Tales of a Failed Salary Negotiation

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salary negotiationThis post originally appeared on The Billfold.

Ryan, my boss, walked into my office with a serious look on his face. I looked up from my monitor as he closed the door behind him. “We need to talk about your behavior!” he said, wagging his finger.

“My behavior?” I was trying to sound calm.

He started laughing. “I’m just kiddin’,” he said. I stretched my face into the most credible smile I could manage. “We’re doing your review tomorrow.” I stopped smiling.

Everybody in my company has a review once a year, around the time of when each employee was hired. Because my department has always been behind on reviews, mine usually happened in May or June (I was hired in early March). Ryan’s been with the company for just over a year now and he’s really diligent about company policy. When he saw my review’s due date approaching at the end of February, he kept reminding me that we needed to schedule a date for it. I kept telling him I’d get to it later because I knew I’d be asking for a raise this year and I wanted time to research similar salaries and prepare a statement that I would present to him during my review. For a couple of weeks, his words were, “We need to schedule your review soon.” On this day, he said, “We’re doing your review tomorrow.”—not, “Can we do your review tomorrow?”—”We’re doing your review tomorrow.”

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it, but I tried anyway.

“Can’t we do it next week?” I asked. “I’m still working on January’s reconciliations and I haven’t even had time to do the self-evaluation.”

“Nope.” he said. “I’ve already got Laura and Candace done and I want to get these out of the way.” I was going to have to do all my preparations overnight.

“I’d really rather do it next week.”

“What’s the big deal? All you have to do is the self-eval. It shouldn’t take more than ten minutes.”

“Yeah.” I said, “I have some other stuff I have to do also…” He looked at me like I’d just spoken in another language. “… we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

“OK! Great!” he said. He opened the door and walked out of my office.

I’m an accountant for a non-profit in Portland (the only Portland that matters). I’ve been with this company for four years. Because I’m one of only two accountants there, I see almost all of the financials, including payroll, which means I know exactly how much everyone makes. I know that my boss makes about 50 percent more than I do, and that his boss makes almost double that. I know that the CEO makes more than anybody, but not that much more than the CFO. I know that the “executive assistant” (secretary for the executives) makes more than me and she’s only been here for two years. I know that my co-worker who spends all day on Facebook but is buddies with all the executives also makes more than me. And I know that the medical billing staff makes peanuts.

This was basically my first job out of college. I was working for an accounting firm for about three months until the owner couldn’t afford to pay us any longer, and then I got this job. It’s pretty low-stress and the benefits are decent, but that also means I have to make sacrifices in my salary. I understand that, and it’s a fair trade. I’d rather make a few dollars less and have some decent vacation time than have to work 80-hour weeks. I had to keep my expectations reasonable. It wasn’t about money. I have all that I need, and if I had any more money, it would just go into savings or I would spend it on clothes. It was about respect—respect for my place within the company and my value to the company.

Also, maybe it had something to do with other parts of my life not working out so well and wanting to make a move so that at least one thing in my life would be going ok. When you lose a lot, it’s easier to risk losing a little more because, really, what difference does it make at this point?

I went home and stayed up late writing my statement. It said that I enjoyed working for the company and getting to know all the great people there over the last few years. Then it went into what kind of a mess all of the accounting department was in when I started in 2009, and how much I’ve contributed to getting everything on track and keeping it there. Then it asked for a 30 percent raise. It said I knew it was a lot, but that I was taking into consideration what other people with my skills and qualifications are making in the area as well as what other people within the organization are making. It thanked my boss for his time and mentioned something about “looking forward to many more years with the company.” Simple enough, but professional and direct, right? I was careful not to use the word “raise” in this letter. I called it a request for a “salary increase.” I guess that was my way of just slipping it in there. (Subliminal messages or something.)

Check out the rest of the story at The Billfold.

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