How I Started Getting Paid What I Was Worth
Money isn’t everything. When it comes to finding a job many employees consider professional growth more important than salary and the relationship between actual pay and job satisfaction isn’t as strong as some may think. In fact, many of us consciously make trade-offs when it comes to our pay if a company is willing to invest in us, allow for flexibility, or provide other valuable benefits.
That’s all fine and good. After all, our pay is more than just our base salary and a job’s worth is greater than what you are making per hour. But here’s the deal, no matter how great your company is, no matter how much you love your job, you still deserve to be paid what you are worth. Period.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way.
Several years ago, I found myself slightly underpaid in a position that I enjoyed with a company that I was proud to work for. Initially, I did not know exactly how underpaid I was, but I knew I could get more elsewhere. I knew I was not making as much as my peers in similar roles at other companies. However, I was really good at my job and I loved working for the company. So I found ways to justify it: “I have so much flexibility”, “I have great benefits”, “This is valuable experience for me”, “I’m just getting my foot in the door, eventually I’ll get a raise”.
Then the day came when I could no longer work with these justifications.
I was at a happy hour with several coworkers when I inadvertently discovered that I was paid less than all of my male coworkers. I was the only female in the group and the lowest paid person in the room. These coworkers not only had the same title and responsibilities as I did, but I had more tenure and measurably better results in my position. I was the top performer on my team, yet I was being paid the least. I felt gutted. I felt underappreciated at my company and undervalued in my role. This revelation nearly caused me to leave my job. I considered putting my notice in that week.
However, instead of leaving for greener pastures (which would have been justified given the circumstances), I decided to ask for a raise.
In order to do so, I first had to have an uncomfortable conversation about pay with my manager. I had to work through my own feelings about gender inequality and the pay gap in the workplace. I had to think deeply about why I had never negotiated my salary or ever asked for more than I was offered. I had to confront the reality that I did not really know what I was worth nor did I know how to ask for it. And during this process, I learned a few invaluable lessons that I’d love to pass on to you.
Here’s how I started getting paid what I was worth:
1. Think Bigger
For a long time, I limited my earnings by lowering my expectations. I thought too hard about what my company could afford and not hard enough about what my work was worth. I found myself asking for less than I wanted because I assumed I couldn’t get more than I had been offered.
Many women are socialized to “be agreeable” and many of us graduated from college during the Great Recession — those experiences left with me with a passive mindset about my salary. I was just happy to get a position in a professional field. Any salaried role felt like a huge accomplishment.
That mindset does not serve us well. We think too small when it comes to salary negotiations. We settle for less than we should and assume the only way to get a pay increase is to change jobs. We feel like our employer has all of the power. However, that’s just not true.
The first barrier I had to overcome in getting paid more was a mental one: I had to think bigger. I had to think bigger about what I could earn, what I could ask for, and what I was worth.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Your Salary
Many of us have not been taught how to talk about pay at work. We get hesitant to initiate a hard conversation. We don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But I promise you can tactfully have these conversations without alienating yourself among your peers.
Furthermore, I’ve found discussing salary to be crucial in closing the wage gap within organizations and industries. Without transparent salary conversations with similarly titled peers, I would have no idea how much I was underpaid; I would have no idea how much I could ask for. Talking to industry peers helps you understand the market and what constitutes a competitive salary for your role and experience.
3. Do Your Research
Knowing your peer’s salaries is not the endpoint. You won’t get a raise by walking into your boss’s office and saying, “I know all of my coworkers are paid $10,000 more per year than I am and that’s not fair.” While that may be true, most employers are not willing to pay you more simply because someone else makes more than you. You’ll need to prove your case.
Consider the market rate for your position, your city, and your industry. There are a ton of free tools to help; LinkedIn provides a great resource, as does Glassdoor. These tools typically provide a pretty large range of potential salaries, but they’re a great starting point and will give you a better idea of what’s reasonable for your role in your market.
4. Advocate for Yourself
If you want to get paid what you’re worth you’ll have to get comfortable negotiating. You’ll need to be prepared, with tangible evidence, to demonstrate your value.
“This is the secret high achievers know. They don’t wait to be offered a great salary. They ask for it and present proof as to why it is warranted.”
— Lisa Rangel, former executive recruiter and executive resume writer
Provide evidence for why you deserve a raise. Discuss the market-rate for your experience and position. Consider the value you bring to your company. I keep a running Google Doc laying out all of my career “wins”, big and small. This helps me provide practical examples of the value I bring. This is not the time to be humble — get comfortable discussing your accomplishments honestly and without embellishing or downplaying your role. Remember, being assertive is not the same as being argumentative or disrespectful.
Lastly, advocating for yourself means being ready to say “No” to companies not willing (or able) to offer you a fair salary. If you are truly underpaid and don’t want to be, then you should be prepared to leave if you don’t get what you’re asking for. Don’t make empty threats, but be ready to move on to a company with more competitive pay if needed.
You don’t have to be money-driven to demand appropriate compensation. I value my role for way more than my pay. I’m a high achiever not because of my pay but because of my passion. However, high achievers and high earners don’t devalue themselves. Pay isn’t everything, but don’t forget what you are worth.