said: "You really have to call attention to your performance. I'm glad to get the reminder. I welcome it. . . . Putting a quantity on it with a memo or in a meeting helps remind me and helps me appreciate" what workers have accomplished.

And yes, Engels feels their pain. He was always uncomfortable calling attention to his great work. But one day, he started doing it. He realized it was like a business case. He was matter-of-fact about what he wanted and why he should get it. "It's great when people say, 'Oh yeah, great job.' "

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