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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?

money 

(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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