Getting the Raise You Want

Tips for engineering a salary increase—even in the midst of recession

The last thing most IT professionals think about in the midst of a protracted economic downturn—such as the one we’re in right now—is asking for a raise. Job survival, especially with the looming threat of mass layoffs, becomes top priority.

As a result, many IT professionals these days seem content to settle for salary cuts. “We have explicitly not been given any assurance that lay-offs are over, and the next event will occur in June or July,” explains a software engineer with a telecommunications company, adding that his company has commissioned a study by third-party consultants to determine industry-standard salary averages for its IT staff. "Come June or July, they will be taking … a poll of this type, not necessarily laying people off, but possibly cutting many salaries.”

The ironic thing, some IT professionals note, is that an economic slump can actually provide a great opportunity to hit up your employer for a raise.

“Tough times for a company should yield major growth for a seasoned network professional,” notes Scott Tasem, an administrator with specialty software vendor Northlake Software Inc. of Portland, OR.

The way Tasem sees it, the thinking of an IT organization becomes all the more business value-centric during an economic downturn. As a result, IT professionals have an opportunity to demonstrate their worth by making valuable contributions to an IT organization’s cost-saving efforts. An employee instrumental in helping an IT organization cut costs has some powerful leverage with which to bargain for a raise, Tasem reasons.

“Companies are streamlining departments,” Tasem continues. “However, during this process a network professional can excel. This person can show his [or] her company how to automate processes and increase productivity.”

Michael Rucker, an IS manager with a manufacturer of electronic monitoring systems based in New Hampshire, believes that IT professionals can demonstrate their value by dealing in dollars-and-cents figures—such as return-on-investment (ROI)—that corporate bean-counters best understand.

A good start, said Rucker, is to justify the cost of your salary as a fraction of the total annual cost savings that you contribute to a company’s bottom line.

“I always had to justify my position by coming up with cost savings [that amounted to] three times my salary each year. I guess if an IT person can figure out how to save money for a company in such a fashion that he can quantify it to management, he can then use that as justification for a salary increase,” he says. “I've done this with some success over the years. You really need to have some skills at figuring out ROI on these types of projects and get upper management to buy into them.”

As far as Roger Seielstad, a long-time network administrator with an Atlanta-based asset management company, is concerned, versatility is a key to advancement in even the toughest of times. If a network professional is good at many things, Seielstad argues, she can make the case that much more effectively to management that she’s deserving of a raise – especially in the aftermath of company-wide lay-offs.

“Honestly, the best path to a raise, [in] good times or bad, is to be more valuable,” Seielstad points out. “That doesn't mean [that you’re] indispensable. That means [you] take the initiative to learn how to do something else. It’s all about adding value to your employment.”

According to Edward Ko, a network coordinator with the Pennsylvania State University, sometimes a short-term setback—such as agreeing to take a pay-cut during a bumpy economic stretch—can eventually lead to a substantial long-term raise.

“I’m not in that situation now, but with previous employers, when times were tough, you were sometimes asked to take a pay cut,” Ko confirms. “It has been my experience that when things got better again, management rewarded employees who agreed to take pay cuts with big raises.”

That’s the situation in which the software engineer introduced above now finds himself. “Considering the recent number of voluntary terminations, I do not foresee layoffs,” he comments.

About the prospect of a pay cut, however, he is more circumspect, noting that he is paid more than a former colleague who was promoted to a higher job grade and who has since been laid off. “That is a worry, but at the moment, I do not have all that many other options.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.