I was about to ask for a 20% raise — but they offered me 5% before I had the chance

A reader writes:

About a year ago, my boss in customer service asked if I would be interested in helping out the business development team, and I agreed to try it out. I found the work pleasant, easy, and much less stressful than customer service and enjoyed the work. One day, I learned my direct supervisor had quit and no one told me. A new woman took his place, but only for a few weeks before she also left. Suddenly I found myself by default in charge of the department. I was nervous, but I decided to claim the role I had fallen into and make it my own. I made a lot of positive changes and have been doing that for about four months now. Eventually, I asked my boss for a meeting to discuss my salary. I had been with the company for almost two years and for four months had been an unofficial department lead but had never had a performance review or pay raise. I had planned to ask her for a 20% raise.

The meeting was delayed for two weeks while she was out of the country, but eventually she did meet with me. She said everyone had only good things to say about me and then said, “We’re going to give you a 5% raise starting at the beginning of the next pay cycle.” I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing, but ever since then I have been feeling very bitter. I am the only one left doing my job and she has made it clear several times that they are really counting on me. I know I should have said something at the time but I didn’t. How can I approach it now several weeks later? I have thought of telling her I have another job opportunity available for me offering a 20% pay increase in order to force her hand. After all, if they lose me, they are up a creek, but it would also be dishonest and if they called my bluff I would be in trouble. What should I do?

Don’t lie and say that you have another job offer if you don’t. There’s too much of a risk that your boss will say, “We can’t match that offer, so you should take it, and good luck.”

It doesn’t really make sense for you to be feeling bitter for not getting the raise you want when you haven’t asked for it yet! Go back to your boss and say, “I wanted to talk more about my salary. I’ve looked at the market for this kind of work, and my sense is that $X would be a fair increase if I’m going to continue running the department.”

But you do need to do that research if you haven’t done it already. You didn’t say whether you came up with 20% after doing research into the market rate for this kind of work in your field and in your geographic region or not… but if you didn’t, do that before you have this conversation. When you name a number, you want it to be grounded in an understanding of the market. Plus, that way, if you’re turned down, you’ll know if that’s outrageous or not. If you pick 20% because it just feels right and you’re turned down, you won’t really know if it’s because you overshot or not. (And you risk looking out of touch to your employer if you did overshoot.) But if you know for sure that the work should pay that and they refuse to pay it, then you know you’re actually being underpaid, and at that point you might choose to stay just long enough to get experience that you can parlay into a better salary somewhere else.

Also, some caveats: Make sure that you’re factoring in that you might not have the experience that would normally command that salary, just based on what you wrote here. So if you find that the average salary for this kind of role in your region is $X, it’s possible that it makes sense to pay you a bit less than that until you do have more experience and more of a proven track record of succeeding in this kind of role. Similarly, since you kind of fell into the role by default, factor in whether you’re doing everything the previous person was doing. If you’re doing a sort of junior version of the job (since you came in without experience and are figuring it out as you go) or aren’t going to permanently be leading the department, that’s going to be relevant to where your salary is set too. I say all this not to discourage you from asking for 20% — for all I know, that’s exactly on target — but just to make sure you’re thinking through all these factors so that you’re making the strongest possible request you can.

One last thing while I’m on a roll: Some companies put caps on how much of an increase you can get one when moving from one job to another. This sometimes ends up meaning they pay internal hires less than they’d pay an external hire for the same job, which is ridiculous and unfair. If it turns out your company is one of those, there may be zero chance of a 20% raise even if it’s fair for the role … in which case one option is to stay just long enough to get the experience and tenure in the job that you’d need to parlay the promotion into a more fairly paid job somewhere else.

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. AK*

    Have you been given the department lead title yet? At my company a change of title is really the only way to get a significant raise, I wonder if their 5% raise was still looking at your non-lead title and convincing them to give you the title would also help you get the raise to match the title (as long as you do the research Alison suggests)

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This did once happen to me in a past role – I got a small raise in my current position, then got the official title change and then an associated raise with that position. Man, that was good year. However, the timeframe for this should be like six months, no more than a year, or else they’re not really treating you fairly (it’s more common IME to promise you that promotion and raise … someday. If you’re really, really good.)

    2. Ali G*

      I would add to this – do they plan on making you the department lead, or are they just compensating you for stepping up in the interim? If they plan to hire a new department lead, then you likely would not get more anyway. I think first and foremost the OP needs to know whether or not they are replacing the lead (or if the OP is the permanent replacement).

    3. steve*

      At my previous employer, even with a title change, you could never get more than 10% raise. With CEO approval you could get up to 15%, but I’m not aware of that ever happening.

        1. esra*

          I got an 18% jump with my last title increase + raise. If the role is worth that much, it’s worth that much. It’s unrealistic to expect someone to stick around at a rate nowhere near market, because of an arbitrary internal policy around raises.

          1. Steve*

            Yes, that was my point. That kind of policy makes for situations where you work in the job for 6 to 12 months, gain the necessary experience, and then leave for somewhere that will pay you market rate.

    4. Letter Writer*

      Hi AK. Thanks for asking. Officially I’m in no man’s land. I’m no longer a customer service representative but neither have I officially been made the department lead. The department is undergoing some outside changes to make it more automated. I am working closely with the engineers to make this happen and will still have a role when it is done, but a smaller one since much of the process is going to be automated. To that end, my boss has explained she doesn’t know if I’ll be needed full time at that point or not. We’re having weekly one-on-one meetings to discuss the changes taking place since my role is indeed quite important and needs to be closely watched for glitches as these changes take place. But at this point, I have no idea where I’ll be in 6 months. Straddling Customer Service and Business Development 50/50 would be my guess, but I would still technically be in charge.

      1. AK*

        Ah, in that case I think it might be time to find something new, unless you’re happy with the idea of part time work here and a potentially lower salary with it. If they don’t know what capacity they’ll need you in within the next few months, they almost definitely won’t consider giving you the raise you’re looking for now.

      2. Not Rebee*

        In that case, asking for a 20% raise is not likely to work well for you. If I wasn’t sure the position would even exist in its current form I wouldn’t give anywhere near that kind of substantial raise or the title change that might be required to get that kind of raise. And no employer would want to give you a raise this month and lower your rate when your role heads back the other direction in a few months.

        What you maybe could consider, though, is asking for a project bonus. My company recently moved to a new building that is brand new construction and the three employees who oversaw the construction project (a mix of facilities and IT individuals who had actual real jobs other than to oversee construction of a whole separate building) received a bonus for excellent work once the project was completed. This took up months of their time and involved a substantial, but temporary, change to their ordinary duties, so the company recognized this by providing a one-time bonus. But I know not everyone’s company would be down to do that.

  2. Sloan Kittering*

    It’s a good reminder that sometimes there are legitimate reasons you may not be making as much as your predecessor, even if you’re pretty sure that you’re taking on most of their job duties. I have made myself bitter more than once by looking up what they paid the last person to have my role. But you just can’t always compare 1:1.

    1. Sally*

      Yes. At a recent role I was internally promoted into, I was making less than half of my predecessor’s salary. This left my salary low even for an entry-level person in my new role, but still, there was a good reason for the bulk of the difference – I didn’t have his level of experience.

    2. Leela*

      Used to recruit and we’d run into this! Even if we hired multiple people for the same role (really common when Amazon/Microsoft/whoever needed a ton of something), the pay could vary a little based on factors like: one of you did this for 2 years, one of you did it for 5. Now the person who did it for 2 years is calling me up in a fury that they aren’t getting paid as much as the person who did it for 5 so obviously I didn’t fight for them or did something shady like pocket extra money (I swear to you: companies do not pay us a blanket rate regardless of what our candidate brings to the table) but the 2-year candidate is simply not worth as much to the company as a 5-year candidate, even if they like them and want them on the team, doing the same job. The 2-year candidate doesn’t have as much experience in X, Y, or Z, and that definitely factored in to what the company would pay them. It was hard for them to see past that though, insisting that the job paid $X, when it most definitely did not

      1. Assistant (to the) regional manager*

        Agreed. “The job” in itself does not pay X, as it is not a flat rate. Rather, each case is considered on its individual merits and, yes, experience. Not to put a damper on your plans, but this is where you tread carefully, because if you overshoot on the salary request, it might be cheaper to just fill your boss’s vacancy with someone more experienced for perhaps a smaller salary.
        In any case, good luck!

        1. Blossom*

          I sort of don’t get this, though. I’m sure my view is coloured by my experience working in a sector (and, possibly, country) where it is more normal for a job to pay £x. That’s because the organisation will have considered what sort of skills and experience are required in the role, and set the salary accordingly so as to attract the right candidates. (This has the bonus of guarding somewhat against real or perceived salary discrimination.)
          I have negotiated my starting salary before, but only within the band set for the role – and I would have been willing to walk away. The idea of the employer unilaterally deciding what salary you “deserve” when they are simultaneously quite willing to give you the same responsibilities as the “more deserving” person really sits badly with me.

          1. MK*

            I agree. Also, this is how companies end up paying mediocre performers more for qualifications that end up not translating into better output.

          2. Turtlewings*

            I agree. I know this is how it works, but I don’t think it should. The job should pay what the job is worth, without all these other fiddly considerations, which mostly give companies an excuse to pay someone less while still demanding the same work. Someone with better qualifications is probably a better choice for the job, but if you’re offering it to someone else instead, it ought to be because you think they can do the job as well or better, not because you can get away with paying them less. If you don’t think someone is worth what the job should pay, well then, maybe don’t hire them!

          3. ChachkisGalore*

            Yeah – I had planned to comment something to this effect myself.

            In this example, say the previous team lead had 10yrs of experience and they made $x, if the LW is doing the exact same role (like taking on all of the responsibilities of previous team lead – which may or may not be the case) and is doing the job just as well, then she should be making the the same amount of money as her predecessor. Doesn’t matter if she has 2 yrs of experience vs 15 years of experience.

            I get that we use years of experience as a sort of short hand or predictor for how much a person can take on and how well they’ll do, and yes generally someone with more experience will be able to handle more or operate at a higher level, but that’s not always the case. I’m more ok with relying on it in new hire situations because you don’t have a lot of data to work with.

            I just think that anyone who does x, y and z responsibilities at the same level of quality/quantity should be paid the same regardless of years of experience (or other noise).

            1. Gumby*

              But, in general, someone with more experience will do x, y, and z either better or faster or both. Not always, but frequently enough that years of experience brings value to the role.

              If there are two employees doing the same work – one with less experience might be adequate while one with more might be a super-star. You pay the super-star more but don’t necessarily fire the adequate worker because the position needs to be filled, the adequate worker is improving, and hiring only superstars is difficult/time-consuming/churn-inducing.

              It is true that experience does not *always* mean better at the position, but when making an offer to a new employee it is a useful shorthand. And if the experienced worker turns out to not be better at all, that should correct itself over time via lower raises.

              1. ChachkisGalore*

                That’s pretty much exactly what I said…? If your (general) years allow you to perform at a higher level then, sure, you deserve a higher salary. My main point was just that the level of performance is what should determine the higher salary, not *just* the assumption that years of experience = higher performance. But again, I do understand it more in new hire situations bc you don’t have much data to go on.

              2. Sue*

                As a former computer applications trainer, I much preferred someone with good computer aptitude than some with experience and/or training but little aptitude.

          4. LarsTheRealGirl*

            But a band could very well be 20% or more. A company could say “we need 3-5 years of experience, certification in xyz is a plus” and want to pay 50,000 for someone with 3 years, and 60,000 for someone with 5 years and a certification and still have a very reasonable band for the role.

            The company, presumably, finds more benefit of having someone with additional experience, but is still fairly compensating both candidates without discriminating in any sort of unfair way.

            1. Nico M*

              I think the problem is that the successful 3 year candidate very rarely gets a 10k pay rise 2 years later.

              1. Lalaroo*

                YES!! That extra two years might be worth 10k extra on day one, but somehow those same two years are only worth $4,075 (or two 3% annual raises) if you work them at the company after you’re hired at $50k.

          5. AnnietheBb*

            Yes! It also massively, massively stresses me out when a job is advertised and no salary named, just ‘a salary will be decided that is commensurate with the successful candidate’s experience’.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    Yes to all of this.

    I’ve worked at agencies that have a blanket rule of 7-8% raises for promotions, even if that puts the person below the bottom of the pay band of that role. If it turns out you’re working at an organization like this, get your resume polished and adorned with your new accomplishments as quickly as you can.

    1. AMPG*

      That’ s ridiculous. What’s the point of pay bands, then? I’d be furious if I were expected to take a salary below the stated band for my role.

  4. Blossom*

    I think a more important question is whether you’ll be leading the department permanently. Your boss should be communicating her plans to you. Are they still recruiting for the supervisor position? Are you officially “acting up” to that level, or is it simply that you’re the only one left in the team?
    The answer to that question would inform my salary advice.
    From your letter, it sounds like the raise is recognising your track records and current contribution in a difficult situation. Your boss may see this as temporary and be planning to bring another new supervisor in.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      That’s true, I hadn’t thought about but just given what we know it’s possible the boss is actively trying to hire a new lead, and the raise OP received is just to thank them for filling in for the meantime. OP needs to get clarity before they know how to proceed. Good catch!

    2. Letter Writer*

      Hi Blossom, thanks for your reply. I’m going to copy/paste my answer to another person.

      Officially I’m in no man’s land. I’m no longer a customer service representative but neither have I officially been made the department lead. The department is undergoing some outside changes to make it more automated. I am working closely with the engineers to make this happen and will still have a role when it is done, but a smaller one since much of the process is going to be automated. To that end, my boss has explained she doesn’t know if I’ll be needed full time at that point or not. We’re having weekly one-on-one meetings to discuss the changes taking place since my role is indeed quite important and needs to be closely watched for glitches as these changes take place. But at this point, I have no idea where I’ll be in 6 months. Straddling Customer Service and Business Development 50/50 would be my guess, but I would still technically be in charge.

  5. JP*

    When people say to do research about what a fair salary is….what does that research usually entail? Where do you go to find out what a fair market rate for a given position is? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I have found Glassdoor’s’ salary information to be a great place to start. It’s self-reported, so you should verify what you learn through any of the means Alison outlines.

  6. Akcipitrokulo*

    I can see you’re feeling bitter about it… which is a human reaction. But the other party didn’t kniw they were undercutting you. Get the research, and ask :)

    1. Specialk9*

      I mean … They totally did. “Hey, can you still do your job and take on the boss’ job too? We’ll give you a raise of barely above inflation, while getting 2 jobs for the price of one!”

      1. MK*

        But that doesn’t sound to be what happened. For one, the OP doesn’t say that she is doing both her job and the boss’s; and I am always sceptical when people claim to do two jobs, usually it’s hyperbole. Second, did the company actually asked her to take on the boss’s job? I kind of get the impression the OP simply took a lot of initiative because of the boss’s absence. Also, from what I have read on this blog, a 5% raise is reasonable for great performance.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Hi MK. Thanks for your reply.

          I am ‘sort of’ still doing both jobs but customer service has trickled down to a measly 4 hours a week, most of my time is spend on Business Development now. While it is true I had to take a lot of initiative, I was also encouraged my my supervisors to do so and make the department my own.

          Initially when I started working 2 years ago, I asked for a pretty low salary since I was coming in with no experience, but now I have valuable skills I have been taught and I’m making far less than the average employee there. Even a 20% raise would leave me at about entry level pay for the average customer service agent, and I’m now leading a crucial department.

          1. AsItIs*

            Could be that you’re at the end of your journey with this company because you might never be able to get a salary from it that’s market rate. To be paid what you are now worth, with your newly gained experience, might mean a different job/company. And don’t think you owe any kind of “loyalty” to the current job; there’ll be soemwhere else happy to pay you a fair and decent salary.

            1. AMPG*

              I agree – when you’re that underpaid, there’s almost no way to make it up at your current company. Better to move on and let your old employer deal with the shock of having to pay someone what they’re worth.

            2. Steve*

              It can be especially hard if you come in to a company with little to no experience, so the original low salary is justified; but then they need to give huge raises as you learn the ropes.

              I have one former coworker who was hired right out of school. Two years later he had gotten 5% or so raises each year. A new person was hired into the same role also with two years of experience, and got a starting salary 30% higher than his. He was unable to get them to bring him up anywhere near the same rate, despite them both having the same number of years of experience and he already having proved himself directly to the company, so they left him no choice but to seek his fortune elsewhere.

          2. Steve*

            So even ignoring the additional duties, you’re still way underpaid for just the original job you were hired for? It seems like your employer, like many employers, has a mental block against giving existing employees too big of a raise. Unfortunately the only thing you can do to get the money you should be earning is go somewhere else (and avoid answering questions during the application process about your current salary).

      2. Zona the Great*

        I agree with you! I’ve been in this position where I was the default manager because they never filled it. My boss kept saying things like, “well you just need to be more professional than saying you don’t want to do the job without a substantial pay increase”. Um? What’s unprofessional about that?

      3. Khlovia*

        Yeah, I suspect this as well. OP: “Can we have a meeting to discuss my salary?” Boss disappears for half a month on vacation. Upon returning, Boss sets a meeting. Boss: “It’s 5%.” No discussion took place before the number came out. It sounds as though the boss made a pre-emptive strike, deliberately to deflect any attempt at negotition.

        However, Boss actually did OP a favor, since now OP has an opportunity to do the homework Alison is assigning, and will then be able to present a better case–if not for 20%, at least something a little higher than what he or she is now getting.

        1. Steve*

          I would bet a dollar they will use the preemptive strike to say the OP is ungrateful (or worse) and refuse to negotiate further.

  7. animaniactoo*

    OP, a side issue – How long was the original dept head there? What’s the turnover like for the rest of the department?

    I ask, because usually the fact that someone that high up quit with no notice and then their replacement also quits shortly after starting, AND the company is just fine letting a fairly new to the team employee slot in as the head can sometimes be a red flag that something is wrong in the state of Denmark. I would do some digging to make sure that everything the department is doing is above board and you’re not missing something from lack of experience with this area of the company.

    1. a username*

      I have worked places where this kind of turnover occurs due to, and is leveraged by, the cutting corners of liability and safety protocols. Basically, keep someone in the job who follows directions of their boss without reading the relevant documents, is too junior to risk jeopardizing the role because no one else would give them such a “good” one, or needs the money too badly to speak up.

      The one of these I worked with, in particular, was fired as a scapegoat when someone ended up in the ICU. He followed the rules, but the rules he was told to follow were wrong and Risk Management/Legal figured that out pretty quickly when they got word of the hospitalization.

    2. epi*

      This is a good point. Another thing to consider is, this might just be that type of job. My partner and I have both been in positions where we were able to move into more technical roles that we would never have been hired for in a regular search. We were available, interested, and known so we got to do it.

      Often in organizations where the role has room to do what the OP did, it’s because that program is quite small. It’s easy to be the most senior person on a team of two, and pick up some really interesting experience by being flexible. But it just may not ever lead to advancement within that organization. The company is unlikely to make that department big enough, fast enough, to really give people space to advance.

      The trade in some places is that the company gets a good deal on the early career work of someone who is eager and competent but green. The employee gets their start in a role that might have been hard to break into some other way, and probably more responsibility than they would have gotten somewhere larger. The key is to recognize that situation, prepare yourself for needing to leave to move up, and not wait around getting resentful.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, that’s why I looked at this as “can be” not “just is”. The situation you’re talking about is the one that I learned as “Never be a journeyman where you were an apprentice.” – take it for what it’s worth, but understand that you’re always going to be seen as the “junior” who “learned” to do the job, not the “experienced person who knows how to do the job” if you stick around.

    3. Luke*

      Perhaps. I’ve observed this with a job at my previous company. The management role was offered to a staff member who shortly after gave two weeks notice. The next senior person took it over for three weeks …then did the same thing. As it happened both coworkers were interviewing with other companies at the time they were offered the promotion. Since the onbording process for this profession often takes months , it’s not uncommon for one-two turnover to happen .

      1. animaniactoo*

        If I understand OP’s timeline/submission correctly, the 2nd department head was an external hire which changes the calculus on that.

  8. Stuff*

    Also discuss with them immediately if they are looking for someone to fill the role or if they are going to just have you do the responsibilities. Why pay someone more for a more responsible job if you are filling it in your current role. Have the discussion immediately. Ask their plan. If you are going to be the lead going forward then ask for the title and appropriate pay. If you really are just filling in them 5% may be the appropriated raise. It is unfair to you to keep you in the limbo of more responsibility without a clear path forward.

  9. Coffee with my creamer*

    You need to ask for the raise and title change if that hasn’t happened yet. However I think you need to be ready for them to say they can revisit it in 3-6 month depending on the companies policies. I’m saying this because I can only request a raise for an employee every 6 months. Its a company policy. By not disagreeing to the 5% you essentially agreed on 5% and your management may not have the option to change that for set time period.

    Personal advice, If you don’t have a job offer don’t bluff with one. I don’t negotiate when someone has an offer to leave. I don’t allow my managers to offer them, other than don’t take work personally that has been the best advice I received early in my career. So we consider that your 2 weeks notice when an employee informs us they have a better offer.

    1. Greg NY*

      I think it’s terrible to consider the mere mention of a better offer to be notice to leave. It can simply be a negotiating point. It simply means that the other company can pay better than your company. It doesn’t mean that the employee would necessarily leave, because the entire package needs to be considered. But it does mean that if your company isn’t better in other areas (vacation, flexibility, stress, health insurance, 401k’s or similar), they may leave if you can’t come closer on salary than the new company offers. And even if they decide to leave, a professional will give you notice. I would strongly urge you to reconsider your opposition to negotiating with someone that has a better offer.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I think it’s reasonable to assume that someone who comes to you and says “I have an offer for X% increase in salary, can you match that” that they are not planning to stick around for much longer. That’s why you don’t use it as a bluff. Think about the advice Alison gives when someone asks if they should accept a counter offer.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Yeah, I have countered as a manager, but not very often. I’ve never been taken up on a counter-offer (when I’ve been authorized to do it, the agency has usually been willing to go up on the person’s salary, but not to match the other offer, let alone beat it!), but if I were, I’d consider that a stopgap measure only.

          I’ll do it only for a really exceptional employee, and if anyone ever takes me up on it, I’ll assume that person might stay for another six months to a year, not long-term.

      2. AKchic*

        It’s not a negotiating point though.

        If a person is so dissatisfied with their current role and their current payrate (or their boss) that they have been looking elsewhere, taken interviews elsewhere, and have gotten to the point where they have now been given a decent enough offer that they are willing to jump ship unless I can entice them to stay… why should I entice them? I already know that in 6-12 months I will be right back at this position of them being dissatisfied and looking again, so either they are willing to waste other employers’ time or mine with job searching (and we all know they are doing it on the clock, at least a little bit) and then trying to make me play the mind game of giving them validation and trying to match the offer, when I may not be in a position to do it, and hope they accept the validation they are seeking and the offer of more money, whether they actually deserve that extra money or not (in my hypothetical office, my employees get paid decent wages, but it’s a hypothetical office).

        I worked with people who would do this in a few different places. Every 6-12 months they’d think they earned a raise and would start hinting. When the hints didn’t work, they’d threaten to leave. Then the job searching would happen (gee, uptick in “appointments” and nicer clothes at the office) followed by a closed-door meeting and loud “I’ll leave if you can’t match this”.
        One time, I was present for the bombshell “we’re sorry to see you go, please write a formal resignation letter and give us a firm final day”. This particular character didn’t actually have another job lined up, but liked to threaten they did. The CEO and the board refused to allow them to rescind their verbal resignation. It was a frosty few weeks…

        1. Formerly Arlington*

          Meanwhile, I have several colleagues who have gone from a manager to director using the same tactics. I couldn’t act that way if I wanted to—it’s just not in me to plot and essentially bully my leadership. But I can attest that it works. And it feels really unfair.

      3. Coffee with my creamer*

        No It’s only a negotiation point if both sides agree it is, and it’s one that I believe is a sign of a bad leader. It promotes complacency and I really think that counter offers demoralizes your workforce. I promote learning and job movement for all of my employees, I wouldn’t dream of keeping someone in the same position longer than they wanted that would be be a disservice to them and to my team. When someone is ready to leave as a leader you shouldn’t hold them back by offering money, congratulate them on their new journey connect on linked in and offer support through email and ask when their last day will be. Don’t hold people back in their careers, that’s what counteroffers do.

  10. Mel*

    I was literally just thinking about this the other week. I had my review coming up and was wondering how to best handle asking for a higher raise than you’re offered. Is there an ideal way to do that? Fortunately, I was offered what I was going to ask for so I never had to cross that bridge.

  11. SarahKay*

    OP, on Alison’s last point that companies put a cap on raises for in-company moves, a good manager can sometimes get round this by agreeing a raise now, and another in, say, six months.
    I actually had this happen to me. My company had a cap at 15% but I knew if I accepted the promotion at that increase I would be badly underpaid. My manager-to-be got the company to agree to 15% immediately and 15% in six months time (and I made sure to put all this in writing in my email accepting the post), which brought me up to what I felt to be an acceptable level.
    It definitely helped that (1) I knew in my head that I would walk away from the role if the pay wasn’t right, and (2) the company needed someone in that post ASAP, but it may be useful to you to know that at least sometimes this could be done.

  12. Workerbee*

    I don’t have anything to add to all the excellent advice already given about how to approach the 20%, so–congratulations on taking ownership of this nervous-making role and turning it into something really positive That’s awesome. 5% may not seem like much when you’ve been planning to ask for much more. Yet it does seem that your company recognizes the great job you’ve been doing, and that seems like a good foundation to build on with negotiation discussions.

  13. Bea*

    Keep in mind that if you’re asking for 20%, they’ll probably counter. So whereas you only got 5%, that tells me they probably aren’t going to offer you too much more. You want to brace for a “well…we can do 3% more but can’t touch 20%”

    Being promoted to a lead rarely jumps that far in my experience with payscales but that’s not saying you may not luck out.

    I remember how livid some people got with a raise they view as not enough. I’m sorry you’re in this position and so frustrated.

    1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      Being promoted to a lead rarely jumps that far in my experience with payscales but that’s not saying you may not luck out.

      This is a really good point actually. Since I do payroll, I see what everyone makes plus I hear some grumblings. I find that people are often really, really wrong about what other people make. “Team lead” is often paid very little above the people they are leading. And I’ve frequently seen team leads earn less than some of the people they are leading if they happen to lead people with several years at the company who haven’t moved up for whatever reason. However, a lot of people will assume that a promotion comes with a big pay raise. 5% might be all the raise that is ever given for bumping up to team lead at this particular company. I worked one place where no matter what role you moved to, 5-7% was all the raise you could expect. People from the outside could and would be offered more money than someone from the inside could ever hope to get.

      1. Bea*

        Yep yep yep. I’m payroll as well and the limited time I’m not cutting checks, I’m recording them because I’m also an accountant. So I know exactly what everyone makes and keep an eye on market rates. I’ve had people mad entry level isn’t higher paid but they can’t seem to find anywhere their skills are worth more.

      2. RachelTW*

        ” I worked one place where no matter what role you moved to, 5-7% was all the raise you could expect. People from the outside could and would be offered more money than someone from the inside could ever hope to get.”

        My god this just seems so, so short-sighted to me. How can you expect to retain people when you incentivize them to leave in this way?

  14. Greg NY*

    There are way too many shenanigans when it comes to salary, as well as salary negotiations. LW, you definitely don’t want to tell a lie. There is the possibility that the organization simply cannot give you a 20% raise and it is a true fact that much extra money doesn’t exist. That can be the case even if your market research (which you should definitely be doing) finds that a 20% raise is justified. They might openly and honestly say they can’t match the other offer, and in such a situation would say that even if you actually did have the other offer and could prove it. Some organizations have budgetary problems and cannot pay market rates, and are bound to lose good employees as a result.

    It’s equally possible that they are attempting to placate you with a 5% raise rather than a larger one that you might be more deserving of. That’s when you can call THEIR bluff by presenting your market research. One of two things will happen: they will give you what you should get, or they will tell you that the money doesn’t exist and they understand if you ultimately leave the organization as a result. It’s worth pointing out in that instance that you can try to negotiate for other benefits that don’t cost the organization as much money, such as additional paid vacation or a flexible schedule.

    If everything fails despite presenting your market research and being truthful in what other offers you have or don’t have, you can be content knowing that you did the best you could and either this organization is content with stiffing you or truly is unable to pay what you rightly deserve (and in that case, you may want to begin a job search anyway because oftentimes layoffs are coming when finances are that bad. Even if your job is safe, you may find yourself taking on more work from those who did lose their jobs).

    1. Greg NY*

      I forgot to say: there shouldn’t be a higher cap for external hires than for internal promotions and transfers. Those are really shenanigans.

    1. EmilyAnn*

      Great story. The subject, his ex-wife or the PI come out looking like sane or rational people. All three seem like sleazy human beings.

  15. MK*

    I would like to know how the OP decided on asking for 20% on her current salary. Also, what “running the department after the second manager quit” actually looks like. If what happened is that the OP kept doing the same kind of work, only without supervision (and had to take initiative accordingly), then 5% seems reasonable. If she took over managing a team, that’s different.

    1. Precariato*

      I hope it’s not like my last bad old job where a 20% raise would have made the pay comparable to other people doing similar jobs in the community. (In my situation it would have been a raise from $10.00/hour to $12.00/hour.)

  16. Lucille2*

    Alison’s advice is really great on this. I would also add that some companies have pretty rigid policies when it comes to handing out raises & promotions. They often come in annual cycles and typically tied to annual reviews. It’s possible your manager was able to get an off-cycle raise exception and they are planning to put you at the top of their list for raises during the annual cycle. Your manager may or may not communicate this to you upfront depending on how confident they are that the budget will be available. It’s still worth following Alison’s advice and having a proactive conversation with your manager if you find you are underpaid, but there may be other things at play you’re not aware of.

    Also, her last paragraph has been a major pain point for me as a manager in a couple of different companies. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to bring an underpaid employee up to their deserved salary. I’ve found in my industry that the only way to be paid fairly (especially in a city where cost of living has risen sharply in a decade) is to leave the company when you have enough experience to get paid better elsewhere.

  17. Just visiting*

    In my industry this just a long term accepted thing. The gap between normal entry level pay and 2-3 years experience pay is so large that no employers keep up, so pretty much everyone changes jobs a couple of times with a big pay jump in their first 5 years or so.

    I have always tried to look at the time working with more responsibility than I was being paid for as investing for a future job.

    1. Steve*

      That happens in my industry too. But there’s also an effect that the market rate is going up drastically as well. Very few employers are going to be able to stomach giving 10% raises every single year just to keep up with the market, even though it’s irrational not to; they’ll have to pay market rate when the existing employee changes jobs and they replace him/her, plus they’ll lose time interviewing and training the replacement.

  18. Former Computer Professional*

    I worked at a place that had one of those ridiculous pay raise limits. It meant that with 10 years of experience I was making half as much as my peers in the industry (including benefits), and with proof they still wouldn’t budge.

    I found another position. Right before I turned in my resignation, they announced that one of my former coworkers, who’d left to go to another company, had been hired back. I found out he’d be getting more than twice my salary, which made me sure I was doing the right thing to move on. (There’s also the add-on and OT part where he got upset at my leaving; it turned out that he had a side business and had planned to dump half his workload on me so he could keep the business going. He wound up being fired after six months, unsurprisingly, for not doing half his job.)

  19. SansaStark*

    I was in a very similar situation about a month ago. I had done a bunch of research on the market and talked with colleagues so I was expecting X dollars when I was offered a promotion. They offered a lot less than what I had expected. They were shocked that I wasn’t happy with the amount. I asked if there was anything they could do since this was really not in line with my research. They said they’d look into it. They called me back in the next day and agreed with me and gave me the additional money. It’s definitely not too late to go back to them armed with facts and ask for them to reconsider. If they say no, at least then you’ll know where you stand and can decide what to do from there.

  20. TV*

    The cap at my employer is a maximum 5% bump if you get a promotion, unless you get a different job within the company with a higher pay scale. I just had a coworker walk out because he wasn’t getting the pay raise he was promised at 6 months after hire (just past 12 months at the job). That action caused a very fast reversal of management’s stance and they got authorization for the promotion/raise. I don’t really recommend that sort of dramatic gesture but it looks like it worked for my coworker, though he isn’t sure he will accept their offer.

    1. 221 Baker St.*

      If he had to take such a drastic measure I think it’s a bad idea to stay. When I had to walk out of a job once in my life it wasn’t just the lack of pay and opportunity that made me do it. I was passed over for a position I was qualified for six times and had enough of being ignored. The worst part is that I found out three people hired for that position weren’t even qualified and didn’t have the necessary experience or certifications to do the work. The best way for me to make more money was to leave and I did.

  21. Lizard*

    I was in a very similar position recently. Basically I was given a title and responsibility increase without the pay increase. They offered a much lower raise than I was expecting, and I vividly remember how demoralizing that felt. But I did my research, and laid out my reasoning for increasing the raise amount. What we ended up doing is they came up another few percent initially, and then we met again in 6 months to check how things were progressing where they met me the rest of the way.
    I’d talk to your manager, explain that while you’re greatful for the raise because of reasons X, Y, and Z you were hoping to be closer to XX amount. Ask if that number is a possibility and what the path to get there looks like. Do your research and practice your talking points. Good luck!

  22. Close Bracket*

    Twenty percent is a hell of a raise. Do you have data to back up asking for such a raise? If you have an iron clad case, then make it, but still be prepared not to get that much. It might be better to make a case for an additional few percent, then re-visit the conversation 6 months later with a list of all the new duties you have taken on and successfully performed, along with all the supporting information on salary norms for that position.

  23. 221 Baker St.*

    I second this and while the research is key please keep in mind that when I work with managers I have had to make the conscious effort to avoid any emotional adjectives while keeping everything with hard facts and figures. If the company valued your work then they would have given you more than a 5% raise or at the very least asked for your input. I myself read over a coworker’s proposal for increasing employee salaries in a severely underpaid department with high turnover and applauded her efforts but management took the proposal and basically ignored it.

    As a result I left and six other coworkers are looking to leave. No one can afford to work at pay that is not just below the national and state average – but far below the city average for the same work. Depending upon what you do most job transitions will net employees a 20% raise on average, however I received closer to 31.8% with even more paid days off of work and time to work on starting my own business.

    Don’t sell yourself short and just believe you have to accept a 5% raise. You have options and the fear of change or the unknown in any job market is something bad employers count on to keep talented employees underpaid and working for them. You don’t owe that company anything and the best time to look for a job is when you already have one. You may be able to find out from previous supervisors in that position what their pay may have been versus the average pay for that area. Sometimes you can use that data to give them a targeted number that will be hard to refuse because you’re the only one doing that work. They put themselves in a bind but be prepared to leave if you are that underpaid. Once a corporation says no it’s nearly impossible to reach any compromise at all.

    Best of luck to you and I hope that works out for you.

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