Negotiating a raise? Look on the Web first

Feb. 11, 1999
Thanks to the Internet, engineers can quickly assess where their compensation ranks compared to others in their industry or geographical area

You’ve decided to ask for a raise. Your company had a great year, and you can point to several personal accomplishments. But your boss recites the rather meager department guidelines for salary increases. Suddenly you find yourself on the defensive.

It would be nice to be able to prove you’re being paid less than you deserve. Fortunately, the Web can help. There are now a variety of sites that provide salary data parsed by profession, geographic location, and other factors that bear on compensation.

A site that engineers might find particularly helpful in this regard is Machine Design’s own MD On-Line. It now provides an engineering salary calculator that will tell where you rank in compensation, based on data from the Machine Design salary survey. Users enter information about themselves such as their education level, years of experience, location, industry, supervisory level, and so forth.

The calculator references the survey database to explain whether your salary is high, low, or in between for the industry, experience level, and geographic locale in which you reside. Moreover, it provides additional information you can use about important factors such as typical bonuses for workers in your industry, and trends in compensation for senior engineers and those who supervise others.

Machine Design’s salary calculator helps establish an objective standard for remuneration, something that recruiters and compensation specialists say is important for negotiations. They also emphasize the more or less obvious point that these discussions must be handled carefully. The Web can be a good source of advice on this point as well.

One of the most well known job-posting sites, called Monster Board, also provides helpful hints for erstwhile raise seekers. Links there bring viewers to articles on negotiating, employment trends, and salary strategies. Another site in this category is called JobSmart. It is maintained by the Bay Area Library & Information System, an agency serving public libraries in northern California. The job postings it provides pertain to that geographical area, but there is also a page of helpful hints on negotiating.

Plan your approach
The advice offered by compensation counselors tends to have some common themes. Most point out that the more important you are to your firm’s success, the greater your bargaining power.

It may take some digging to see how your contributions fit into the big picture. You may even have to explain this to your boss, who might not recall all your good deeds. Be prepared to cite evidence, but don’t do so as though your are reading from a laundry list. It’s better to pick your spots and bring up specific accomplishments selectively.

Not surprisingly, much of the advice about campaigning for a raise amounts to managing your boss: Learn everything you can about your supervisor’s hot buttons and agenda. Is he or she trying to impress upper management by being tough? Do you understand enough about their background, personality, and psychology to communicate with them effectively?

Equally obvious, it also pays to know yourself. You must talk fluently about what you think are your best attributes, something that many people find uncomfortable. You’ll also need to prepare your ego for the possibility that your skills will be damned with faint praise during the discussion, or even denigrated. If you become angry or submissive during such exchanges, you lose.

A pitch for a raise is no different than making a presentation on any subject: It helps to practice beforehand and even do some role playing. Tell an empty chair what you plan to say to your boss (though you might want to make sure no one’s around to see you). If you can find a willing participant, have them play the boss, while acting cantankerous and giving you flack.

List the things you want, advise the experts, along with why you want them. Prioritize. Remember that your boss may have to make a case for you to more senior superiors. Outline your evidence and explanations with this audience in mind.

Listening skills will help make the actual discussion go more smoothly. It will help to ask others in your company who’ve already gone through the process for their insights and interpretation of what the boss expects.

Finally, it’s good to have a Plan B in mind, should your discussions go nowhere. Come up with some compromises before you start that might work for both sides. But failing that, will you leave the company, go up the chain of command to plead your case, or just shrug and get back to work? It is easier to consider these alternatives ahead of time rather than being forced into a choice during the heat of battle.


Sites for negotiation tips and engineering employment information

Machine Design’s salary calculator
Enter your salary & and professional background to find out where you rank among engineers with a similar profile.

On-line classified ads for design engineers
Not many positions listed, but there are also links to ads for related positions. Penton publishes Machine Design.

AltaVista relocation cost calculator
Figures the difference in cost of living between two cities, for those relocating to take another job.

Monster Board careers
Salary negotiation and job hunting advice, tools, and quizzes. Also claims to have 150,000 posted jobs, but they are for professions that are all over the map.

EDN career zone
Mainly for EEs. Enter your desired job profile, see if one like it is posted. Receive e-mail notification when a position is posted that meets your specific criteria.

CMPnet careers
Again mainly for EEs, posted job openings and an index of salary surveys conducted by EE Times and other electronics trade journals.

Researcher salary calculator
Enter your experience, age, education, industry, and it calculates the average salary as determined from the R & D Magazine survey. Problem is, the survey covers disciplines ranging from chemists to Ph.D. geneticists and everything in between, not necessarily MEs.

Jobsmart salary surveys
Links to engineering salary surveys.

Wageweb salary data
Gives basic statistics such as mean, max, and min. salaries for engineering positions. You must subscribe to get access to a more detailed database which allows sorting based upon geography, industry, or size of organization.

Claims to post at least 1,300 new positions monthly. All are management posts, most for over $100 k yearly. Charges a fee for details about specific listings.

Pin Point salary comparisons
Fee-based salary pay comparison analysis service. Claims to have nationally researched information covering 3,500 jobs indexed to 165 cities.

Korn/Ferry executive search service
Users register to be considered for management positions available through Korn/Ferry executive recruiters. Offers customized career feedback, including your potential salary market value, based on information you provide through questionnaires.

Institute of Management and Administration salary surveys
Statistics on factors such as merit raises, but mostly pertains to general management positions. For a mere $50, compensation research specialists will consult salary data and calculate what you should be worth.

Tips from a negotiation coach

Michael Chaffers, also known as the Negotiation Coach, is a senior consultant with CMI – The Negotiation Group in Cambridge, Mass. He advises organizations and individuals on negotiation strategies, as well as on managing work relationships. He also authors a list of Top Ten Tips for Successful Salary Negotiations, which can be found on the well-known Web site. Among the tips he offers:

Focus on objective criteria: It is far easier to persuade someone to agree with you if they see how your proposal is firmly grounded on real data, such as what similar firms pay people of like experience, or what others in the company make.

Be persuasive: It’s hard to strong-arm your boss into boosting your pay. Trying to do so can be hazardous to your employment health. On the other hand, it’s much easier to convince her or him that the organization would benefit by paying you more, and that doing so will likely improve the way you deal with each other going forward.

Similarly, Start off with the right tone: To be persuasive, you want to let your boss know that you’ll listen and try to understand his or her views, and you expect the favor to be returned. Avoid ultimatums, threats, and other coercive behavior.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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