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Know Your Worth

I didn’t do such a great job negotiating my salary at the first company I worked for after college but I didn’t realize it at the time since I didn’t have much to compare it to and given the economic climate, I was just happy to have landed a job at all.

So I accepted a salary much lower than what I was actually worth. It would take a couple of years and a chance encounter for me to figure out that I was worth much more than what my employer was paying me.

Back then, if you told me a 5 minute conversation would someday add over $300,000 to my earnings over my career I never would have believed you.

After landing an internship in IT, I finally networked my way in to a perm position at the same company. While it was not in IT, I was open to different opportunities given the IT bubble had burst and competition was stiff.

Shocker #1: I remember receiving my first pay check after I transitioned to my new perm position and I remember the shear disappointment which followed when I saw my final take home pay was lower now as a perm employee than it was when I was an intern. You heard that right.

You see at the time I just felt lucky to get a perm position given there were so many really smart, really experienced resources in the talent pool that just couldn’t find work. Oh! And I had just spent several months working as an intern despite having a Bachelor’s degree and being well in to my Master’s program. When I got the offer the pay was still quite low (not even close to what FI Guy and I had been sold as the potential average pay back at our school) and there wasn’t much room for negotiating at the time so I bit my tongue and accepted the position.

Why was my take home pay lower, you ask? So while I received an ever so slight increase in pay, after other benefits were deducted from my check, like health insurance, I actually ended up taking home less.

Initially, I didn’t let it bother me as there were now other opportunities for increasing my total pay such as education reimbursement and 401K matching. But after a couple of years had passed by, after receiving my Master’s degree and receiving “exceeds expectations” on my performance reviews I felt it was time for a raise.

Well, instead of receiving a raise the leadership decided they would just dangle carrots in all directions. Instead of compensation I was “gaining exposure to leadership” or I was “lucky to be part of a prestigious department” because “that will look great on your resume”. Those tactics worked for a while, but it eventually got old and I wanted to be compensated for the work I was doing and by now I had to start paying off my student loans.

So I decided to interview internally and landed 2 offers. Now here comes the second shocker….

Shocker #2: One of the jobs was more of the same of what I was already doing and the other one was in a completely unrelated discipline and on a higher pay scale. (Finance vs. IT) BUT… and this is a big but… despite IT generally paying more, the company said they couldn’t compete against itself so they threw me the lower of the two offers with no room for negotiation.

I knew I could do the Finance job in my sleep and it wouldn’t require much in terms of sweat equity (because I was essentially already doing the job)….but the other one? No way should they both have the same salary! I tried to push back and negotiate but the company said it was their policy that they couldn’t compete with each other and so they were forced to offer me the same (lower) salary for both positions but I could have the pick between the two of them.  Back then I didn’t have enough information or experience to know I was getting screwed. It felt like I was getting screwed all along the way but I still wasn’t sure. I was still too green in my career…..

Shocker #3: So I took the Finance role and again, a very slight increase in pay, which means I wasn’t exactly happy because I felt ripped off before I even started the job. Of course I also end up with the boss that asked me to come in on my days off just because he was there and working… oh and because I was now salaried, working that extra day didn’t mean extra pay. You guessed it; that makes shocker #3.

By this time I was itching to get out of there and to land a job that would afford me to move out of my mother’s basement (All future FI peeps… if your mother offers you a place to stay, take her up on it. In fact, stay as long as you can. Save. Save. Save.)

So I applied to a job at a different company and boy was I really off the mark in terms of my worth.

Shocker #4: There was an external opportunity that looked promising. The hiring manager called me to discuss the role and asked me what I was looking for from a salary perspective. I threw out a number just slightly above the salary I was currently making at the time as I just wanted out.  Then came the next shocker. He told me he wasn’t hiring for that salary…he was hiring for more… a lot more. So therefore I should ask for more. Wait? What? Did I just hear him right?

This was an eye opening experience for me; one that would change the entire trajectory of my career and would ultimately account for over $300,000 in extra money over the course of my career.

So in negotiations I asked for a lot more and ultimately ended up with $25,000 above what I thought I was worth. $25,000 * 12 earning years since taking that position = $300,000 more in my pocket.

That one moment changed so much for me. It brought awareness of how little I had been paid in the years leading up to this and just how low I thought my own worth was in the Corporate world. Having this happen so early in my career was a big deal as it had a tremendous impact on my life time earnings as I have reaped the benefits of that 5 minute conversation for all of the years that followed it.

Knowing your worth today rather than tomorrow will make the biggest net change possible.

And to this day I am forever grateful to that manager. He opened my eyes, gave me a chance and changed my life. I now know my worth and I recognize I am the only one that can influence other’s perception of my worth. I have to believe I am worth it before anyone else does and then I have to actually ask for it.

Since that time I have continued to keep an eye on the job market and have evaluated my own worth using a number of salary / industry calculators as I have learned that knowledge truly is power. I haven’t stop asking for what I want and fighting for what I know I am worth and neither should you.

Do you know your worth? How does it compare to what you are making today? Are you willing to ask for what you are worth?


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  1. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance

    A $25K raise is impressive! I made a big jump once too. It’s sad that it’s effective for a company to offer small raises, underpay their people and replace the leavers than to just pay fair market value and retain top talent. Asking for those raises and leaving when you are underpaid is a key strategy!

  2. FI Girl

    Thanks! I agree that it is sad. Unfortunately the reality is Companies are in business to make a profit and so they typically will not go out of their way to pay more than what you are asking for. Rather they will pay you the minimum they think they need to get you in the door and then keep you. Because of this it is so important to really understand your worth and then go ask for it. If the Company doesn’t see your value and isn’t willing to do something for you then it’s time to find one that does. It’s the game we must play.



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