April 2, 2009

Reader Mailbag: How to Ask for a Raise

Each Thursday, I get to do my favorite thing on this blog: Answer your questions about your job search.

Dear JobMonkey,

I love my job, but honestly, I don’t think I’m getting paid enough. Most of the other teachers here make more than I do, and I’ve been working as long as they have. I know that the economy is terrible right now, but it doesn’t seem fair to have to wait for things to turn around before I can ask for a raise. What do you think? Should I start looking for a new teaching job or should I try to negotiate with my boss?

Mad in Minnesota


You’re right, that doesn’t seem fair! From reading your letter, I can’t tell what kind of institution you teach at: Public or private? Elementary or higher ed? Full-time or part-time? Most schools have a fairly regimented schedule for performance reviews and raises. At many public schools, raises are the same across-the-board (typically 2-4% for cost of living), but still dependent on your performance review.

Furthermore, at a public school, budgets are almost certainly set at the beginning of the year. At a private school, you may have better luck addressing this issue mid-year. You can still broach the subject with your supervisor anytime, just be prepared that you may have to wait for a definitive answer until the next budget reconciliation period. Whenever you decide to have the conversation, here are some tips on how to ask for a raise:

  • Do your research

Your first priority should be to figure out how much your job is worth on the “open market”. It sounds like you already know what a lot of your colleagues are earning, but make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples: Have you been there as long as they have? Do you have the same degrees?

In addition to asking your colleagues what they earn (which can understandably be a bit tricky), try contacting your local school board for information about pay scale schedules. Visit a website like salary.com to learn what others in your region earn for similar work. You might also talk to your local union representative, teachers’ organization, trade association, or even a professional headhunter. If you happen to teach English, check out JobMonkey’s article on ESL Teacher Pay.

At the same time that you research comparable pay, also give some thought to your unique and measurable contributions to your classroom. If raises at your school are merit-based, you should weigh this angle carefully.

  • Consider your benefits package

Be sure to include benefit packages in your comparison analysis of pay scale. Everything from extra vacation days to larger 401Ks (or, in your caes, 403Bs) to health, disability and life insurance plans. In the private sector, employees might also receive perks like gym memberships, free parking spots, cell phones, and Internet service at home. Keep in mind that many benefits are tax free, which makes them worth about 130% what a straight salary increase would be. (Of course, if you’re a public school teacher, you probably won’t have much leeway in terms of benefit negotiations.)

  • Practice your pitch

Before you meet with your supervisor, outline your talking points. Be positive, focused and to-the-point. You are asking for a raise based on specific areas of professional growth and contribution to your school. Tick off those areas, providing evidence as necessary. You might also want to briefly mention rates of pay within your district. Whatever you do, don’t over-personalize your pitch: Your boss doesn’t want to hear about your mounting debt or your ailing mother.

  • Check your attitude at the door

It sounds from your letter like you are pretty confident that you aren’t being paid what you’re worth. This can be extremely demoralizing and frustrating! Do your best, though, to keep any negative energy in check. There are a dozen possible reasons you haven’t gotten a raise yet, from lack of resources to poor past performance reviews to simple oversight. Whatever the reason, you stand a much better chance of learning what it is — and doing something about it — if you maintain a positive, professional demeanor in your negotiations.

Let me close with a quick personal story: In my very first job out of college, I found out that all the other employees at my pay grade were actually earning more than I was (in one case, quite a bit more.) I was gutted. After several weeks of fuming and contemplating quitting my job, I finally worked up the courage to meet with the HR Director. It turned out that my boss had put in for a raise, but the paperwork had fallen between the cracks. Not only did I get my raise, it was retroactive to the original request date! I hope that when you meet with your supervisor, your results will be equally positive. Good luck!

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