Self Worth and Negotiating Pay

Imposter syndrome and knowing my self worth in general is something that I seem to have always struggled with. Since my days as a young boy in grade school, I always had the feeling in the back of my head that I was never good enough. I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I was short of their charisma or skill or something else. Nothing I ever did made me feel any different. I still struggle with this on a daily basis, but after attending a recent conference, Rails Conf 2017, I decided I wanted to vocalize this struggle and relate it to a common issue in the development world.

Firstly, I am on an expert in Psychology, nor an expert person in negotiating pay. What I can tell you, is that I can provide insight into the personal experiences I have had as a software engineer and IT professional for the last 5 years of my life. Over the course of this time I have gotten into a position I love, for a company I love, with coworkers I love, and with a salary I love. With the techniques I am going to speak about, I have also been able to increase my pay by 400% since starting in IT 5 years ago. This is partly because I was getting crummy pay when I started, and partly because I did a good job changing companies and asking for more money when I needed to. What I am going to explain has worked for me, but will not necessarily be as effective for other individuals. With that said, the single piece of advice that helped with with my struggle for self worth was when a team lead/software architect once said to me bluntly, “Stop fucking comparing yourself to other people. You’re all fucking different and there is nothing you can do about it.” While completely blunt and maybe not so work appropriate, this made me think a whole lot. He was completely right, no matter what I was ever going to do in life, I was not going to be like anybody else. I was not necessarily going to be the most wealthy person I knew, the most handsome, the best at programming, or even the best employee. One thing was for sure though. I got hired at the company I was at, and I had been employed there for a decent amount of time, so there must have been something about me that someone found valuable.

As someone that has interviewed and hired candidates for software development and other general IT jobs, I can tell you that it is not just a skill that someone hires you for, it is a complete package. An employer will want someone who works well with others, someone that shows initiative and leadership, someone that asks questions when they get stuck in the weeds, and among other things, a person that people can talk to. In many cases an employer can give up some trait in favor for another, but in the end what they are looking for is a complete package. In my case, I strongly believe that there are many developers out there much stronger than I am, but I do bring something valuable to the team. I tend to be what I call the “extroverted developer”. I am loud, and in your face, and never stop talking, but at the same time, I am able to get stuff done, and sometimes provide a different perspective on something that a normal introverted developer might not be able to give. I think this, plus my willingness to always listen to others and learn from them are some of the best traits that I possess, and those are the things I like to focus on when I think of my self worth. I implore everyone reading this post to go out and find your amazing traits and focus on them, so you too will know how great of a person, and employee you are. You should also continue to focus on your weaker points as an employee, as that can only improve how awesome of a person/employee you can be. If you need help finding these traits, the best assets you have are your friends, coworkers, and superiors at work.

How does this all relate to pay?

First things first, whether you are negotiating pay as a new hire or as an existing employee, if you go into the negotiations as an individual that is not confident in his/her skills and attributes, you are completely doomed. I suggest you find yourself before you go out seeking more pay, because you will only be hurting yourself if you do not go in feeling at least good about yourself.

The Ugly Facts about Salary Negotiations

There are several things to understand about negotiating pay. These are items that most people do not like, and they cause discomfort, but we must understand them.

  • The employer in the negotiations is always trying to hire the employee at the price most beneficial to the company.
  • The employee in the negotiations is always trying to get the most compensation for themselves.
  • A negotiation will have back and forth. That is part of the process.
  • Negotiating pay is never something that is fun or comfortable. Go in prepared for battle.
  • Entering into negotiations on pay has its potential risks. Do not attempt to enter into these negotiations unless you are okay putting everything on the line. Yes, this can mean your job is potentially at risk.

Negotiating Salary as a New Hire

You need to know your worth to the company and your personal tolerances for risk. What this means, is that you need to leverage several things, like your skillset, saturation of this position in the market, and how much this particular company really needs you. For example, if company A needs a Go developer and you find out in the interview process that they really like to have people in the office, and you are the only Go developer in a 200 mile radius, you have a whole lot of negotiating power. On the other hand, if the company really needs a C#/.NET developer and there are 1000 potential applicants in the area, your negotiating power goes down, because in that large pool of applicants, it is likely that there are candidates just as effective as yourself, and maybe willing to take less money. So make an assessment of what you bring to the table prior to even asking about pay negotiations.

In order to make your negotiations the most effective, you must be able to risk everything. While negotiating as a new hire, you run the potential risk of a potential new employer saying, “We’re sorry, but we don’t want you as a candidate anymore.” On the same note, we know that a company is normally trying to hire you at the cheapest price that they can, so if there are note even willing to negotiate a little, is that really the kind of company that you want to be working at? If you can’t risk it all, don’t negotiate and simply don’t make more money.

Now we finally enter into the negotiations. Live and die by these quick tips. I included die, because remember that at this point, you are risking not getting this job.

  • Treat benefits as money. If they are going to pay 100% of your health insurance, think of how much money that saves you. If they offer a 401k, think of what kind of retirement that brings to the table for you.
  • Signing bonuses are stupid. Use them as a last resort and focus on negotiating your pay rather than a small amount of money. Would you rather have $1,000 now or make $700 more a year which leads to $2,800 over your next 4 years of employment.
  • Never be the first one to give a number. While the employer may try and trick you and ask you how much you want, hold firm on not giving the number, and simply say, “With respect, I would much prefer for you to give me the first offer to see what ballpark you are in.” If you are someone that was really looking to make $80,000 per year, and the company was willing to pay up to $100,000 per year, and you decided to give out the first number, you just lost $20,000 that could have been in your pocket at the end of the year.
  • Always counter offer unless. Unless you are in that situation where you were looking for an amount of money and an employer offered you way more money that what you were looking for, make a counter offer.
  • Research research research. Be realistic about what you want in the realm of compensation and benefits. For example, you are not going to get a executive car package for an entry level position.
  • Screw what everybody else is worth, you are what’s important. I once had a manager tell me verbatim, “I have C developers here that will be making less than you, and they have been programming for 15 years. What makes you think you’re entitled to that kind of pay?” What other people with other skills make has nothing to do with your market value. Search your position and your skill set in your area and surrounding areas to make an assessment on what fair market value for you as an employee is. Never let anybody tell you what you are worth. You can answer that for yourself.

With these simple tips, you should be able to negotiate with an employer and reach a price that is efficacious to both you and the employer. If they have problems with negotiating, remember to explain this to them. You respectfully understand that they are they to get you as cheap as possible for the company, and you are there to be as successful as you can be. If they still decline, go back to thinking about whether this is really the kind of place that you wanted to work at all along.

Negotiating Pay as a Current Employee

You need to consider all of the same things as a new hire with one very large additional fact. The largest raise you will ever get is normally by changing employers. This is something that you must consider if you are uncomfortable with pay where you are currently at. Given the example of a software engineer where pay can range from $45,000 per year to over $200,000 per year. If you were hired in as a junior software engineer, and you were making let’s say $50,000 per year, and you get to the point where you are mid level and should be making $80,000 to $100,000 per year, it is going to be really hard for your superior to justify that kind of increase to a CFO etc. I am not saying that this kind of pay adjustment cannot happen, but I am saying it is wildly unlikely.

With all of that said, I wish you luck on the adventure of finding your self worth and future pay negotiations. If you are a Ruby on Rails developer or any other developer, and looking for some additional advice on negotiating pay, check out the Ruby Rogues podcast. They have some good episodes on this subject.

Ruby Rogues Podcast: https://devchat.tv/ruby-rogues

Good Sources for market on salaries: