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How to Negotiate a Better Salary When You’re Underpaid

The best time to negotiate salary is when you're considering a job offer. Even in these still-tricky economic times, you'll never have more power than before you sign on the dotted line. Sometimes, however, you work in a job for months or years, only to discover that other people with similar or lesser skill sets are getting paid more than you are. So what then?

The best time to negotiate salary is when you’re considering a job offer. Even in these still-tricky economic times, you’ll never have more power than before you sign on the dotted line. Sometimes, however, you work in a job for months or years, only to discover that other people with similar or lesser skill sets are getting paid more than you are. So what then?


(Photo Credit: Tax Credits/Flickr)

First, you need to understand your options — and they might be limited, depending on your situation, as Suzanne Lucas at CBS Moneywatch recently advised a reader who discovered that he was making $2.50 an hour less than new hires with less experience.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

“There is no law that requires fair pay,” says Lucas. “The law requires that you not pay people differently based on race, or gender, for example, but there is no law that prohibits you paying new hires more than long term employees. So, unless the long time employee are all over 40 while the ones are younger, or the new employees are one race and the long term employees are another race, there’s no law to back you up.”

In other words, you can’t just point out the discrepancy and demand more money. You’ll have to take careful action and build a case for why you, specifically, deserve more money.

1. Don’t rely on emotional language.

Marissa Mayer tells her employees at Yahoo to come to meetings with data. Facts level the playing field, and make it harder to dismiss your argument. This is especially important for female workers, who are often unfairly accused of being emotional when a man would be lauded for his passion.

And speaking of the “unfair,” don’t let that word creep into your discussion. As soon as it seems like you’re envious of a co-worker instead of concerned about being paid appropriately for your work, you’ve lost the battle to look reasonable and professional.

2. Do your research.

It’s not enough to know (or think you know) what one colleague is making. You need to know what people with your experience and skills make for doing the same or similar jobs. PayScale’s personalized salary report lets you find salary ranges for your job title, skills, level of educational attainment, and geographic location.

3. Know your rights — and the limitations of those rights.

Many bosses would have you believe that you’re not allowed to discuss your salary with your co-workers. Maybe they even believe that themselves. Thanks to the National Labor Relations Act, that’s not the case for most employees. Unless you’re exempt, e.g. a government employee or an employee of a small business, you’re allowed to discuss your salary with co-workers.

That said, there’s no sense in antagonizing your manager or setting up an adversarial relationship. You’re most likely an at-will employee, which means that while your employer can’t fire you for protected activities like trying to better your working conditions, they can fire you for no good reason — or any reason — at all. Create a situation in which the boss doesn’t like you, and you could find yourself without a job, anyway.

Lucas points out that reasonable bosses shouldn’t object to a professionally conducted conversation about pay equity, but of course, not every boss is fair. If you’ve been around long enough to see new hires’ salaries blow past yours, you’ve probably got a pretty good read on the man or woman in charge. Use your knowledge to help you frame facts in a palatable way, and think of the discussion as a collaboration, meant to solve a mutual problem.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever worked at a job where you’re underpaid? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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8 Comments on "How to Negotiate a Better Salary When You’re Underpaid"

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Luke K.
I just found out yesterday that I’m being underpaid in my position. I’m the head of my department, so I already make the most. But I’ve found out through simple research, that I’m being underpaid by $3-4 an hour vs. what others working the same position as me are making at other locations. I’m also one of maybe 2 other employees out of nearly 30 that can work every single department in my store with no issue at all. I’ll have been there 5 years this upcoming February. I have a feeling the most I’m gonna get is $0.75 more… Read more »
I have been working as an automotive detailer for 8 years for a major dealership. I am the only person in the building that does this work. Just recently, they hired a second guy to wash new cars only, in the evenings. Unfortunately, he is is getting paid the same rate as I am, and I do more work than he does!! I’ve been talking to some friends, and they feel that I am being taken advantage of, because of my loyalty to the company! I’m doing the work of 2 or 3 guys, all by myself! It is getting… Read more »
Iv been working at my company since I was 18 years old, im 23 now I started out doing basic wiring schematics via cad programs, I now find myself doing full 3d models using solidworks, bills of materials for products, advanced wiring schematics, I am also the go to guy for any problems encountered in production – is it fair or even legal that I am on the same salary as I started on? Disheartening knowing there is new employees on a much larger salaries and less qualifications coming to me for advice and correcting their errors – someone please… Read more »
I agreed to take a position with 30 & 90 day evaluations. i was also told they would “reward me” for my hard work and ig i can do what my resume says I can. well, this week I should have the 30 day eval. i am making 13% of my field’s salary. no complaints from the partners so I expect a raise. we shall see. I’m trying to decide what number would make me happy for two more months. i should be well over $50k annually. plus, they have no benefits. my insurance is expensive out of pocket. suggestions… Read more »

Its ok

I have worked for a company for three years as a preschool teacher. I recently found out that of a staff of ten, only two have a BA, one has a MA and all others only have the basic requirements of 12 – 24 units and no degree. As it turns out, the teachers with the BA degrees are paid less than the others, how does one address a situation like this to get a raise. I have asked to get a raise equal to the other staff members for the same kind of work, but is still offered less.… Read more »

I’m in similar position!

I just found out by a calculation that I am making less than 55% of the people in my field. I am up for a new contract next year. That in itself is a motive for my company to increase my salary. I am essential to the company I work for. There is no other person in my field who will be on call every other day, and every other weekend and get paid the salary I am getting paid. I think I have a good case for a raise. I feel to put me in with the majority of… Read more »
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