Underpaid? How to Find Out What You Should Be Making (& Make it)


business woman working on a lap top

Unless you’re Bill Gates, you’d likely jump at the chance to earn more money. That’s not surprising, considering 39% of employees believe they are underpaid, according to a 2014 Glassdoor survey. As a worker, you may be more to blame than you think: less than 50% of Americans actually ask for more compensation.

If you feel like you’re making less than you deserve, don’t wait until your boss offers you a raise. There are many ways to negotiate a higher salary, and the first step is to find out what you should be earning.

Hit the books (or the web)

It’s crucial to get an accurate picture of standard pay for your position across the industry. This is actually not as difficult as it may sound. You have tons of tools at your disposal- use them! Online resources such as Glassdoor and Monster.com’s Salary Wizard provide information on average income for specific roles. Browse these sites for accurate comparisons to what you’re being paid. Remember compensation can vary widely depending on where you live, so keep that in mind as you explore.

Leverage your network

We’ve been taught it’s considered rude to ask people how much they earn (unless your company believes in salary transparency). But if you’re looking to find out whether or not you’re underpaid, your network is an essential resource. While you may not want to ask your friends or colleagues, consider connecting with job seekers, especially online or at job fairs. Get to know people who work in the same or similar industries. You’ll gain a clearer perspective on what pay looks like in the field, as well as the skills your peers bring to the table that contribute to their asking price.

Recruiters aren’t just for job seekers

Recruiters are responsible for understanding the nuances of specific industries, being familiar with compensation averages, and understanding the competitive landscape. They can be wealths of information when you’re seeking information about competitive pay. So even if you’re not looking to move from your current role, but you have questions about your current compensation, a recruiter can help you understand what you should be making.

Put a plan into action:

Use the information you’ve found

So now you have a good picture of the market value for your skills and experience. What next? Simply knowing how much you ought to be earning doesn’t mean your employer will offer that. You’ve done all this research- don’t waste it! The industry averages you’ve found should help you land on a number you think is fair. You shouldn’t always name this number before your manager has a chance to weigh in, but it’ll serve as a baseline for the discussion.

Set performance goals

Hopefully, you’ve previously created a performance plan with your manager. If you haven’t, that’s alright, it’s never too late to start. Ask your manager to help you set goals for yourself: specific things you’d like to implement by the end of a certain quarter, or at the end of a year. Once you have this plan in place, actively keep track of how you’re doing. Make note when you achieve one or more of these objectives, and in what context. This kind of track record will speak for itself when you’re making the case for more money.   

What makes you special?

Make a list of the unique skills and experience you bring to the table. Maybe you have graphic design skills that enhance your value as a front-end web developer. Or perhaps you’ve been drawing from your former life as an accountant to help out your current finance team. Especially if you work at a startup, where employees tend to wear many hats, it’s likely you’ve contributed to other parts of the business in addition to your specific role and responsibilities. Collect this information–with specific examples– so you have it on hand.

Go back to basics

Compile all of the research and reasoning you’ve done into a complete package and schedule time with your manager to make your case. And before you dive into this conversation, keep these simple tips in mind:

  • Practice! Conversations about money can be tricky, so make sure you plan out what you’re going to say. If you’re especially nervous, it may be a good idea to rehearse the conversation with a friend or family member so you’re extra-prepared.
  • Take a beat. If your boss makes an offer, you aren’t required to accept it on the spot. Take some time to think about it.

Ready to take your career to the next level?


It Starts With “Yes.”