a salary negotiation success story, with lessons

Here’s a great letter from a reader:

I wanted to share a happy ending to an unusual salary negotiation, because I think it shows how you can apply good principles even in a situation that’s an exception to the rule.

Back in June, I was offered a job doing exactly the kind of work I wanted in the location I wanted. The starting pay was about 15% lower than my stated minimum, but I was told that it would move up to at least that minimum after my 90-day review.

With your advice ringing in my ears, I made sure to get that piece of it in writing and I was up-front about the fact that I would most likely be negotiating at that time. The reason this made sense in my situation is because the role I applied for (which we’ll call Teapot Management Assistant) was unlikely to remain my role for long, and that was obvious even then based on the interview process.

Fast forward two months, and as expected, my role had unquestionably turned into Teapot Manager. I began gathering documentation of my accomplishments to date, my plans for the role, and market research for how much I could expect to make as a Teapot Manager in my area.

I also made it a point to have feedback conversations with my peers, which were incredibly productive (if a bit awkward at first). I’m convinced those conversations made a difference – not only in getting the results I wanted, but in solidifying my relationships with my new colleagues.

Going into the 90-day review, I felt well prepared to make my case. After discussing my manager’s (very positive) feedback, we confirmed the official title change and segued into updating my compensation accordingly. I explained how I came to the number I did, which was 25% higher than my stated minimum and 40% higher than the starting salary. I also mentioned that I normally wouldn’t be negotiating salary after three months but was doing so in this case both because we had explicitly agreed to do so and because the role had changed so much since my hire.

He immediately agreed that my number was reasonable – it was that simple! I was a little surprised but not too much. Things that helped the most, I think:

1) A strong showing early on that I’m open to feedback, backed up with actions. Before asking my own manager for feedback, I went to my peers. In addition to being a good thing for my relationships with them, it actually unearthed very useful information for me which I’ve used ever since. I relayed that feedback during my discussion with my manager when I honestly evaluated what I need to work on, and I think that gave me some real credibility with him.

2) I kept my focus on what was best for the organization, not what I personally wanted. When we had discussed salaries for other roles prior to this, I took the position that our organization is best served by making sure salaries are in line with market value – otherwise, even should we find someone to do a job for less, we can’t guarantee that we’ll stay competitive and it paints a false picture of what that role is worth. I took the same approach with my own salary negotiation (in fact, I pretended I was hiring for the Teapot Manager role myself when researching compensation).

3) I documented my accomplishments. I hear you, Alison, that 90 days into a job you won’t have too many — but you can definitely make sure to document whatever you are doing, especially if it’s a new role and you’re trying to justify why it’s a good one for the organization. My accomplishments won’t seem terribly impressive when I’ve been here for three years, but they’re not bad for three months. I really took to heart everything you’ve said about much of a person’s work being invisible to the manager, and it helped.

4) Even though my role changed significantly, I stayed realistic about compensation. I didn’t ask for the moon; I’m only two years into this career path, and my previous roles in it were contract-based. The amount I asked for reflected my experience, it was solidly in the middle of my target range, and it was fair. I think we’re both happy with it, which is the best situation!

So this was a good lesson to me — even should you find yourself in the inadvisable position of negotiating salary during the first few months, there are still ways to make it a win on both sides. First impressions count hard, and you can lay a lot of solid groundwork early on — especially if you legitimately value yourself, your work, your coworkers, and your organization.

Your principles were my guide here, and I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful had I not stumbled upon your blog a year ago and committed to reading the entire thing since then. You have truly changed my approach to managing my own career, and showed me how I can shine personally and make other people look good in the process.

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. pinyata

    OP, I’m interested in what the feedback conversations with peers looked like – was this collecting feedback about your role as a manager, your work in general, etc? How did you go about those conversations and what sort of wording did you use?

    1. OP

      Thanks for asking! Because my role changed so much between the company issuing the job description and me having the job for a few months, there was a certain amount of tension over boundaries and territory.

      I was aware of the tension but not the cause of it (I’m not always great about spotting interpersonal dynamics in a group, which was a piece of feedback I took from this!). So I started out with a pretty generic, “I’m very committed to feedback and I know that this role is a new one to the organization. I would be really grateful to hear your thoughts on how it’s going- specifically, how I’m performing and if there’s anything I could be doing better from your perspective.”

      It’s amazing how just asking the question like that opened up the discussion. All of a sudden, I was hearing about impressions and dynamics I’d been putting into play completely unintentionally. Some weren’t bad, but some weren’t helping the situation.

      It’s a very small team – my three fellow managers and I are the only ones in the office other than our boss. I really doubt I would have heard some of the things they shared with me if I hadn’t asked. It was tough! I felt very vulnerable and nervous, but once the discussion got going it felt very natural and I was so glad I’d done it. Knowing how I was compounding the tension of the situation did much to diffuse it. And it was great background for the raise discussion.

      1. pinyata

        Thanks for the reply. I wasn’t sure if you were speaking to people who formerly were peers and then became people you managed, or if they were fellow managers. It seems like everyone involved was open and willing to share and help, which is so great! Depending on the people and workplace culture, I can see asking peers for feedback possibly not going so well. It’s encouraging to see a success story!

        1. OP

          We’re all managers in this office, and in a sense we’re all our respective department heads. Only one of us manages direct reports at this point in time because we’re still a small company. In time, it’s expected we will all be managing people in our separate areas. But the initial plan was for my role to BE one of those direct reports, rather than a manager.

          I agree, what I did probably wouldn’t work as well in a different environment but I am now very committed to having informal feedback discussions with peers as well as my manager going forward. Their viewpoints were truly helpful. I hope I’ve made it clear with my actions since that I appreciated their candor and I’ve been factoring their feedback into my work.

  2. OP

    Alison, thanks again for posting my letter! It truly feels amazing to be in my dream job and to have this kind of open dynamic with my colleagues and my boss. I freaking love it and I’ll never go back.

  3. Formica Dinette

    Congratulations! Thank you for sharing not only your great news, but all the details of how it happened and what you learned.

  4. DragoCucina

    Well done. Your approach was rational, based on performance and what it reasonable for the position and experience. A good example for us all.

  5. Boo

    NOT being facetious here, but I would like to know the gender/race of this person, if they don’t mind sharing.

    1. OP

      I don’t mind identifying at all, but I’m curious in return as to your guess. Mind sharing before I answer? :-)

  6. Janet

    Women usually are judged more harshly for negotiating. I don’t know if that is true for minorities as well.

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