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Background

I'm seventeen years old and I taught myself web design and development throughout the course of my junior year in high school. As my senior year approached, I decided I was done with sitting in a classroom and wasting my potential. I dropped live classes to enter the work world while still pursuing a diploma online.

My initial plan was to freelance, but I still got in contact with a few companies looking to hire a web developer in an office setting. One thing led to another and I eventually ended up interviewing with the company. The next day I heard back from the company and wanted to hire me. The only catch was that the pay was definitely in the bottom 10% of all individuals with my skill-set and job title.

I didn't make too much of a fuss about the pay. I was ecstatic, my parents were ecstatic for me (prior to this they never saw much value in web design and didn't understand why someone would actually pay money for it), and the job was advertised as having many opportunities for growth and constant evaluation for bonuses and increased pay.

Now

It has been six months and I am settled in nicely to my new job. While I came into the position with no résumé, experience, or contacts, I have proven to the owners that I am fully capable of my position and I excel at what I am tasked to do. I work with events managers of fortune 100 and 500 companies on a daily basis, something that I'm sure the owners were initially uneasy about. All in all, all is well.

The Dilemma

I need a fairly substantial raise. My parents have serious financial issues and are selling our home here in Las Vegas (where the company is based). I will be eighteen at the end of January. While my parents will be moving back to Arizona, I can stay here by myself, but it's not even feasible with the hourly wage I'm working for right now. It's time to ask for a raise and explain the situation.

The Coincidence

The bosses set up a meeting for me to have with them today to discuss my roles and responsibilities in the company. I know, in the bottom of my heart, that they will be offering me a raise today. My only concern is that the raise will be an extra 1 or 2 dollars an hour, whereas I really need to break the news to them now that I need a raise of closer to 4 or 5 dollars an hour.

Do I wait for them to offer me a raise and then counter it with my issue and chalk it up to coincidence? Would it be rude of me to take the offer that they are giving up purely out of good will and counter it like that? Should I bring up my issue in the meeting before they even start discussing the money? Should I wait a week from now to bring it up?

This is my first job and I have no experience in this kind of setting. My parents have worked in the food industry their whole lives, and they have explained to me that they don't really have any experience to draw on either. Any thoughts/comments are much appreciated!

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Just FYI, I have known of an intern with no experience and a single college-level CS course completed getting $16/hour. –  kevin cline Jan 14 at 17:26
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Then you are seriously underpaid. You need to send out feelers to other potential employers and find out what you are worth. Then think about trying to get a degree one way or another. Maybe start by attending a community college part-time. –  kevin cline Jan 14 at 17:50
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@kevincline - He may be underpaid but that does not mean that the company is willing to pay him more. The company made 4.5 million by finding people willing to work far below market rate. Why would they pay more when they can just replace him with someone else. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jan 14 at 19:59
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For anyone who is curious, I just had my meeting and they offered me a 20% increase in salary without me having to say a word. Thanks for all of the comments though! –  user13267 Jan 14 at 23:00
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@user13267: 20% on top of less than $16/hour is at most $3/hour. I thought you needed a minimum of $4/hour. –  kevin cline Jan 15 at 6:58

8 Answers 8

In most negotiations, your strongest position is to know as much as you can about the market and your alternate options. That includes alternate web development work - either in full time employment or free lancing. As well as other jobs with other pay that may not be what you want, but may pay more.

Note that this doesn't mean "for all candidates" or "for the average candidate" - this you, your credentials, your capabilities, your ability to interview and land a job. In this case, it's a question of what you can market yourself for.

Knowing your options lets you figure out how far you want to push and what you want to present.

Speaking as a boss, my general expectation at the 6 month review is to give a good employee a solid review of their work, but even if the employee was grotesquely underpaid, it would be unlikely that I'd be proposing a raise in salary, unless we had started the employee sign on agreement with a promise of something like that. Normally I'd advise against negotiation at the 6 month point, because in most cases it seems as if you didn't really do a good job of negotiating and selling yourself 6 months ago.

The difference here is where a lack of a bare minimum salary will dictate whether or not you can remain employed at the company - if you can't cover your part of rent and meals in your area, you can't loose money just to stay at this job. That is a thing your boss should know.

In this day and age, the reasons "why" you need a raise are not particularly important to most employers (there are exceptions) - the current market is not one based on loyalty - not either direction. Employers will lay off employees regardless of life situations, and employees will leave employers even in the midst of a business crisis. So going into particular details about the situation at hand is likely not relevant or expected.

I would address it from the standpoint of "how can I position myself to take home more money?" and not necessarily "can I have a bigger raise?". A really smart boss can help you work out a situation that is fair on both sides. For example, with development work, there is often a point at which developers go on salary instead of hourly. It may actually be in your financial favor to take on overtime rather than bumping up into a salary range where you have a fixed weekly income - with overtime pay, the increase in $ per hour may actually put you higher than the low end of the salary range.

If getting work done faster is a value add for the company, this can be a win-win.

It also lets the boss figure out his own tradeoffs - he may feel like a bigger promotion is a great idea and go for it, but he may feel that early promotion of a candidate with fewer credentials so early in their first job is not a great precedent for the whole team - in which case, he may still be able to get you what you need in a way that fits company guidelines.

In teams I've led, it has been fairly common that some folks will happily trade time for money (overtime) while others really want more time for their personal lives. So knowing who's who in these to categories can really help the manager figure out how to make the most people satisfied.

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This answer is a great example of all the things that a boss will say to try and justify not giving you a raise! –  jwg Jan 14 at 23:16

The bosses set up a meeting for me to have with them today to discuss my roles and responsibilities in the company. I know, in the bottom of my heart, that they will be offering me a raise today. My only concern is that the raise will be an extra 1 or 2 dollars an hour, whereas I really need to break the news to them now that I need a raise of closer to 4 or 5 dollars an hour.

Do I wait for them to offer me a raise and then counter it with my issue and chalk it up to coincidence?

Since your meeting is today, there isn't much chance for you to approach them before their planned meeting. That's unfortunate.

You should probably wait until you hear what they have to say before you attempt some sort of counter-offer. Otherwise, your counter-proposal might not make sense.

Would it be rude of me to take the offer that they are giving up purely out of good will and counter it like that?

It's not rude if you phrase it properly.

Something like "Thank you very much, I really need and appreciate the raise! I've learned a lot and grown a lot while working here. But I'm in a bit of a dilemma. Let me explain..." Then explain your new circumstances, and why you feel you need more (if in fact this is a real need - you won't know for sure until you hear their proposal).

Overall, you need to think about what you will do based on their response to your proposal.

Do you have any leverage? Are you actually in a position to quit over an insufficient raise? \Why do you think they are underpaying you? If they can afford it, as you seem to believe, why aren't they giving you more? (They might be trying to encourage you to do something that you aren't yet doing, for example - you might want to learn what that is.)

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Good advice all around. A few things to add: 1) Be wary of "Online" diplomas, specifically "Tier 2" diplomas. Accredited colleges and the military do not recognize them, and see them as "lower" than a GED. Be sure you are getting a Tier 1 diploma. 2) Ask them if you can take on any additional responsibilities to justify the pay. Likely you're already a great bargain for them, but it shows you are negotiating in good faith and are respectful of their position, too. –  Wesley Long Jan 15 at 18:20

Something the other answers have missed is that without a raise, you're leaving anyway. Since this is the case, you are in a win-win situation.

Whether they offer you a raise or not, you still need to be in a position to support yourself if your parents move to Arizona.

If they DO offer you a pay rise, and it's within the range you have calculated to be "enough" to live on, then I would suggest that at this point, don't negotiate any further. Do however tell them of your situation. Moving out and living on your own can bring its own hassles, and it may be good if they are aware of this.

If they DON'T offer you a pay rise, then you can't lose. Explain your situation, explain that you don't want to leave, but your position is out of your control and see what they say. From some perspectives they shouldn't take your personal circumstances into account (since they're capital-owners interested only in profit). On the other hand, they have invested in you. They have an employee they presumably like, trust and respect. They may be willing to bend a little more than they normally would to keep you.

And remember, in the worst case, you now have something to put on your resume, and a reference to back it up. There will always be more jobs, and it sounds like you're doing pretty well with your career. If you have to move, try to think of it as an opportunity, not a disaster...

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It's less that he was in a "win-win" situation, and more that he was in a "can't lose" situation. –  CorayThan Jan 14 at 23:13

The short answer is no, you can negotiate a raise and still be professional.

The long answer is be very careful.

First, by choosing to negotiate at the point where your employer is offering a raise you run a real risk of sounding ungrateful (they are voluntarily offering to pay you more money). And you have only been there six months, for that matter they brought you on at risk with no proven skills and helped train you. Given that you could easily come off as arrogant... as well as ungrateful (they hired you without even a High School Diploma).

Second, you have not had the meeting yet. I do not know if your employers have scheduled performance reviews with this being your first, or if they do their reviews based on their perception of need (I.E. noticing good/bad performance, or needing someone to fill an unmet need). Your perception is that you have been performing well, and you are a better judge of that than I, but there is a difference between a good performance review and a raise. Also, for all you know they may offer exactly what you want, or close enough.

Third, you do not have a college degree. It may be harsh to point out, but depending on the company it is a serious glass ceiling. Where I work I know people with 10+ years experience programming who make less than and are hierarchically more junior than someone fresh out of college.

Finally, it takes a lot more money than you would think to operate a technology company (or any company for that matter). And they probably plan on reinvesting in their own growth. Just because you know the company netted what we would call a large profit, does not mean they are comfortable (and I would give a pretty penny to find out why they are so lax with their numbers).

That being said, it sounds like you may well be right about being offered a raise. I would listen carefully when talking to upper management, think before you say anything, and say it politely.


Things to listen for:

What their perception of your development is.

How likely they are to be swayed by sharing the personal reasons (some people would be more receptive to working with you, and some less).

What their plan is for how you will fit their needs going forward.

How they are interested in growing their business.

How the business is doing... And how it is really doing.


I will share my experiences just starting out. I was hired into a software development position with a double major in mathematics and physics, I had little formal schooling in programming but had taken a couple classes and wrote programs to assist my research. I was introduced to the largest and most complicated program I had ever seen by far, we were subcontracting a software project, and were in the beta version, where we would have continuous communication with our customer on how to meet their needs. I worked up through code review to writing unit tests, and then finally made the jump to writing logic for merging/displaying data. The company was small, I would routinely brief the CEO on progress before meeting with the customer. I also developed to the point where I could have direct communication with the customer when they had a feature/fix to implement. At six months we had a routine performance review, he stated that he expected me to not be able to contribute for six months to a year and I had blown away his expectation in every way. I had been paid on the lower end for college graduates (I did negotiate upwards from his starting offer to match another position I was interviewing for), and was offered a raise that was substantial (approx. 33%). In addition the CEO said that he felt that my skills in areas other than programming were where he wanted to grow the company, and that those had been the reason he had hired someone who was not as strong with programming.

This experience are not even a little commonplace though, so take it with a grain of salt.

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This is a great first answer for here. Welcome to the Workplace! –  enderland Jan 14 at 22:26

You can always negotiate.

However, you don't negotiate out of what you need, because that doesn't matter to them, nor should it. You negotiate out of what you bring to the table and the benefit you provide to them. And that is someone with 6 months of experience and not even a high school diploma. You've provided some benefit to them, but the bottom 10% of pay for that type of job still sounds pretty reasonable. So, without education or experience, you'll need to negotiate with other benefits you provide. Figure them out, figure out how that really benefits the company, and whether the return on investment is worth what you're asking. Adjust your request to show why you're worth what you're asking and they will get back more on that amount than what they are paying.

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Negotiating from the position of what you need can be a really strong position: Whatever comes up, you have the knowledge that unless you can secure your 'threshold' rate, you have to quit and move (notwithstanding you don't want to do that). As other people have said - it's a 'can't lose' negotiation for you. –  Beejamin Jan 15 at 11:53
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Sure, it's a strong position for you, because you know your line. But it has nothing at all to do with the job, what the business can pay, or what you are worth. –  thursdaysgeek Jan 15 at 16:26

Do you enjoy your job with them? A business relationship is just that - a business relationship. You both have needs the other can meet. If, however, your situation changes and you like the job then it's time to negotiate with them.

"I really enjoy working here, and feel I've grown significantly. I'm unfortunately in the position where I have to have a significant raise, or look for another job, due to a change in living circumstances*. I'd rather stay here and work with you, but for that to be feasible I need a raise of $x dollars. I hope that you believe my work demonstrate enough value to meet this raise."

*You don't have to explain the change if you don't want to. They know they are not paying you enough to cover the cost of living, so they should be unsurprised when they find they need to.

Now you have to be ready to accept "no" for an answer. That's fine. You're in a good position to find another job, and while you will have to search them out and prove yourself, you will likely do well. Accept whatever they do offer, and immediately start looking for a new job while you continue to work for them. Give them two weeks notice when you leave, be prepared for them to suddenly be able to offer you a sufficient raise, and be ready to turn them down - if they didn't listen the first time, you don't really want to let them keep jerking you around at the last second.

Be aware that in your industry a lot of your raises, particularly in the beginning, will only be by finding and accepting new positions. You probably shouldn't be changing jobs every three months, but unless you are being paid more than you think you're worth you should put out feelers and interview for new positions every two years or so to make sure you're not underselling your services.

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To answer your question in short, no, there is nothing unprofessional in negotiating a raise. The best thing is to put forth your concerns and negotiate a better raise. If you are doing sufficiently well in your current role, and if your employer is aware of your performance, most probably you'll successfully negotiate. I would personally wait till they have offered the raise and then negotiate(assuming what they give isn't sufficient).

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It is not at all unfair to ask for a raise. Since you are capable enough and know your job well, find out what your competitors are getting. Have a fair idea about the salary of your position. In the meantime, build your skills, make yourself more marketable to your current employer as well as for future potential employers just in case things go all wrong.

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