Raise Your Paycheck One Negotiation at a Time

Make your pitch for more money or a better title, with tips from The Apprentice‘s Carolyn Kepcher, author of Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice’s Straight Shooter.

Let’s just say that I myself have asked for a raise or promotion both the right way and the wrong way a few times. A few years ago, when I was given the Bedminster golf property to manage in addition to Trump National, I saw it as a reasonable opportunity to ask Donald Trump for a raise. As you can imagine, this is not the easiest thing to get up the gumption to do. And I knew that the cardinal rule in these situations has two important parts:

  1. Correctly anticipate the most likely reaction to your request.
  2. Anticipate your next move.

Donald Trump says that, in this situation, “Timing is everything.” In my case, the timing seemed fine, although in retrospect, I can see that was where I committed my first error. As I tend to do with Mr. Trump, I got straight to the point. I told him I thought I deserved a raise. I didn’t delve into the details, and he didn’t ask. I know some people believe it’s best to put these requests in memo form. Personally, I tend to subscribe to the notion that if you are in line for a raise or a promotion you don’t need four pages citing your accomplishments — all it should take is a verbal reminder of how good you are. If he or she doesn’t know that already, you’ve not been doing a good job of selling yourself to your superior.

I took Mr. Trump’s grunt as an assent that he and I agreed I deserved a raise. But that was only half the battle. For the second phase of my operation, I threw him a curveball without meaning to. Without prompting, I tossed out the number I was looking for. In response, he looked me square in the eye. “Let me think about it,” he replied calmly, “and I’ll get back to you.”

I was totally taken aback. I had been all primed to play the negotiation game. I would go in with a high number, he would come back with a low number, and then we would talk and end up somewhere in the middle.

But I had made, I suddenly realized, a false assumption about how Donald Trump would act. By classifying him in my mind as Mr. Decisive and Mr. Negotiator, I had failed to anticipate the fact that, as Warren Buffett says about investing, “You don’t need to swing at every pitch.” My biggest failure had been to assume that Mr. Trump’s response would be predictable. I should never have expected predictability from Donald Trump.

So I was surprised. And as both a manager and an employee, I hate few things more than surprises. Now I had to do a better job of entering into my boss’s mind. What was Donald Trump doing? What was he thinking? What message was he seeking to convey to me by failing to respond?

What he was doing without really saying so, I decided, was letting me know that he was surprised by the number. He hadn’t been surprised by the request itself, but he had been surprised by its size. Okay, I decided, the right number would have been one that he wouldn’t have had to think so hard about. In fact, by failing to hand him a more reasonable number, I had broken one of my own cardinal rules: I had brought him a problem, not a solution. I had given him a headache as opposed to relieving one. What was Donald Trump’s goal in this negotiation? A number that would make both of us happy.

Carolyn 101: Asking for a raise of more than a small percentage of your base salary is a major step, to be contemplated only if you truly believe your new position requires either significantly more work or that much more responsibility than your present position.

I now had a decision to make. If he didn’t get back to me, I could get back to him. One of my personal guidelines was that no way was I going to lose face with Donald Trump. I wasn’t going to backpedal, at least not to his face. It occurred to me that I had also neglected to realize that while I had been given a promotion, to managing the Bedminster, New Jersey, property in addition to the Briarcliff Manor, New York, property, I hadn’t yet proven myself in the new position. Faulty timing had been my original error, and coming on too strong with the number had simply compounded it.

So what were my options? I had already rejected admitting that I was in the wrong — at least by coming right out and saying so. Mr. Trump had sent me a very important signal by not rejecting my request out of hand. But instead, very deliberately I had to assume, he had said he would think about it. What I could infer from that statement was that he regarded my request not as totally off the wall but rather as premature and overblown, and he wanted me to know it.

For the longest time, I did nothing. For six months, I waited for him to respond. But he didn’t. All right, I said to myself, he is teaching me a lesson, like a Zen master, pointing toward something I need to learn. Or, just possibly, he forgot about it.

I eventually got that raise — it just took me longer than originally anticipated. What it took, in fact, was time. I decided that what I needed to do to demonstrate that I had proven myself as the operator of the additional property was to wait for some profit-and-loss numbers to come in, to justify my own number.

I went in with a new number, lower but not a lot lower than my previous one. I didn’t openly address my performance at Bedminster, because he knew the particulars already. What I did do — very deliberately — was to act as if we were starting this discussion from scratch, and that for the purposes of this meeting, the previous meeting had never happened.

Since I was the one who had made the original error, I took it upon myself to come up with a number that I could feel confident we would both be happy with. The actual request was nothing compared to the preparation that went into it. I made my request. He granted it. From his tone I could tell that he appreciated my revised approach.

Asking for a Raise or Promotion Don’ts

  • Come in after you’ve been working for me for a year and say, “I’ve been here for a year and I deserve a raise.”
  • Come to me with a song and dance about how the competition gets paid more than you do. I once had a secretary tell me, “Carolyn, I’ve being doing a little research, and a lot of executive secretaries are making x, and I’m not there.”

I would reply to both such requests, “Why don’t you think about a few real reasons why you’re deserving of a raise?”

Asking for a Raise or Promotion Dos

  • Make a strong case that you are worth it. Explain in detail to me what your contribution has been to the group’s success. A rising tide lifts all boats, and if you’ve done good for the organization, your boss wants to hear it. As I said before, some people say you should put your case for a raise or promotion into writing, so that your boss can use it as a set of talking points with his or her superiors. In some corporate settings that might be useful, but the day I have to start sending my boss memos telling him or her why I am doing a good job is the day I start sending out résumés myself!
  • When building that case, present me with a plan for your promotion. Once again, do the work yourself. As in “I’ve been doing this job for such-and-such period of time, during which time I have accomplished these particular goals. I see the next reasonable step as tackling these responsibilities in the future, so that we can all accomplish the following objectives.” Show me you’ve thought about where you’re going with the organization.

Carolyn Kepcher, author of Carolyn 101: Business Lessons from The Apprentice’s Straight Shooter (Copyright © 2004 by Carolyn Kepcher), is an Executive Vice President with The Trump Organization and the COO of Trump National Golf Clubs in New York and New Jersey. She has worked for The Trump Organization for nearly ten years and costars with her boss, Donald Trump, on the hit reality television series The Apprentice. She lives with her husband and two children in Ridgefield, Connecticut.



3 thoughts on “Raise Your Paycheck One Negotiation at a Time

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