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I have very little experience in asking for pay rises. On the whole I have either been with employers that offered regular raises to their staff, or have left companies that were unable to provide raises due to financial difficulties. My current employer is in neither situation but they have not given me a raise in three years.

It's hard to judge, but market rates suggest I am marginally underpaid. Recently I was approached by an old colleague, who offered me what was, on paper, a 10% raise. This would have been nullified by the fact his company was new and offered no perks or benefits whatsoever, so I turned it down. But other opportunities I've seen suggest that I could earn more.

Right now, I feel like I'm in an extremely powerful negotiating position. I have a "bus factor" of one: there is business critical knowledge in my posession which no-one else has. My company is about to undergo a merger due to an acquisition and my counterpart in the other company is about to leave and will not be replaced. So, amazingly, that unique knowledge will then be business critical to an even larger company. Essentially I wrote an internal software product which is used throughought the company, is largely undocumented, and written on a technology stack no-one else has experience with.

In defence of my employer, I do have a three month notice period. So if I were to leave, there would be a made scramble to find someone to replace me ASAP so I could do a handover. It's also worth mentioning that the "direct value" I bring to the business in terms of income is hard to quantify, and I have no big wins I can leverage to demonstrate my value.

The trouble is that although I have a strong hand to play, I have no idea how to play it. I don't know how aggressive I can or should be in demanding a raise or threatening to leave. There's plenty of other work in my area if I did walk away, but I don't really want to: I like it here, the work is interesting and not unduly onerous.

I'm going to talk to my line manager about this soon, and I don't know how hard to push it, or how to phrase my requests without seeming arrogant. I don't want to be seen as being a flight risk. I don't want a promotion - just a cost of living-type increase. There is a lot of other stuff going on right now with this merger but I don't want to be made to wait. I don't even know whether to mention that I've been approached and offered a higher salary (my current employer doesn't need to know it was level-pegging after beneifts, obviously).

How tough do I play this?

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I read something that worried me in your post:

I wrote an internal software product which is used throughout the company, is largely undocumented, and written on a technology stack no-one else has experience with.

To be really honest with you (and as a somewhat experienced developer), saying that a software product I developed is not documented is something I would not use as a leverage point whatsoever.

In fact, documentation is of paramount importance for the software product to be really useful and profitable, and is something that should always be done during and after the process of developing a piece of software.

So regarding your question:

How tough do I play this?

I would not (at least not with those "cards"), for the reasons stated above, as it could definitely backfire on you if you try to use the lack of documentation as something positive. It really sounds like a threat, like saying "hey, let's renegotiate my contract or I'll leave you with an undocumented monster critical for your business". Not something your boss will be happy to hear.

Now, if you want to negotiate a raise or similar, you can start by approaching your boss and asking him about the changes in responsibilities and tasks that will come from this merger. There you will probably see if and how the software you developed will play an important role and shed some light on other ideas for leverage that are not so risky. After that, if you see it fit, you can present the idea of a raise to your boss.

As a suggestion, I would consider doing the documentation of the piece of software, so you deliver a higher-quality job (giving you a better leverage than you had before). Also remember: everyone is expendable. This I think is true to most (if not all) companies I've been to. You may think the un-documentation is a leverage point, but nothing prevents your boss from having you document the program in those 3 months notice that you have to give. Again, be careful with this, hope you can work it out for good.

  • Thanks for the suggestion. It is worth mentioning that I have documented this software documented from a user and an audit perspective - but the technical documentation is thin. – Bob Tway Sep 28 '17 at 16:24
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    Still something I would not use as leverage, as you are basically giving them a really nice black box. Now, do try to talk to him about what this merge means, so you can have more solid arguments to negotiate your raise. – DarkCygnus Sep 28 '17 at 16:27
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    Of course: it's still sound advice, I was just trying to excuse my shortcomings :) – Bob Tway Sep 28 '17 at 16:30
  • The very reason why I didn't +1 the OP. Everyone is replacable, it's just a matter of cost. And lack of documentation is really not a good argument. – gazzz0x2z Sep 29 '17 at 7:46
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First, I'll echo some other advice in comments and ask you not to make it an ultimatum or a threat; that tends to get people's backs up and can make them actively want to thwart you. The very fact that you'll be asking for a raise carries the understood message that you're discontented. You don't need to trumpet it.

As to approach... Remember that from boss' point of view, if you say "I deserve a raise", the first instinct is to ask "Well whyever for?" So ... your job is to tell him! That is...

  • Find out what industry salaries are for people with your general skillset and amount of experience. Don't just go off what one guy told you. Look at glassdoor. Ask your friendly neighborhood recruiter... this person will know what people are getting paid. Look at local job listings.

  • Think about where you have gone above and beyond. What initiatives have you pushed, or originated? What do you do which isn't in the formal scope of your job description? Your work on "that system" may fit here, but for God's sake don't point out how undocumented it is -- that's embarrassing. In fact, you should be driving an initiative to get it documented. That is how you show value.

  • Determine the dollar amount or percentage that you want to ask for. This is important.

Okay ... do this analysis and then ask yourself the question: do YOU still think you deserve that raise? If so, meet with manager and lay out your case. If you're just pulling tickets and checking them off, 9-to-5/40, it's the wrong time.

Now when you talk to him, tell him you believe you deserve a raise "and here's why". Then lay out the analysis you did above. When you wrap up, use inclusive language, e.g., "Work with me [boss name]; what can we do?"

You'll find out almost immediately if boss agrees with your pitch that you deserve a raise.

If he doesn't... Don't get mad, don't make threats. Instead, ask him to work with you. Ask him what is holding you back from that next level. Can the two of you make a plan to address the gaps? Depending on boss' attitude, you either have a go-forward plan, or you know it's time to start looking for a new job.

If he does accept your argument ... it's not certain that he can get you that raise. Some companies only do raises at certain times, or have policies that your direct mgr can't overturn. Find out. Be prepared for him to tell you to wait while he finds out -- he might not have all the info at his disposal immediately. If he demurs, ask him when should you two get back together to talk about it again. Reminder -- boss is your ally here.

During the next meeting, be prepared for a counter. Maybe "wait till March". Maybe an offer of less. Maybe an offer of special training. Think it through carefully.

Some final thoughts:

  • If company is about to go through a merger, it might be very hard to get any kind of adjustment. I've been through a lot of mergers and expenditure lockdowns are common during the pre- and near post-merger periods.

  • Get that darn application documented already. I don't even work there, and it's bugging the heck outta me.

  • Good luck!

  • You don't deserve the raise. It's just that the value of dollars has decreased relative to the value of your time. – emory Sep 29 '17 at 9:48
  • @emory don't be so sure ... that's why OP needs to run his analysis. Could be he is underpaid in terms of industry comparison, or he brings special value to the company. I've asked for raise before, both successfully and not. I'll go so far as to say that by definition you deserve the raise if you convince your company to cough it up. And if they say no, clearly they are just failing to see reality. ;D Anyway, I'm not considering COL increases or inflation here, that's a question for another day. – akaioi Sep 29 '17 at 14:56
  • I don't think "deserves" is relevant. If you have the power to demand a raise then you should do so whether you deserve it or not. Conversely if you don't have that power then no matter how much you deserve one, you are not going to get it. – emory Sep 29 '17 at 16:25
  • @emory hmm ... "power" is a slippery term here. Ones power in a negotiation of this sort represents an amalgam of your value (present and future) to the company, their fear of your leaving, and the salary structure of the company. Don't forget that companies are run by human beings. If mgr feels he's being railroaded or extorted, he'll likely get mulish. Far better to make the case that a raise in both parties' interest. That's where "deserve" comes in. – akaioi Sep 29 '17 at 16:50
  • Power is simply BATNA. If your BATNA is spending more time with the grandkids with no slips in lifestyle then maybe there won't be a negotiated agreement. – emory Sep 29 '17 at 18:09

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