How to raise the money question

Marketplace Staff Feb 9, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: If you haven’t gotten it yet, it’s a-comin’. Your W-2. A single piece of paper staring you right in the face, reminding you how much money you made last year. Or how little.

So is it time to ask for a raise? Well if it is, we don’t envy you what you gotta do next. Marketplace’s Tess Vigeland is here with some stories and some advice about asking for that pay raise. Hiya, Tess.

TESS VIGELAND: Hey Kai! So as you know, back in December we started asking some of our listeners to write in with their stories about asking for a pay raise. Not something anyone generally enjoys. But we got a great response — a lot of folks writing in. Some of them had good experiences. Quite a few of them, not-so-good experiences.

RYSSDAL: All right well, give it up. Tell us some stories.

VIGELAND: Let’s start, perhaps, with a not-so-good experience. We’ll start with the bad news.

We talked to Larissa Guiterrez, and she works for a large cement corporation in Ontario, California. She’s been at her company for four years, and she’s had the same salary for about three years. So, she’s thinking it’s kind of about time that that changed. She has had some cost-of-living allowance raises, but not a real raise. And we talked with her while she was on her lunch break.

LARISSA GUITERREZ: My boss had called me in the office, actually. And he noticed that another employee was not helping me out with the work . . . slack from another vacationing employee. And he was basically telling me what a good worker I am, and a good asset to the department and the company. So I felt that, you know basically, I should strike while the iron is hot. So I asked him while I was there, “Is there, you know, a possible raise for me in the near future. You know, that would be great, and I’m wondering if you could help me with that.” He just basically said, “That’s a tall order.” That was that.

RYSSDAL: Wow. All right, so, there’s gotta be some good news out there. What about those?

VIGELAND: There is. We had, as I said, quite a few success stories. Including Carla Yuriowna. She’s a graphic designer for a company that publishes software and books for teachers. She’s in Arlington, Virginia, and she’s been at her company for about five years.

CARLA YURIOWNA: I was pretty direct about it. I said, “You know how much I like working here. You know how committed I am. These are the things that I’ve done, and I want to stay here and I want to grow and I want to learn. And I think in order for me to do that, I’d like some different responsibilities.” So once I got agreement on that, I said “Well this is gonna be additional work for me. So I’m assuming that I’ll be compensated accordingly. You know, maybe we can both do a little bit of research about what some good ranges are for the new kinds of work that I’ll be doing.” And it really wasn’t an awkward conversation. I think talking about it directly is the best way to handle it, and it certainly worked well for me.

VIGELAND: Let me tell you that after her first year of work there, she got a 20 percent raise.

RYSSDAL: Wow.

VIGELAND: And Carla pointed out that one of the things that she tried to keep in her head the whole time was that . . . this is all about what she’s done for the company. It has to focus on the company. It’s not about you when you walk in the room. It’s not about your personal life, it’s not about what’s good for your career. It’s about what you’ve done for the company. It’s something to keep in mind.

And it’s something that we did hear from the experts. And we actually found a pay raise couch right here in Southern California, Norman Lieberman. And he says before you walk in, you’ve got to start with a firm idea of exactly what you’re asking for.

NORMAN LIEBERMAN: You should categorically know within a very narrow range what your worth is in the marketplace. If you don’t know that going in, you shouldn’t be going in. Where do I get those numbers? Well, one of the best ways is by going to one of the trade associations that is connected with your industry. Call them up, tell them you work in the industry, you want to know if they’ve done a salary survey in the last year or two.

RYSSDAL: OK, so you do these big strategic things, right. You figure out where you are in the marketplace, you figure out a range. Let’s talk tactics now. You set up this appointment with your boss, you walk in. What’s the best way to sort of get this information in front of her so that she then can make the educated decision?

VIGELAND: Welp, there are lots of different ways you can do it. But Lieberman says that the best thing is to walk in actually with some pieces of paper in your hand. Make a case for yourself. You overwhelm them with what he calls the “Power of three.”

LIBERMAN: You should have kept a little director in your desk . . . a diary, if you will, of all the accomplishments. Things that you did above and beyond the normal scope of your job. That’s one document. The second document is all the projects that you’re currently working on. And then you want to show a third document: all the accomplishments that you expect to work on the next six to 12 months. It’s overwhelming. And they’re saying to themselves “Holy smokes!”

VIGELAND: Sounds pretty impressive to me!

LIEBERMAN: “I don’t wanna . . . how’m I gonna replace this person? It’s gonna cost me way more money to replace, I better take care of ’em.”

VIGELAND: And he says if you’re just telling them, you know, that you’ve been doing a great job at the same thing that you were doing last year . . . that you want more money basically because you live and breath? (RYSSDAL: Laughs) He says forget it.

RYSSDAL: That’s funny, that’s what I always try. (VIGELAND: Laughs)

Let’s get back to Larissa though, the woman we started with who didn’t get satisfaction. Whose boss basically said, “Oooh, that’s gonna be a tall order.” What if that happens? They say, “Sorry.” I mean, what do you do?

VIGELAND: Well, Lieberman recommends that you actually try to get a committment from them. And if that means going into the office another couple of times to say, “Look, I really need to hear from you what I need to do over the next six months to get to where I want to be in the company. Give me some benchmarks and let’s set a time for us to talk again in some period of time.”

RYSSDAL: Yeah. What about maybe having some offers in your back pocket from competitors or competition and maybe letting that slide? Is that . . .

VIGELAND: No, it’s not something that the experts recommend that you do. Because it’s a threat. Again, what you’re trying to do is show your value to the company. And you’re not saying “This is about me.” It’s all about the company, and what you have done to get the company either more financially stable or in a better place within the industry. And that’s the case that you make for them.

RYSSDAL: All right, Tess, thanks a lot. And we’re gonna go back to the listeners, I guess, for another question, right?

VIGELAND: Yeah, here’s another topic money topic that people are . . . passionate about, shall we say? And that’s getting married. So as we head into the week of Valentine’s Day, we want to hear from couples who are getting ready to talk down the aisle. You popped the question, you’ve set the date . . . how do you handle the “M” issue, money? We’re gonna be exploring how engaged couples handle this tricky issue. So if you want to talk about it, visit our website. It’s Marketplace.org, and click on the link that says “Engaged.”

RYSSDAL: Engaged, very clever. All right Tess, thanks.

VIGELAND: Thanks Kai.

RYSSDAL: This is Marketplace Money, from American Public Media.

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.