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How to Get a Raise (sebastianmarshall.com)
146 points by lionhearted on Feb 13, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

At SI, we follow the Joel Spolsky tiered structure that Sebastian mentions -- you're hired at a salary based on your experience and talent and you can be promoted into a higher salary, but we only give cost-of-living raises; no performance raises.

The reason why we decided this: as an introverted geek, I found the social I-want-a-raise dance to be awkward and embarrassing. I really just wanted to focus on working on interesting stuff and be paid fairly. I always wondered how my pay could possibly be fair if there was room to negotiate up? It seemed wrong that others could be compensated better simply for being more outgoing that I was.

So I'm curious -- what method do HNers like better? Would you prefer your employer to have a negotiated or Joel Spolsky-style tiered pay scale?

Negotiation, especially in introverted geek circles of people too afraid to ask for a raise / figure out what their contributions to the company are.

I like negotiating because I know how to dig through the financial reports and figure out how I'm contributing to the bottom line, and with out a bunch of other people claiming the same thing it makes it easier to negotiate raises.

It's especially good to ask for a raise right after the CEO gives one of those our employees are our most valuable asset talks, and after they say something like "the way i look at it is if a employee who has been paid 250K in 3 years walks out the door, it's like 250K of knowledge walking out the door". Then you use their figures and put in place a financial model where you walking out the door with 5 years of experience costs them 500K. The best part about these models is the more you increase your pay the more the financial models suggest your pay should be increased.

The point is to negotiate at the right time, usually when the CEO is trying to keep people from leaving and there is spare cash floating around. My BANTA has always been show the rest of the team the financial models and how they could be making more, and then find something else to do. Business is a contact sport. If you can't get yourself a raise , go get the rest of your team a raise and voila now you're being underpaid and your raise is justified.

Also, I'd go fight for anyone's raise a) so they'd back me up for mine and b) so it would increase the avg salary in the company making your own raise seem fair.

I'd recommend spelling out "Seeing Interactive" rather than using the initalism when there's no context to know what you're talking about.

I never understood this argument. You still need to sell yourself for movement into the higher salary range. It ends up being the same system as performance raises.

If everybody's level is visible then your pay tier is more likely to reflect your value.

Except it doesn't look the same does it ;)

I've only ever had to do the I-want-a-raise dance, and when I heard about the tiered scale, it was like a beacon of light from Jesus.

If I ever interviewed for two places, and they were equal on all parts, except one had a tiered scale, I'd pick the tiered scale in a heartbeat. Wouldn't hesitate one bit.

The biggest problem I've found with asking for raises is that I don't have a clear career path. I can't look and see the minimum I'd be making if I stick with the company for 15 years. I think the tiered path would be much better for employee loyalty and holding on to institutional knowledge of coworkers.

Why would you do that to yourself?

Unless you have good evidence that you're worse than the average dev in the shop, tying yourself to a scale where everybody gets exactly the same pay is guaranteed to leave you underpaid.

If you're good at what you do, you can make more than somebody who's less good. It's a shame that you have to actually stand up for yourself and ask to be paid what you're worth, but that's the world we live in.

Incidentally, you're not going to be there in 15 years. If you're good (and remember, we're assuming you are), stuff will come up and you'll jump on it. There are certainly people who look for long term job security in this industry, but except in extremely rare cases, those people tend to know that they're a bit behind the curve and therefore would likely not find another job if they had to contend on the open market.

Depends on the payment structure. The company I work for pays everyone the same (very high) base salary. Each programmer works on their own product and earns royalties off the top of it. Then there are variable bonuses based on the company's overall performance which are the same for everyone.

It's the best of both worlds but obviously it only applies to companies where one person "owns" each product.

Why would you do that to yourself?

Because it would free me to focus on other concerns. As long as I found the scale reasonable, I could focus on other ways to ensure that the job is rewarding.

there is clearly a perverse incentive for equity holders to apply downward pressure on salaries, so why do you guys think tiered is any different? I'm skeptical that there's any difference at all between average salary at tiered companies vs regular companies.

Even if the average salary is the same - the two schemes will benefit different people depending on their personality type. What kind of person do you want to attract?

I'm not sure what your implying, but I wonder if aggression correlates better with entrepreneurial skills.

Overall this is a great article, one of the best I've seen on HN for a while. One part struck me though:

_It’s nice to work for a good company with a good environment and a fun team, but at the end of the day it’s not worth leaving tens of thousands of dollars on the table just to stay there._

I dunno, spending 8+ hours a day in a bad environment with a soul sucking team is pretty bad. How will tens of thousands of dollars make up for that? By letting you buy a really big screen TV and sound system?

I guess since I wrote the quote you're referencing, it's my duty to defend it...

In the case I had in mind when I wrote that, I used a small portion of those extra tens of thousands of dollars to take 5 months off and work on my surfing in Australia. The rest I kept in reserve to ensure that I could take a few unpaid months off every year since.

As you say, money can't buy happiness. But it can be exchanged directly for free time, which I tend to value quite highly.

There is a problem though -- most places don't let you take sabbaticals. You get a couple of weeks off for vacation and the rest of the time you are expected to be there.

So the original question still stands. Please answer that:

> I dunno, spending 8+ hours a day in a bad environment with a soul sucking team is pretty bad. How will tens of thousands of dollars make up for that?

I guess you have to always write a footnote when you discuss this and mention how you'd really need to have a place that also gives you enough time to enjoy all that extra money you'd be making.

The older I get the more I realize that time is becoming more and more expensive. At some point it qualitatively crosses beyond being arbitrarily translated into money.

Is another $30k/year worth working crazy hours in a noxious high pressure environment? When I was 20 I would have said "hell yeah", now, not so much.

Driving 2 hours every day to get to a job that pays another $10k, nope, thanks, I'll pass. I'd rather have the extra time for family or do whatever else I want to do.

Personally, I find any job requiring me to sit in a cube for 40 hours a week to be pretty taxing, regardless of how fun the tech or the people are. It's the sort of activity that I try to minimize my time doing.

With that in mind, I'd much prefer to make my year's salary in, say, eight months, and spend the rest of the year doing things I actually enjoy. Sabbaticals don't actually require approval if you're genuinely not interested in job security. The only real thing in question is whether the place would like to have you back when you return.

One interesting side effect of working lots of 6-18 month stints at various companies is that you get exposed to lots of technologies and get lots of things out in the wild that you can point to and say "I did that". That actually makes you more valuable, and therefore more likely to land the sort of higher money, short term contract that you're looking for.

I definitely envy your position. Unfortunately in US insurance is tied to employment. The moment I go on sabbatical my whole family loses health insurance. It is something that ties my hands behind my back.

I do get a month and half of vacation and a 5 minute commute to work, so I try to make the best of it.

Sounds like a pretty sweet gig, actually. Long vacations and no commute.

You're right. Health care is the tough one. Catastrophic Coverage will run an individual about $100/month, which is fine when you're young and healthy. But I don't want to think about what Blue Cross Blue Shield would want for full coverage on a family of 4.

Given how much extra money you bring home consulting vs. salary (roughly 2x), you're fine while you're working. But keeping it all going when you're not might be a bit of an issue.

I know you say your advice has worked for other people, but it is odd to tell people how to do something when you haven't done it yourself.

What you're missing from all of this is the uncertainty of fair market rate, which also discourages folks from asking for more.

> I know you say your advice has worked for other people, but it is odd to tell people how to do something when you haven't done it yourself.

If I'm ever salaried, I'll try it out and report back :)

> What you're missing from all of this is the uncertainty of fair market rate, which also discourages folks from asking for more.

I don't think there is or can be a "fair market rate" in an unestablished, fast-changing field. By changing your responsibilities and deliverables a tiny bit, you might triple the value you're producing and be compensated much more for it.

Great advice. The most important part of #3, "stress how much more you’d like to do going forwards" isn't highlighted enough, however. That is, you have to establish clearly what you're looking for. The template is:

  In X months I want to be making Y.  What needs to happen for me to get there?
Part of any employee's job is to manage expectations. This way, you're both communicating your expectations to your manager and clarifying theirs. It also adheres to the "no surprises" rule by giving prior notice.

Then, you need to occasionally ping your manager to see how you're tracking towards your goal. This gives you an indication of progress, and uses human bias towards consistency (as described in Cialdini's "Influence") to your advantage. If your manager has been telling you that you're on course for the 150k you asked for over the course of 6 months, it'll be difficult to suddenly reverse when decision time comes.

A really great article to have in my head a week away from my first annual review at my current company. Selling myself has never been a strong suit (that whole social awkwardness thing, seemingly common in geeks). Stressing future plans in the context of making the company money, as opposed to just improving my own competencies, seems somewhat obvious upon reading it, but I doubt I would have thought of it.

This is a great idea and I wish you success. It might be better to try a small change: don't do this during your annual review, but meet with your boss a month later and do it then.

The annual review isn't a discussion, it's where your boss has decided what to write in your review and tells you about it. At that point, you need to change someone's mind, rather than form their opinion. The performance review is too late.

Instead, consider it an information gathering exercise. Certainly discuss the details with your boss, and if any of his impressions or weightings seem off discuss why you think differently. But don't ask for any conclusions, and a raise is a conclusion.

Then, a month later, ask to see him. Now you're driving the conversation, and are much more likely to prevail. Don't worry if this isn't when annual raises are decided, those are for the "company driven" adjustment to your income. The "employee driven" ones come at any other time.

Good luck, and let us know how it works out!

The annual review isn't a discussion, it's where your boss has decided what to write in your review and tells you about it. At that point, you need to change someone's mind, rather than form their opinion. The performance review is too late.

Wow, this is incredible advice. I think many of us (myself certainly included) make the mistake of conflating "time to hear about performance" with "time to hype my own performance". Thank you; my annual review is coming up at well, and this instantly transformed and matured my understanding of all the moving pieces.

Glad it helped. One tweak: you should definitely discuss anything that seems out of place. If you did something great that seems to not be mentioned, or your boss considers it minor, look genuinely puzzled (because you are) and say "huh, I thought I did a really great job on X, and it was really important. Did I not do a good job? Was it not important?" Something like that. Again, you're information gathering, and trying to shift your boss's opinion by discussing the difference between your impression and your boss's. At this point, you're not trying to affect the overall summary.

Thank you both for the additional insightful comments.

In my case, we were told the topic of salary adjustments will be discussed (so I suppose it will be more of a combination performance/salary review). So I should probably be prepared for a bit of negotiating.

Then, a month later, ask to see him. Now you're driving the conversation, and are much more likely to prevail. Don't worry if this isn't when annual raises are decided, those are for the "company driven" adjustment to your income. The "employee driven" ones come at any other time.

The distinction between "company driven" and "employee driven" adjustments is certainly important. However, given the company's reality, and my understanding of that reality, I'm not sure it's reasonable to have an "employee driven" discussion only a month after the "company driven" one. I'll have to give this more thought in the coming week as I attempt to formulate a strategy...

This is not just a good idea for how to present yourself to your boss a raise. This is also a good idea for how to present yourself to another job in a resume. For example it is what I tried to do with http://elem.com/~btilly/BenTilly.pdf.

Here is my honest first impression. I'm not trying to be complete or imply that these are my only issues. It's just a sampling of thoughts I had.

The typeface with its wispy horizontal strokes is murder to my eyes. It's an extremely poor choice for on-screen legibility with such a text-heavy resume.

Wall-of-text syndrome, compounded by poor typeface legibility and total document length.

Who is your audience? As an engineer, my overall sense is that I wouldn't hire you for a very technical role. If that is a correct assessment of your skills or if your intended audience isn't engineers then that's okay.

One thing I noticed was your bullet point on fixing a cron job. You stumbled upon a bug with, as it turns out, important ramifications. The way it's written makes it seem like you're trying to bullshit non-technical people into thinking this was a technically impressive feat rather than a stroke of luck. I get you're trying to make a case for your value to the business, but I frankly find it odd.

You might want to proof-read it better. As a random example, "document how everything service worked" clearly has something missing.

Thank you for your feedback. I'll clearly have to do yet another proof-reading pass.

My intended audience is the manager, and people higher up in the company. If I get to an interview with an engineer, I'll have plenty of chances to prove my technical chops. But to get there I need to impress people higher up. And the way that I aim to do it is to convince them that I both have technical skills, and understand what provides value to the business.

Note that since switching to that resume format, I've been offered substantially better jobs. (And I've landed another good one.)

> Note that since switching to that resume format, I've been offered substantially better jobs. (And I've landed another good one.)


The format's appeal to business-minded folks with no technical background is clear. Everywhere I have worked and would want to work, hiring decisions have been made by technical people, so this is never something I have had to worry about. I can see how the dynamics would differ elsewhere in the industry.

The general lesson is to think about your audience. Another reply to your post suggested you should have a scannable list of technology buzzwords to pass HR screening. That might be good advice most of the time but bad advice if you're submitting your resume by an inside track that goes directly to the hiring manager. If you were submitting your resume to a company whose culture is engineering oriented from top to bottom, you'd want to put a different emphasis on things, and so on.

Best of all, of course, is to have your reputation precede you so that the resume is nothing more than a reminder and a set of talking points for the interview. I've been getting used to that with my last few jobs. Unfortunately, right now I'm in the midst of applying for an O-1 visa, so I've had to minutely enumerate my technical accomplishments, explicate their business relevance, and just hoot my own horn endlessly for the benefit of visa examiners who are industry outsiders and understandably cannot read between the lines. The level of documentation and the burden of evidence is immense: 180 pages and counting.

My expectation is that the final decision will be made by technical people. However to get there I have to get through non-technical people first, and then the salary and position negotiation again is likely to involve non-technical people.

As for companies that are engineering oriented from top to bottom, I did get hired by Google. You don't get much more engineering oriented than that!

> As for companies that are engineering oriented from top to bottom, I did get hired by Google. You don't get much more engineering oriented than that!

Do you think your more business-oriented format helped or hurt? What business people would your resume have to pass through at Google before getting into the hands of technical decision-makers?

I've worked at another large company with an engineering culture (NVIDIA). There I was referred by a personal acquaintance who was already on the team. But if I had applied for the same position through their website, the only other handling of my resume would have been by HR staff. All they do is play buzzword bingo; an unfamiliar resume format would probably subtract points with them, if anything.

While you are at it, want to critique mine? http://ronnie.me

I can :)...

Your resume usually serves two different audiences — the screener, and the person interviewing you. You should optimize for both audiences, and possibly work on breaking up "Skills" a bit. Your resume should be scannable, and most of the English before the important info can probably be dropped:

Developing applications leveraging Parsing, querying, scraping, and transforming Object-Oriented Programming with Worked with and developed for

You're mixing technologies with programming languages with disciplines with applications. I prefer just seeing:

Programming languages (fluent): C#, Java, and VB.NET Programming languages (studied): C, C++, VBA, VB6, classic ASP Disciplines: Database administration, GIS programming, unit testing, mobile development IDEs: Eclipse, Visual Studios

I might just drop things like Eclipse, Firebug.


Re: experience. In general you want to highlight the things that are different. In particular seeing "VB.NET Programmer" and "C# Programmer" over and over isn't illuminating. I want to know the places you've worked, so swap the company and position, and put the company and bold. You're working at Amazon which looks fantastic. So that should stand out.

Similarly in your projects, "URL:" is redundant and not the piece of data that's changing. Drop it and put the project names in bold instead.

Formatting things:

In education, the list of classes don't need to be on separate lines.

The choice of green checkmarks is a little strange. Simple dots might work better.

The blue subheadings don't line up with the text, which is distracting.

Are you copyrighting your design or the resume? Either way it seems unnecessary.

Thanks! I believe you are spot on with your review. I'll address them as soon as I can.

You are right, some of it is repeated. I did this mainly for SEO reasons, which has worked wonders by the way (Amazon and Microsoft both found me through my website, among others).

I think the resume is too long. Looks like a giant multi page block of text. Sorry but maybe knowing that'll help you at some point.

3 pages is not at all unreasonable for an experienced worker. 1 page resumes are for entry level positions. I want to actually have a reasonable idea of what a person has done, and a couple sentences per job just doesn't cut it.

(That said, I've also been confronted with a couple 15-20 page resumes recently. Don't do that. Seriously, it's not a biography. If you want to reference some separate case studies, that's fine, but your resume is not the place for it.)

I'm sorry for starting an interesting thread, and then not being available to continue it. But FYI in interviews since switching to this format I've found during the interview that CTO/CEO types at the place I'm interviewing have actually read the entire thing. Then followed off and read stuff linked from there (for instance the A/B testing presentation).

Seems like very good advice to get a raise. Please don't take it too far, though: Always going for the high-visibility stuff can be quite annoying to your co-workers.

At my former job, I asked for a salary based on a statistic on programmer salaries. I was certain not to be underpaid, as well as never getting an astronomical salary. It was totally worth it to me. It meant spending time on the things I though were right, and not worrying about how it would look to management. YMMV

lionhearted, which books would you suggest to get better at negotiation?

My favorite is "Crucial Conversations" -


Then I've read like 10 more and they all kind of blend together... I'd recommend getting at least 4-5 that are rated highly on Amazon, just to give you some different perspectives.

For instance, there's a long running debate on whether it's better to make the first offer or not when negotiating. The "offer first" crowd says you get to set the general scope of negotiation. The "let them offer first" crowd says that their first offer becomes the absolute worst you could get, and you might do better... and they might well offer more than you were going to ask for.

You want to read at least a few different books, because one might take a dogmatic hardline stance "never offer first!" - which is clearly wrong some of the time. Good to hear different perspectives.

If I remember correctly, Roger Dawson's "Power Negotiation" was also good.


After that, they all kind of blur together in my memory... but really, it's a topic with massive ROI for anyone that touches money ever. You're not going to go wrong dropping 15 bucks and 5 hours fast-reading a book on negotiation. One good insight once pays for that many times over.

I would recommend

- Bargaining for Advantages: http://www.amazon.com/Bargaining-Advantage-Negotiation-Strat...

The very best negotiations book I have ever read.

Further, you should check-out the Harvard Negotiation Project: http://www.pon.harvard.edu/category/research_projects/harvar...

They do have nice and free reports on the different aspects of negotiations.

Let me know if you need further pointers!

Getting to Yes - Fisher and Ury

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - Cialdini

How to Win Friends & Influence People - Carnegie

There's also a new book out by a Wharton professor called "Getting More" which is based on a class he's taught for many years. Less theory, more practice. There are literally hundreds of negotiation anecdotes in here, from getting a child to take a shot, to getting a raise to winning a government grant. Really good stuff.

Practice/Trial and error :-)

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