My company’s small, so we laid of 5 people – a couple designers, some other folks, and 1 writer, someone we hired in May. She had a Bachelor’s and was the newest writer.
I learned the concept of last in, first to go.
The gist of it was, we hadn’t been getting a lot of contracts that we thought we would get over the summer. Due to delays on the clients’ end related to the economy, my company had to let some people go.
That experience taught me a LOT about working in the real world- how our livelihoods are so much more at the whim of companies and the greater economy.
Makes sense when the work we do is more closely tied to real life outcomes.
The rest of us remaining employees all got 3-10% pay cuts.
I got a 3% pay cut, so it didn’t change my day-to-day that much, but it brought my salary down for sure, and it was lower than what I would have liked to be making.
That and the whole concept of layoffs spooked me. 5 months into working at a job and my company has layoffs? Yikes.
Since then, things have been going really well. I Tweeted about this, but this one project I worked on (and did like 80% of the work on) ended up being really liked by our client, and it led to us getting a lot of new contracts.
I guess we had a slow start to the year, but Q4 has been WILD in terms of client work.
That was great and all, but I wanted to be paid more. I knew I was one of the employees they probably wouldn’t let go, and they needed me to make our product.
I looked around on LinkedIn Jobs, my go-to job search site, and saw that I could be making much more if I switched jobs. At least 10-15% more.
I didn’t want to ditch my company without having an honest conversation about my compensation, though.
I really, really like my company, the work I do, and all my coworkers. I feel so comfortable and challenged in just the right way at my company, and I feel genuinely engaged in the work I do.
And it makes sense why: it’s hard to get a significant raise just by asking and it’s usually much easier to get a bigger salary by switching jobs.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard and I still believe to be mostly true.
But we just let go of 5 people, 2 others resigned/quit since then, we signed like 5 contracts in a month, and we still can’t bump our salaries back up after 2 months?
I had to figure out why, and if I had a shot.
So, when our VP of operations reached out to do 1-on-1 meetings with us to check in, I thought it’d be the perfect time to ask about compensation.
I was honestly pretty nervous because I had never had such a conversation before.
During my time in academia it was pretty much impossible to ask for a raise or be considered for any extra amount of money. Like, that felt audacious.
I did as much research as I could about ways to bring up compensation, asking for a raise the right way, demonstrating all the good stuff you’ve done for the company, etc. – I think I watched like 10 YouTube videos about it!
So it was time for the call with the VP of operations. It was my first time talking with her 1-on-1, actually.
I didn’t want to start off the call just asking for a raise.
And that’s exactly what happened.
I started off subtly, saying that I’ve been really engaged with the work and was learning so much. I talked about how excited I was about that one project I did most of the work on got such great feedback from our client – to the point we signed 5+ contracts in the past month. I also said that it has been very interesting and fascinating to work directly with the CEO and the marketing person on our scientific sales videos and contracting work (I work directly with the CEO to set up new contracts as the scientific eyeballs on the projects).
I was also on a new writing project, one of the new contracts we signed, and was already preparing outlines for the client. That writing project would be pretty massive, and I said I was excited to tackle it and learn the product inside and out.
She told me that she’s heard really great things from the CEO about my sales/contracting work with him and she also shared how she was excited about all our new contracts, too.
That made me feel confident to go in for the kill!
She then asked if I had any questions, because if not, I could just go back to work.
I said I wanted to talk about my compensation.
I said that with the pay cuts, I was feeling undervalued, and that I couldn’t deny it was tempting to see what else was out there because I knew with my skills and experience, I could find much higher compensation if I were to change jobs.
I also said that I believe I’ve brought tremendous value to the company in the 6 months I’d been there, feel extremely engaged in the work I do (I know I keep saying that) and I wanted to bring this up to see what can be done because I truly value my relationship with the company.
Well, she definitely looked alarmed.
In that conversation, she didn’t promise me a raise right there on the spot, and said the company doesn’t have any money for that, but did say that she’ll talk with the CEO about it and see what they could do. She said she understands where I’m coming from, and that she’d follow up in a week.
Then, I got COVID, so I couldn’t really couldn’t meet with her a week later.
But once I was back, she scheduled a meeting with me and we met again. That was a short call to go over the stuff I missed while I was gone, but also to talk about my compensation.
She told me that she and the CEO talked, and that they’d bring my compensation back up by 3% so that it’d be back to where it was before the layoffs and pay cuts.
She also said that my company reviews salaries and makes all the adjustments at the end of January, so I’d have a chance to speak with the organization again at that point to make further inquiries.
She also heavily emphasized the fact that our company would be giving us 13 days off at the end of the year and into January, which was cool, but it felt like something she was trying to tack on to make my “raise” look better than it actually was.
I thought that was nice, but I was definitely hoping for more – because essentially I was back to square one. My initial salary was simply reinstated.
I thanked her and graciously ended the meeting.
Was that all I was going to get for now, until January? Did I want to stick around?
I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t have to think about it for long.
The next day, the CEO emailed me asking if I had time to meet.
I was a bit surprised, but I had already met with him numerous times 1-on-1 for my scientific input on project contracts and also for the sales videos I was making.
I told him I was free and we got on a call.
We talked about some random stuff at the beginning, like having COVID and about the holidays coming up. He also emphasized the fact that we were getting 13 days off at the end of the year.
He then said he wanted to talk about my compensation.
He said he really doesn’t want to lose me, and that he’s going to raise my salary by 20% more. He said he didn’t want to wait until the January salary reviews to do so, and he didn’t want to risk me leaving before then.
I was floored. The new salary was honestly more than I could have imagined making fresh out of my Ph.D., that was for sure. It was even higher than what I imagined I’d be making had I switched jobs. It definitely surpassed my expectations.
I was pretty shocked so all I could do in that moment was to thank him for the raise and reiterate what I said to the VP of operations, that I feel super committed to the work I do.
It was honestly such a bizarre call but he followed it up with an official email. Starting with my paycheck in mid-November, my new salary would kick in.
I have a few takeaways from this whole experience.
One, my company was probably able to pay me more this whole time.
It also made me wonder how many others at my company are still being underpaid or at the pay cut level.
I also think they gave me the raise they were roughly planning on giving me in January, plus maybe some extra, just to make sure I stuck around.
Well, it worked because I’m not considering leaving now.
I know this type of thing doesn’t happen often, but the biggest lessons I learned from this situation were:
- To be confident in my value/contributions: I knew what I brought and had contributed to the company was valuable and I was able to quantitatively list them.
- That I need to advocate for myself, no one else will: If I hadn’t brought up the raise conversation, I’d still be at the pay cut salary.
- To not let an opportunity go to waste: I asked about a raise during a good time for the company/when they really needed me because of all our new contracts.
I understand that things were well-set up for my success.
So, I’m glad I recognized that and went for it, because it was 100% worth it.
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