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Know Your Worth

What To Do If You're Underpaid?

Posted by Julia Malacoff

Last Updated October 18, 2016
|5 min read

So you’ve realized you’re underpaid. Whether you found out by looking at salary estimates or after talking numbers with your colleagues, it’s never easy to find out that you’re making less than you should be. There are a lot of factors that make up the list of what makes people happy at work, but for most, fair compensation is at the very top. We chatted with Alexis Robin, career coach and the co-founder of pLink Coaching Center, to get her five-step plan to achieving salary equity after realizing you should be making more.

1. Do your research
The first thing you should do after realizing that you are underpaid, says Robin, is research. Use your network to find out “what are similar salary ranges, how does education and experience play a role in pay scale?” This varies based on industry, so make sure you have all the information before you jump to conclusions. “It’s easy to get critical of your company” she notes, “so work to stay curious and get the facts before storming into HR.” You don’t want to accuse your company of purposely underpaying you if that’s not really the case. “It’s worth reflecting back on your hiring process,” Robin suggests. “Did you ask for more money and get told no, or did you happily accept their first offer? Your low salary could be a you problem, not a them problem.”

[Related: See How Much a Writer Makes Plus More Professions]

2. Figure out what makes you special.
“If you want to increase your salary, it will be important to help leadership understand your unique value to the company,” says Robin. “The value you add to the company may be the best-kept secret in the organization, especially if you are someone who likes to let your ‘work speak for itself.’” In other words, you can’t expect people to know how great you are without occasionally pointing it out yourself. “This means practicing the art of self-promotion,” she says. “When the boss asks how you are, use it as an opportunity to say how proud you are that you’ve inked another deal or improved processes that are saving the company money. People are busy and if you are waiting for them to notice you and give you a raise, you could be waiting for a long time.”

3. Be prepared to negotiate.
Most importantly, Robin notes that when it comes to getting the salary you want, you must “believe in yourself and what you bring to the table.” Being underpaid at work can “eventually end in a downward spiral in your performance and attitude which will get in the way of your ability to level up your pay through annual merit increases.” When you’re unhappy at work it often shows, so Robin advises that it’s better to just be honest about your needs instead of letting your negative feelings fester below the surface. “If your company doesn’t have the ability to pay you more due to regulations or their financial situation, consider negotiating for additional vacation days, a cell phone reimbursement, continuing education in your field, or a 35 hour work week. There are other ways to sweeten the salary package.”

[Related: The Ultimate Guide to Salary Negotiation]

4. Know the facts.
Knowing a bit about how benefits and salaries work can help you get the upper hand in a renegotiation. For example, Robin points out that “it costs 35% of salary plus benefits when a company loses an employee before they’ve worked a full year. You can make the case that you don’t want to be tempted to look for more money elsewhere because you feel undervalued in your current position. Chances are that the extra $5,000 you are looking for is much less than the cost of losing you within the first year.” Of course, this strategy won’t work for everyone, but it’s a great example of how you can use your company’s policies to your benefit, so read up on them!

[Related: The Best and Worst Industries for Benefits]

5. Look elsewhere.
If all else fails at your current gig, it may be time to start job hunting on the outside.
Robin emphasizes that when you’re job searching, “getting the salary you want has everything to do with being really clear on what you are willing to accept or not.” And as for hiring managers who ask what your current salary is? “It shouldn’t matter what you are making at your current job” she says. “If you aren’t willing take a penny less than $70,000 for your next job and you are firm, then your confidence will ensure you bridge the salary gap. If you are too desperate for a new job, you may find yourself on the wrong end of the negotiation. People can sense uncertainty, so committing to yourself is as important as asking for the salary you want.”

So how exactly can you negotiate for what you want? Robin suggests saying something like “$65,000 doesn’t feel good to me for the job I’ll be taking on. I want to be sure I show up feeling well-compensated every day at work so that I’m focused on exceeding my goals and making this organization better versus thinking about how to boost my salary. That mind shift happens for me at $70,000." It’s pretty simple when you start being honest and clear about what you want. “You also want to understand what your net pay will be,” she notes. “I once had a client who jumped up $12,000 in salary and most of it went to the very expensive benefits package the company offered, leaving him with a net gain of about $2,000 a year.” It’s true that a salary bump can be enticing, so just make sure you have all the info before you jump ship.


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