When Getting A 20% Raise Kind Of Sucks

Just to start things right, I haven’t gotten a 20% raise recently.  The one and only time, and the focus of this story, was in 1999 I think.

But the lesson learned is still applicable today.

My first job out of college was working in a call center.  I started at a pretty low salary, but the company I was working for had a great reputation in the IT industry, and many an IT professional used them as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

After a couple of years there, I was itching for more and ready to be one of those ‘stepping stone’ stories.  I would have stayed there, but they stopped my training path and they declined my request for anything more than a 3% raise.  So it was time to jump.

If you go back and recall, that’s right around the time when the entire Y2K thing was heating up.  Companies were basically prepared to address anything on the hardware side of thing by replacing everything.  So, it was a good time to be an expert in Windows server, desktop, and networking technology.

I interviewed around, and I happened across a very small company, just growing in that area, looking to hire their third person.  They were a company of about fifteen people, with most being on the application development side of the fence, but they wanted to grow the hardware side of the fence, so they took a look.

Being that the company was so small, I was a little leery, as I was coming from one of the biggest IT companies in the world.  Yet, the minute I sat down with the owner, I knew I had a great fit.  We clicked and the interview was more of a talk.  He was someone that really earned my respect, and he still has it today, even though I haven’t worked for him in a number of years.

When it became clear that it was a fit, we started talking salary.  He asked what I was looking for and I threw out a number that was roughly a 40% increase over what I was making.

He didn’t balk and agreed to the number.  I was ecstatic as that was a pretty huge raise.

After about a year, we sat down for lunch for my review, which was great, and at the end he handed me an envelope that included my new compensation number.  I about fell over when I saw it was 20%.

Another year passed, another lunch, another envelope, and this time it was around 15%.  I’d over doubled the salary I left my last job for within two years.

Around the time of the second salary increase, I offhandedly mentioned that I was looking to start my MBA.  I told him simply because I wanted to give him a heads up that I’d be focused on other stuff after hours (and being a small place, there were many times when we were needed after 5pm).  He offered to pick up the tuition.

At that point, I was still only around 25-26, so I didn’t see the flip side of this. While the salary increases were great and getting a free MBA where I’d been all set to pay the roughly $10k, it only took until I got a few years older to realize that I’d likely underpriced myself from the beginning.

I likely lowballed myself when I asked for the initial amount.  He knew, though, that eventually I’d learn my market value, so the initial two increases were to make sure that I was still happy, and let’s face it, three big raises (including the ‘jump’ raise I got when coming aboard) in that short of time was going to be seen as great.

Did I feel taken advantage of?

Not a single bit.

After all, I got exactly what I asked for.

By the time I got the second increase followed by the roughly $5,000 per year in MBA tuition, I was right in line with what salary comparison websites were saying was standard, so while I likely undercut myself, it was only for two years, and the gap definitely narrowed the second year.  All in all, I probably could have gotten $5,000 – $10,000 more those first two years had I gone in with a better number.

But, since I loved the work and loved who I worked for, I never have felt bad about it at all. Still, it serves a lesson to make sure you know your value going in.  I fell trap to the big increase I was getting, not really believing that I could have gotten even more had I asked.

So, while I look back at that 20% increase as the pure awesomeness that it was, a part of me looks back and realizes that a portion of that was making up the fact that I undercut my value.

What was the biggest raise you ever got?  Did you ever feel that a big raise meant that you’d been working below value prior to the raise?

 

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My Job History, Part Two: Seven Years Ago Today

If you want to read the first part of my job history, click here.  I’ll summarize briefly before moving onto part two:

From 1996 to 2005, things were pretty good.  Everything moved forward as I was an IT professional, getting my feet wet on a help desk, moving toward day to day support and implementation working for a small company, and moving to the health care arena in 2002, where I made process improvements at several regional hospitals.

In short, things were awesome.  But, seven years ago today, my world got rocked.

On March 1, 2005, for the first time in my life, I got fired.

Canned.  Let go.  Axed.

I’ll move into a little more detail about the job where it occurred.

I was hired in 2002 to take over as a technical project manager for a regional hospital who had recently outsourced all IT functions to the larger company where I was hired.  The interview went well.  I interviewed with the director of the outsourcing division.  She was nice, but very professional and I could tell, very cut-throat, as I overheard a conversation she was finishing when I walked in talking about headcount reduction and such (which could have been for my benefit, but I’m guessing probably not). We hit it off and the offer came through a few days later, and while I never reported directly to her, she was always ‘up there’ a few levels above me.

For the first couple of years, things were great.  I worked at one hospital and set a lot of great things in motion.  I improved our satisfaction scores, which was a key objective, since that was tied to our outsourced contract.  I implemented a strategy to keep all the desktop computers at the hospital current, where before they had been replaced only as they broke.  I handled the switchover of the onsite operations team which was migrated to a central facility offsite.  All in all, it was great, and our hospital, which had once been seen as lagging behind, was seen as a model hospital in many ways, so much that they asked me to go to a couple of other hospitals under the outsourcing agreement and work with them.

I did and that was a lot of fun as well.  One of the other sites was in Florida and I got to travel every week for about nine months.  After a while, they said that the travel costs were too high so they said I had a choice: I could take the position down there permanently or take a different job in the main outsourcing center as a manager.  I loved it down there but I didn’t want to be away from my family, and I was also just starting the relationship with my girlfriend at the time (now Mrs. Beagle), so I decided to stay where I was and take the manager position.

This was a completely different position with all different politics and such. Right around the time I started that new role, my new boss was brought on board as well as a couple of workers that were assigned to work under me.  The first time I met my new boss, he bragged about how good he was at what he did.  I’ve never been one to toot my own horn so when he was doing that for himself, it didn’t impress me as much as he thought it probably should.

I found out later that he had been told when he was hired that he would be able to bring on his own manager.  One person told him that and another person told me that I had the job, and my person won that battle, but it apparently led to him never really being very happy with the fact that he had someone in a position that he didn’t want.  I never knew this until months after I was let go.

I also found out later that one of the people that had been hired right before me to work on my team was someone he had been sleeping with.  Nobody really knew this because he was married at the time.  They hired in together. If you can’t tell, this guy is pretty much a sleazebucket.  Again, I didn’t know any of this, and so when I assigned some of the higher visibility projects to team members that had been there for years instead of her, I guess she didn’t like that and went over my head, and since she was sleeping with the guy she was complaining to, well, again without my knowing, I was pretty much screwed.

One of the guys on my team was working an off shift and was implementing some updates, and he did so without having gone through the formal change control process.  Of course, this brought down the server and there was an outage.  At the time, the engineers were responsible for bringing their changes forward.  They just needed management (mine) signature.  Since he never disclosed his plans to me or anybody, I never had anything to sign, but when it came time for cleaning up after the incident, my boss decided that was a good time to make it my problem.

So he pinned it on me.  Even though I never had any knowledge that my engineer was planning on doing this change, I was apparently supposed to have approved it, and that I didn’t was his excuse to fire me. Even though just six weeks prior, I had just gotten a good performance review and a 7% raise for the work I’d done at the hospital as well in my new role.

Needless to say, I was stunned.  I had no idea going in that morning that this was even a possibility.  After finding everything out about him and his ‘affair’, it made sense, but none of that was apparent.

My team members were angry when they found out what happened.  I got calls from a few of them and one of them even went so far as to take that as his cue to start looking and get out.  He’s the one that did the quiet research to find out about how my boss had been promised that he could hire his own guy, that he was sleeping with the girl on my team.  Looking back, I wonder if the guy that did the unauthorized change was directly or indirectly told to do so as a way to set me up.

I guess I’ll never know.

So that was seven years ago today.  I went in not having any idea what was going to happen.  He called me on my phone into his office and I figured we’d be talking about what had happened or some other project.  When I saw the HR person sitting in there, I knew immediately I was screwed.  Within a half hour time frame I went from sitting at my desk planning some upcoming work to driving at home with a box of my stuff next to me.

Telling my parents and my girlfriend was no small task. Talking to now-former co-workers and trying to make sense of it was just awful.  I think I panicked and started sending out job applications that afternoon, instead of actually taking time to process the situation.  Luckily, within a few days I did start getting better sense of things.

Does that one day sound bad?  It was.  Unfortunately, this was only the first day of what became a fifteen month dark period in my career.

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My Job History, Part One: The Golden Decade

Last month I wrote about the best job I never took.

I figured it might be interesting to highlight some of the various twists and turns that my career has taken.  I thought I’d start off with the time after college.

I graduated college in 1996.  My first job out of college was working at a call center for a major IT company. I did technical support, helping people with password resets, troubleshooting printer problems, and other such things.  I was the youngest person on the team, but I was noticed quickly.  I was part of a team that traveled to other parts of the country to gather information from other call centers to form better processes.  I was named team leader after a few months.

(Side note: This job was awesome for so many reasons.  The pay sucked, but it got me practical experience, plus it was pretty entry level across the board.  It makes me sad now because I’m sure that these jobs simply don’t exist today as most call center activity is overseas these days.)

The job was good.  There were metrics that needed to be improved that simply weren’t being met.  I worked on a few things, set up a simple tracking spreadsheet, and soon we were approaching and even beating the metrics.  I wasn’t the only one that made it happen, but being part of a team that made things work was great.

Within a couple of years, I was ready for more.  The company was holding back on training opportunities, and given the massive structure of the organization, I couldn’t advance as quickly as I wanted.  I wanted to be more involved in setting up systems, and was also looking for more pay.  Even though I didn’t have as much hands on experience, I was offered a job at a small company (less than 20 people) doing network, server, and desktop support.

The pay raise was for almost 50% more than what I had been making.  This seemed like a fortune to me, though I realized after a while that I probably could have asked for even more.  This was never so apparent as when the first couple of years saw raises of 15-25% each year. Still, I was happy.  I bought my first place ( a condo), and was loving life.

I learned on the fly which was really cool, and was assigned as the point person for some emerging technology that the company wanted to focus on.  Plus, it was pre-Y2K meaning everybody was pretty much replacing everything, so business was booming.  Again, I did well.  I learned a ton of new things.  I got certified in lots of technology.  One day I mentioned that I was thinking of going to get my MBA, and without even hesitating, the owner told me they’d pay (looking back, another indication that I probably was a bit underpaid *lol*).

Everything was cool.  I loved it there and stayed for four years, when the post-Y2K slowdown hurt our business, making me realize that I probably had hit my peak there.   The owner had merged with another small business owner, and their personalities completely clashed, so the atmosphere went from relaxed and happy to nervous and fearful pretty quickly.  So, it was time to move on and I did.

I interviewed and was hired to do technical project management as well as be the manager of network and desktop services for a community hospital.  I didn’t work for the hospital directly as they had outsourced their business.  This model actually appealed to me, because it meant that I could potentially have upward mobility outside of the hospital at which I was working.

Healthcare was completely new to me, and I was now involved as a manager and in making strategic decisions.  They thought I was a great fit, and I stepped in and did well.  I re-organized some of the services that the desktop team was doing to improve customer service metrics, which had been below acceptable terms.  I helped organize and lead the migration of hundreds of servers to an offsite centralized data center.  Things were good.

So good that, once things had settled in, they actually pulled me off that account and had me work at two different sites which were having some of the same problems.  In both cases, I was able to work and improve their metrics.  I was getting good raises, good recognition, and making a name for myself.

At this point, it was early 2005.  I had been in the job market for nearly ten years.  Things had been going great pretty much at every step of the way.  Over that time, I tripled my salary.  I got some great certifications.  I was doing management level work and leading teams.  I really hadn’t hit many bumps in the road.

But I was about to….

Check back over the next couple of weeks and I’ll update the second part of my job history, where bumpy is the name of the game.

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The Best Job I Never Took

When I was graduating college in 1996, I was armed with a business degree and a good deal of knowledge about computers.  Jobs were pretty plentiful at the time, so I was hoping I wouldn’t have a problem finding a job.

I knew the starting salary range that I would likely hit having seen many of the jobs out there that had come through campus interviews during our last semester.  I figured something in the $25-30k range was what I was to expect.

So, when you hear that I got a job offer for $35k for a job where I sailed through the interview process, you probably figure I took it, right?

Wrong.

And you probably think I’d lost my mind when I told you that I took a job for $27k, right?

Probably.

So, why did I turn this job down and why do I carry no regrets about doing so, even fifteen years later?

Two reasons:

  1. They offered me a job doing something that I had no experience in doing
  2. They wanted me to commit to doing this for two years.

See, the job offer I got was to be a programmer.  Although I was great with computers, knowing pretty much everything there was to know about troubleshooting, setting one up, etc., I’d never done a single bit of programming in my life.  Our college offered a couple classes, which I never took.

So, right there I knew that I didn’t have a passion for it.  Could I have developed a passion?  Maybe.  And, if the second stipulation hadn’t been in place, I very well might have tried it.

They knew that I didn’t have any programming experience.  They were fine with that.  Programmers at that time were in short supply compared to the demand.  But, they were willing to teach me.  The first month or two of my employment would be classes that would teach me some of the programming skills that they’d expect me to master.

In return for paying for those classes and for paying me for time that I would be not earning any money, they required a two year commitment.  If I left before that two years, I’d have to pay them back for the training classes that they would provide.

It was too big of a risk and I turned the job down.

Now, I never tried to do any programming, even after that.  I suspect that I wouldn’t have been very good at it.  The closest I equated programming was high school geometry.  In geometry, one of the things I hated more than anything was writing out ‘proofs’, where you had ‘the answer’ and were supposed to show how you got there.  I could do most of the proofs, but was very inefficient at them.  I would take fifteen steps to prove something that most people could do in five or six steps.  I suspect that my programming skills would have been the same.  I applaud those who are great programmers, I just don’t think I would have been one of them.

The job I took allowed me to utilize and build upon my knowledge of how computers themselves work, and even though the job I took paid less, I loved it.  I loved the people I worked with, I loved the skills and experiences I gained.  I loved that it was a stepping stone to higher paying jobs down the road.

Had I been focused only on the money, I would have taken that job in a heartbeat.

Now, this was a job that I wasn’t qualified for that I didn’t take.  In future posts, I’ll tell you about two other times when I received offers on a position that I didn’t have experience with and how they worked out.

Have you ever taken a lower paying job offer over one that paid more?  If so, what drove you to that decision?

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