Last week, I received an e-mail from a junior staffer that concerned me. You see, the girl had been working as a staff assistant in a Hill office for $27k per year. When the junior legislative assistant/legislative correspondent above her quit unexpectedly, the chief of staff assigned all of the former employee’s duties to the staff assistant “temporarily.”
Three months later, the chief informed our staff assistant that he would be promoting her to the higher position and promoting the current intern to staff assistant. The former staff assistant’s new salary? $30k. Her predecessor’s starting salary as found on Legistorm? $33k.
So she asked me, “When is a good time to ask for a raise to the higher salary?”
First off, if your supervisor ever asks you to take on a significant number of new responsibilities, even temporarily, you need to be compensated accordingly. Never accept significantly more work without a bump in pay or benefits, even if the work and the bump will only be temporary. (This advice does not apply to a one-time, short-lived project. Projects are opportunities to prove your value so that you can build your reputation and experience and parlay that into a raise or promotion later.)
Some of you will say, “But Belle, by taking on the work without asking for compensation, and proving she could handle the responsibility, the SA showed that she was a “team player,”virtually guaranteeing that she’d get the promotion.”
To that, I say, “Bullsh*t.” The only thing the SA told her Boss by accepting more work for no compensation was that she was willing to take less than she deserved. And what if she hadn’t gotten that promotion, then where would she be? Stuck at the SA level with no immediate hope of advancement, after three months of wasted effort for which she received no compensation. I’ve seen it happen.
So, if your Boss ever asks you to take on more responsibility, even temporarily, you need to ask for more some kind of compensation. Maybe it’s a boost in your salary, or a boost in benefits, or a few extra vacation days, but you need to get something extra for the extra work that you’re doing. And if your Boss is insistent that the work is just temporary, ask him/her to put a clock on it.
For example, if you do the job for 30 days and they haven’t hired anyone, you will automatically get the promotion and the full higher salary. There is no reason why your Boss shouldn’t be able to find someone in a month to six weeks, and if you do the job well during that time, maybe the Boss will feel like he or she doesn’t need to go looking for a replacement. If they do hire someone else by the end of the trial period, keep doing your job at a high level and add all the new skills that you learned during that time period to your resume. Then, ask your Boss why you weren’t given the promotion. If you don’t like the answer, start looking for work elsewhere. Because it’s unlikely that someone who would pass you over once, will give you a boost later on.
Secondly, on the topic of salary, sometimes when a Boss gives you a promotion and says your salary will be X, you feel so grateful for the bump, that you don’t ever stop to wonder if the increase is fair. This is a mistake that I made in my younger years, and I will never make it again.
With the wealth of information available to Hill staffers about what the other people in their office earn, there is no reason why you shouldn’t know what the people immediately above you are making. So that if/when you are offered a promotion, you know what the appropriate salary is. (You should always factor in experience level and education, when determining fair compensation. So make sure you know where your predecessor started salary-wise and what his/her experience/education level was at the time.)
Clearly, the office felt that previous employee (who had no more experience than our SA, I checked) was worth $33k starting salary. That means that our SA should have immediately countered her $30k offer with the higher number, respectfully explaining that she had already proven that she could do the job and was worth more. By initially accepting the $30k offer, the SA, once again, told her Boss that she was willing to work for less, which will make it harder for her to get a raise in the future.
Every time you discuss salary with your Boss, be prepared to negotiate. Know what the previous employee was making and how his/her experience compared to yours. Know what other staffers in similar offices are making. And let that knowledge inform your position in the negotiation. Clearly, the LC/LA job was a $33k per year job, and our SA should not have simply accepted the new responsibilities and the lower salary without a fight.
The truth is, most women don’t like conflict. Even I, as opinionated as I am, hate it. It makes me anxious. But when you’re talking about standing up for what you’re worth in a professional setting, you need to get over it.
If you know that a job pays a certain wage, and you’re offered less than that wage, it’s time for an informed and respectful negotiation. Supervisors usually anticipate that their first offer will be rejected, so they low ball you most of the time. If you take the lower offer, you’re telling them that you don’t know what the job or you are worth. Never give your supervisor the impression that you are willing to work for less, or the Boss will come to expect that in the future and you’ll never reach your desired/earned compensation level. Set the tone early in your career, and it will be easier in the future.