Overworked and Underpaid? That Stops Here
Cathie Ericson
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We hate to break it to you, but if you feel like you’re being underpaid, it could be your own fault. And here’s why: You’re not asking.

In a 2015 Salary.com survey, 55 percent of respondents admitted they hadn’t negotiated their salary in any way—for a new job or their current one—in the past year. If you’re just joining the workforce, the stats are even worse. A 2015 survey by NerdWallet and Looksharp found that 62 percent of recent grads failed to negotiate the salary for their first jobs.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the lifelong consequences of leaving that money on the table—by some calculations, it could mean a difference of nearly $1 million over the course of a 45-year career. “When you don’t negotiate your pay at one job, the impact of that follows you at every future job that asks about salary history,” says Katie Donovan, salary and career negotiation consultant and owner of Equal Pay Negotiations.

What’s more, all the benefits tied to your pay—like 401(k) matching, a year-end bonus and even how much life insurance you qualify for through an employer—are similarly affected.

So given the stakes, what stops us for asking for more? Chances are, it’s one of those common mental traps.

“It won’t work.”

The company budget is the company budget, and that’s just the way it is, right? Wrong.

Salary.com reported that 49 percent of those who tried to negotiate received at least something for their efforts. And among first-timers, NerdWallet found that 80 percent of askers were at least partially successful.

“It doesn’t cost anything to ask, and often that’s all it takes to get a little more,” says Mikaela Kiner, founder of human resources consulting firm Uniquely HR. “Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen? They may say no, but even then you’re no worse off than when you started.”

“We’ll start off on the wrong foot.”

Worried you’ll be perceived as pushy? Actually, it’s the opposite, says Kiner: “When people fail to negotiate, it can be a red flag for recruiters and hiring managers.”

Why? Because companies want employees who have a lot to offer—and know it. By negotiating, “you’ll be viewed as a person who really knows their worth and is confident of the value you bring to the table,” says career coach Gia Ganesh.

Still feel uneasy? Take these stats to heart: Eighty percent of employers told Salary.com that they’re never offended when jobseekers negotiate, and 57 percent of HR folks fully expect people to ask for more than the first offer.

“I don’t know what to say.”

If phrasing fears are keeping you from rocking your salary negotiation, think about how much more frightening it is to forgo all that cash you’re missing. Kiner advises practicing with a friend to get more comfortable talking about money. “Finding the right words that are authentic to you will go a long way when the time comes,” she says.

Ready to become a negotiating ninja? Here are five tips to up the chances of cashing in on your next salary discussion.

1. Do your research.

Check sites like Payscale, Glassdoor, Salary.com and Job Seekers Salary Calculator to find out the going rates. Even better, if you can swing it, talk to sources, confidentially, from the company or people in similar roles at other firms to get a range, Ganesh says.

After you’ve determined the sweet spot, think about what else you bring to the table in terms of accomplishments or experiences that help you present a strong case. (This is especially key if you’re going for a raise.)

2. Don’t divulge your number.

Overworked and underpaid? The last thing you want to do is bring that dynamic to your new job—so do your best to conceal your current salary figure.

According to Donovan, 60 percent of private-sector workers can’t share, due to confidentiality agreements. If that’s you, use it to your benefit. “It’s the perfect answer, she says, “It shows you honor your agreements and protects you from a question that is designed to hurt you.”

But if you’re not barred from divulging your number, Donovan advocates switching the question around. You could say something like, “I’m sure we’ll come to a number that makes sense for both us based on competitive rates.”

Of course, if you’re pushed for your number, it can be hard to wiggle out. At that point, Ganesh recommends reminding your potential new boss that your current responsibilities may be different from the new ones, so a direct comparison may not be appropriate.

3. Make your manager go first.

Eventually, there’ll come a time when you have to talk specific numbers. And since it’s easy to undervalue yourself, “it’s best to get a ballpark figure from the manager before putting your own numbers on the table,” Kiner says. “You might be surprised.”

However, sometimes despite your duck and dodge, you realize there’s no way around it. In that case, aim high. “Once you start talking numbers, you’ve narrowed the playing field—so don’t low-ball yourself,” Kiner says.

4. Think outside the salary box.

Although your first goal should be to increase your pay, sometimes a company’s budget truly can’t accommodate your desired salary. That’s when you should look for alternatives. “Increased work flexibility, more vacation and prized assignments are all other benefits that translate to increased pay,” Ganesh says.

If you’re negotiating a raise and it’s not in your manager’s budget, consider asking for a bonus based on a stellar performance. That might be more doable, since this is a one-time payout your boss (and the finance department) won’t have to commit to annually.

5. Raise the possibility … of a raise.

If you really want the job, but they just can’t budge on your starting salary, ask for some give in the raise department. For example, if salary re-evaluations typically occur on the one-year anniversary, ask if you can bump up that date to the six-month mark. Even better? Link a salary discussion to a milestone, such as sales achievements, says Kiner. The goal is to determine what will merit an increase and how soon it can be considered.

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2 comments

    This is a topic that employees are brain watch not to discuss among colleague’s. HR and managers do that to keep us from asking for a better rate. So guys please talk rate at the water cooler.

    Why are many working longer hours and not getting paid? Why does the private sector have no representation?

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