How Do I Negotiate a Better Raise With My Promotion?

Last Updated Apr 21, 2009 3:56 PM EDT

Dear Stanley,

I am currently in the second-round interview process for a new position at my company. I know that I am a strong candidate and in so many words the "offer" has already been made. My dilemma is that the hiring director already retrieved my current salary. When I receive the offer, what are my options for negotiating the best deal?

Ambitious but Nervous

Dear ABN,

Your problem stems from the time-old conundrum of those who are moving within the same organization. You're never going to make the kind of money that people who leap about all over the place do -- or at least it's going to take you longer. In fact, people who get promotions and advancement within a company are often royally screwed. I have a friend who got a huge promotion last year. She went from being an associate something-or-other to being a manager-level marketer. She had been making a ridiculous pittance, and when the new job was offered to her, visions of sugar plums danced in her head. So the day came when she was offered the new job and informed what her new compensation would be. "Good news," the boss said. "I moved heaven and earth and got you a 15 percent raise!" My friend had to decide whether to cry or complain. This raised her to a little under $40,000, which is not a lot in New York City and certainly way below what a regular marketing manager could expect to make if hired out of business school.

"Gee, Lenny," she said to her boss, "Thanks. I really appreciate what you've done for me, and I'm not complaining in any way, but I was sorta thinking my new salary wouldn't be quite so ... close to my old one."

Her boss looked sad. "I know," he said. "But Human Resources got into it, and they said that no existing employee could be raised more than 15 percent. It's a company rule."

Sure it is. It's amazing how many rules appear in HR when the time comes to pay small people more money. They know what you make. They know you're excited about the new gig. They know ALL. They even know that you're not really going to leave, are you? The happy truth, in the end, is that if you're continually promoted, over time you will begin to make more money. It just takes more time and patience.

In your case, I would do several things. First, I would baldly state that money is important to you. I would say to the person who's determining your salary, "Betty? Right now you know what I'm making. I want to make a lot more. This is a new job with great new responsibilities, and I can't wait to get started. I'd like to be happy with my salary." You will then hear a lot of whining, attended by a fair amount of head shaking. Keep pushing. Nobody ever hurt their chances by being appropriately greedy during a transitional period like this one. You might also ask them to investigate a change of "grade" or "level" or however HR defines jobs at your company. If they change your grade, you might find that instead of being at the top of your old one, you're now at the bottom of the new one, leaving room for more money to be paid to you, the new resident of Level 14.

Of course, when the boss "moves mountains" and gives you whatever, be thankful, even if you're not. I once got a really nice raise for somebody and their only response was, "Gosh, thanks. But I thought it would be more." That was the last time I ever went out on a limb for that person. And remember that you do have one final option, always. You can risk your skin and test the waters outside, where the grass may actually be greener. Sometimes it is, you know.

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