3 Things to Do When You Find Out You’re Underpaid

Maybe you discovered that your coworker with the same job earns more than you; maybe you took PayScale’s Salary Survey, and passed out from shock when you saw the range for your job title, experience, and skills. However you found out that you’re underpaid, the next question is: what do you do now?

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Obviously, there are a few things you absolutely shouldn’t do, such as forcing a confrontation with your boss while you’re still mad (and before you’ve got all your ducks in a row). Whatever strategy you adopt next, it’s essential to be calm, cool, and collected—and informed—before you make your move.

Once you’re there, this is what to do next:

  1. Make sure you’re really underpaid.

If you didn’t find out you were underpaid by taking the Salary Survey, now is the time to double-check your data. Until you do, you have no idea if your information is accurate. Sure, your coworkers say they’re making the big bucks, but you shouldn’t take their word for it.

Further, there’s the issue of context: you might know for a fact that Bob in the next cubicle is making more money, but you don’t necessarily know everything about his skills and experience. He could have a certification you lack, or have a prior job that adds something to his current role.

Forget about what you heard, and don’t jump to conclusions based on partial information. Get the actual data on what you should be earning for your job and skillset.

  1. Make a plan.

How you ask for a raise can make all the difference, so you want to plan carefully before requesting a meeting with the boss.

Decide how much you’re asking for, and develop a script that will cut out the ums and uhs when you sit down to speak your manager. PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide offers sample scripts to get you started.

To minimize the confrontational aspect and maximize your chances of getting what you ask for, go into the discussion thinking of your boss as your negotiating partner, not your adversary. After all, you have the same goal: to make sure that you’re able to do your best work. (I’ll add that this aspect of negotiation is subtext. Do not go into your boss’s office and announce that you have the same goal: making sure you get paid enough to care. It will not help your cause.)

Request a meeting for a time when you’ll both be able to concentrate, i.e., not during your most hectic season or on the busiest day of the week.

Finally, be confident. PayScale’s data show that 75 percent of people who ask for a raise get some kind of bump, so the odds are in your favor.

  1. Update your resume.

Of course, if 75 percent of people get a raise when they ask for one, that means that 25 percent of people don’t. There’s always the chance that your plan won’t work. Your department’s budget might be frozen, for example, or your manager might not be able to hear what you’re saying for reasons beyond your control. If this is the outcome, be gracious … and start looking for your next opportunity.

When you start interviewing for your next role, you’ll be in a better place to negotiate because you’ll know how much you’re worth on the job market.

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