Negotiation strategies for people who feel underpaid (& hate confrontation)

2019-01-09 | BY Jerry McMillin | IN Job Search Starter Kit, Job Seekers

Negotiation strategies for people who feel underpaid (& hate confrontation)

According to recent studies, 46% of Americans feel underpaid, and by consequence under-valued. Leading the pack at 62%, the majority of San Diegans report a troubling disparity between their perceived worth and their current paycheck.

Reports by Pew Research support their claim; apparently, despite an inconceivably low unemployment rate and an incredibly healthy economy, today’s average salary holds nearly the same purchasing power as it did in 1978. Glassdoor found the majority of its users are underpaid  by an average of $4700.

What can you do to increase your salary, without leaving the job you love? Having coached thousands of professionals throughout the years, we’ve come up with a fool-proof strategy to help boost your salary while maintaining close ties with your boss.

Step 1: Arm yourself with data.

Trying to negotiate a significant pay bump with your current boss, in a job you’ve potentially held for years, is a uniquely stressful situation. We can assure you, neither you nor your boss are thrilled at the idea of sitting down for such a discussion.

Make your life easier by arriving prepared. Your best tool is market compensation data from your area, in a similar field and job seniority to your own.

Check out Glassdoor’s Salary Calculator to get a baseline – it’ll collect your title, location, years of experience, and company size, and compare this data to similar listings in your area to give you a sense of your market worth.

For more ammunition, try, which asks a series of job-related questions before providing a relatively in-depth report. Print documents from both websites and bring them with you to support your claim.

Step 2: Speak with your peers.

This is a double-edged sword; in today’s job market, everyone has a friend who recently changed jobs and boosted their salary to the tune of 10-30%. We’re not saying that your friend is lying; but they certainly have a vested interest in displaying their professional career in the most positive light.

Even if the stories are true – and often enough they are – that friend is likely not in your same field with your same degrees and same level of seniority. Or else they may have traded a higher salary for a longer commute – which may not be a viable option for you. Many factors play into salary negotiations, and you’re only hearing the last line of a very long, winding story. Don’t compare your novel to their epilogue.

Be smart, gather intel, and stay skeptical. Your best sources are your immediate peers – your co-workers at your current company, who work under the same management and abide by the same compensation policies as you do yourself. If you can, find out how often employees are getting raises, and how much of a raise can be expected.

This information will be your second line of defense after the raw data you collected in Step 1.

Step 3: Consult a recruiter.

No one knows more about the evolving job market, competitive compensation packages, and negotiation strategies than we do. Every day, we consult with candidates like you to help them determine their salary goals and plan an effective, step-by-step strategy.

We know what companies are willing to pay, and what will do more harm than good. Before you go into a negotiation discussion, we highly suggest speaking with a professional recruiter – be it Proven Recruiting or another local agency –  to learn what similar professionals are being paid in your industry.  

Step 4: Take stock of your motivations and priorities.

Is compensation really the problem? Or are you continually disappointed at work for other, less obvious reasons?

A strained managerial relationship, lack of culture fit, and vision misalignment can all be reasons for your discomfort, and none of them will be addressed by an increased salary. In this case, your best option is reaching out to a recruiter who can help you pinpoint the kind of fit you’re looking for.

Before going into the discussion, ask yourself these four questions:

What’s important to you? Salary, commute time, bonuses, flexible working hours?

Knowing your response to this question will help you to more effectively – and creatively – negotiate a complete compensation package.

How indispensable are you?

Bottom line: everyone is replaceable. Even CEOs and founders can be replaced if need be. What you want to showcase is how much you’ve gone ‘above and beyond’ the norm. If they find someone to replace you, to whom they’d pay a similar salary, would they get the same quality work? Why are you worth more than the average person in your industry?

How much money would it cost to replace you?

After recruiting fees, training time, and the necessary learning-curve, SHRM estimates the cost of hiring a new employee to be 90%-200% of the employee’s salary. Without actually mentioning your replacement value, enter the meeting confident in the knowledge that your company does not want to replace you unless absolutely necessary.

Is salary your only issue at work?

Will a salary increase fix all of your problems? What is the root of your discomfort? Before you face your manager, make sure you understand your motivations and your priorities. If they can’t offer more money, will you take other forms of compensation? Perhaps extra paid vacation, a new title, or flexible hours? Consider your options before arriving at the meeting.

Step 5: Hone your game plan.

You’ve collected your evidence, spoken with a professional, and reviewed your priorities and motivators. At this point all that’s left is booking a time to meet. Be sure to warn your boss beforehand that you’d like to discuss your career progression and compensation, so that they arrive prepared for the discussion.

Ideally, here’s how you want the conversation to play out:

You: Hi [boss’s name], thanks for meeting with me. I’d like to review what I’ve accomplished this year, and set some goals for the following 6 months as we consider my career progression and compensation package. I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made, and I want to make sure I’m exceeding your expectations for the job.

Them: Absolutely. What did you have in mind?

You: I know that I’ve made some great strides this year – and I would like to make sure that my salary reflects that. I’ve taken on X new projects, and led our team to our most profitable quarter yet.

Them: I definitely agree, but we’re not in a place right now to offer raises. You are making the same as everyone else in your position.

You: I understand. I did some research on similar roles at similarly sized local companies, and by these estimates my pay is about 10% below average. I know I’ve done some of my best work this year, and you know I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, so I’d like to come to a better agreement for us both.

If your boss doesn’t soften at this point, try this tactic – ask what you can do in the next six months to merit a raise. Have your superior lay out specific objectives and write them down. In six months, assuming you’ve risen to their expectations, you should have absolutely no problem securing the salary boost.

Above all else, remember that this is a conversation, not an argument. There should be no bitterness or aggression in your voice; both parties should arrive at this discussion with an open-mind. Your boss should be your advocate, not your enemy – treat them as such.

75% of raise requests result in some kind of salary boost. It never hurts to ask – so long as you’re doing it respectfully and in a timely manner. Don’t make a congenial conversation into an aggressive argument; be patient and mindful of the forces at play, and present your case as objectively as possible.

And if all else fails, find a workplace that will value your contributions and offer competitive compensation. We help professionals like you navigate the complex world of hiring; send us your resume at hello@provenrecruiting and we’ll work through a strategy together.

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