Yuri Brown landed her first job after college at Merck Pharmaceuticals. She earned $40,000 and never thought about negotiating for a higher salary.
When she decided to switch careers from sales to human resources—without a context for what the market demanded, Brown began researching industry magazines and compensation guides as well as discussing salary levels with other HR professionals.
Her first human resources position brought a $10,000 pay cut. However, she convinced her boss to reassess her pay after a six- to eight-month performance evaluation. She gained the $10,000 after eight months.
“If you … have demonstrated a certain level of excellence, you are in a better position when you ask for more,” says Brown, who today is director of consulting services for the Hudson Inclusive Solutions, a division of the Hudson Highland Group in Chicago.
“Many people are reluctant to ask for compensation,” says Dr. David A. Thomas, professor of business administration at the Harvard School of Business.
To get a clearer idea of how much you should be earning, you have to examine how your company pays relative to other companies, taking job title, size, and the location of the organization into consideration.
“Make sure you are comparing apples to apples,” says Keith Fortier, a certified compensation professional and director of compensation at Salary.com, a Website that offers salary reports.
In most companies, “the employer wants to keep you within 50% and 75% of [your salary range],” explains Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (Warner Books; $19.95) and president of Corporate Coaching International. The range can be provided through the human resources department. “If you are at the top of the range, you need to be looking for a promotion, not a raise,” says Frankel. “Certain jobs are not going to pay more than what the job is worth.”
Knowing the salary range for your position gives you a basis for any rejection that you might experience, says Thomas. “If you are at 75% [of the salary range for your position] but want to be at 90%, you feel better about that rejection than if you are at 25% and had asked to be raised to 50%.”
Fortier suggests never approaching compensation requests with entitlement in mind. You have to show achievements in the past 12 months that merit an increase.
Should you ask for more money from a company that is doing poorly? Says Fortier, “Keep in mind that companies need to pay employees equitably no matter whether the economy is a great or bad one … because they can lose employees to competition.”