In a few more months, I will be reaching the 2nd year mark of having been in the workforce after leaving university with a BSc. Most would consider my academic credentials to be above the norm. Yet, most would also question the reason as to why my remuneration is behind the market rate. I am located in Asia where a request for candidates salary by recruiters/HR is a commonplace practice.

What I have:

  1. A degree in both Maths and Physics and a minor in a subfield of Commerce - all of which were completed simultaneously.

  2. Two conference papers - one of which is in the "Harvard" of all journals in that field - the associated journal paper is currently being worked on.

  3. Stellar academic reference from professors who were alumni of the big "H".

  4. ~3 years of computational modelling experience with Python.

In the last two years, I have made a couple of detrimental career decision, some of which borne out of a lack of market research and some of which borne out of frivolous decisions.


  1. Lack of market research diligence when it comes to salary benchmark for people of my academic qualification and skillset. I failed to recognise where I stood in the market only until in the recent few months when things were becoming clearer.

  2. Leaving two jobs within 10 months - one of which was a research role but not before publishing a conference paper before I left and the other in a prestigious Internet payment company.

  3. Relative to my credentials, I am underpaid in my current role. While I did negotiate for a greater degree of flexibility upon realising they couldn't afford me - leaving early, clocking-off in-lieu, I recently learned from recruiters, whom I have built a strong personal and professional rapport with, that I am ~30% underpaid relative to my current remuneration package, much higher than what I thought at the time of negotiation for my current package.

  4. I have been in my current role for ~12 months, a nameless small to medium sized firm.

To support the fact that I am underpaid relative to market norm, my strategy is to make the recruiter give me their best guess as to what I should be getting given a combination of their experiences and factors relating to my credentials - and always, this results in them providing a figure ~30% above what I'm getting.

My predicament:

At the 12th month mark after my graduation, I have been headhunted by stellar tech travel companies and reached out by in - house and 3rd party recruiters where they encouraged that I apply for their expat and senior roles. "McK&C" and well - known global sovereign fund have also invited me down for interviews - and while I failed these interviews, knowing that these companies are extremely selective in their selection of interviewees eventually made me realise how important it is for me to conduct my due diligence on salary benchmark - in some ways, it gave me a gauge as to where I stand.

In the recent months, I have been trying to rectify my mistakes through looking for a new role (my company is unable to afford me more than what they are offering at this point and this is a plain - clear fact).

In my bid to do so, I face two recurring issues:

  1. Recruiters are persistent in asking for my current drawn salary. The reasons for which they do so, I theorised:

    • Lowball my renumeration package with their company.

    • Gauge my level of credentials and skills based on my currently drawn salary package.

    • From the horses (recruiters) mouth; to justify if the jump from my currently drawn salary to my expected renumeration package is justifiable.

  2. because of 1, there is a long - term malignant effect on salary compensation.

Often, my strategy is to stop replying or to abruptly hang the call if I smell "lowballing" tactics from them. My time is finite and given that I have recognised the costly mistakes from my poor decisions in the past, there is greater cautious on my part to be drawn into something that would result in "lowballing".


Can there be a better and more diplomatic manner yet, specific method, to bring up my current renumeration up to market norm in my interaction with these people? How does one efficiently strategise the negotiation? Keep in mind that my decision to look around and, therefore, move out of my current role where I've been in for only ~12 months complicates my situation.

Personal question for the folks:

Is the damage done to my career irreparable?

  • 1
    A country tag would certainly be very helpful here. Aug 10, 2019 at 3:27
  • @NimeshNeema It is done.
    – Physkid
    Aug 10, 2019 at 4:38
  • 7
    You certainly have a flair for the dramatic but can this entire text be boiled down to "How can I prevent my current low salary from affecting future salary negotiations?" For which I'll refer you to this question.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 10, 2019 at 8:41
  • university with a BSc and I am located in Asia. In Asia, BSc is considered below norm. Masters degree is normal.
    – Nobody
    Aug 10, 2019 at 11:41
  • 3
    You don't need to give them your current salary they have no way to verify that, just give your expected salary (and inflate that a bit as a negotiating position). Aug 10, 2019 at 13:02

5 Answers 5


I would suggest two things:

  1. Clearly state your target salary at the start

  2. Know the current market salary so you don’t price yourself out of range.

If your target is in the range of the market salary then this strategy should work.

This somewhat assumes that your actual salary is lower than the market salary, but that seems to be the point...

  • In my region, there is an informal general thumb of rule practice called "+20% max on top current" that is widely adhered to. With this, I am already forced into a poor position of negotiation since the onus is now on me to convince them why this rule doesn't applies to my situation. I'm not so much concerned about wanting to be overpaid than for me to be fairly paid; admittedly, knowledge of such poor HR practices was not a variable in my consideration model in deciding to take up a role.
    – Physkid
    Aug 10, 2019 at 7:34
  • @Physkid I am located in Taiwan. I don't know where you are. I'll give you a piece of advice assuming you are in Asia region similar to Taiwan and you are in a tech field., if not, disregard my advice. Go back to school, get a masters degree. Then ask for higher salary. That's the easy way.
    – Nobody
    Aug 10, 2019 at 11:59
  • @scaaahu getting an msc without some work experience, unless your msc is from a top 20 school, is going to work against your favour. Again, I doubt academic credentials is an issue here. The OP should already clarify this. Strong Bsc program typically have 50-60% overlap with msc programs in terms of coursework. I'm asking for a fairer salary, not a "higher" salary.
    – Physkid
    Aug 10, 2019 at 12:54
  • If you are really, really sure of your market comparisons, follow the advice in this answer and refuse to state your current pay. Say that it is inappropriately low, and insist on negotiating salary based on your market value alone. Aug 10, 2019 at 12:58
  • @PatriciaShanahan Very sure about this. 1) Every time I get a call from a recruiter, they would inform me about how apprehensive they are about contacting me because they suspect they would not be able to match their client's budget to what they think I am getting. 2)I have written exchange with recruiters sharing with me how much I should be getting. Edit: wasn't paying attention.
    – Physkid
    Aug 10, 2019 at 13:04

Highlight the pluses of you current situation and sell them as a reason to your low salary.

Make clear to the recruiters that you accepted a lower salary because of the outstanding work/life balance (maybe borderline lie...), when they play the lowball card ask about work/life balance at the new workplace and ask that they put it in writing, then downplay their attempt aiming for an higher salary because of the lack of evidence.

May work or not, but imo is worth a try.


In one of your comments you indicated that most of the recruiters are offering you a 20% raise and that this is something that they are very reluctant to deviate from.

Ignoring internal promotions, this leaves you with four options:

  1. Accept a 20% pay rise and stick with the new company for a few years.
  2. Accept a 20% pay rise and aim to change jobs as swiftly as possible, compounding the raises from 2-3 job changes (only do this if you feel it would be culturally acceptable to change jobs multiple times).
  3. Fight the system. Depending on how pervasive the system is this may be hard (but worthwhile) or it may be all but impossible. The other answers have some good suggestions as to how to go about this.
  4. Evade the system. Find work in another country to break the cycle of strict 20% raises. Different countries have different currencies, salaries, and associated costs of living. This means employers will find it harder to base your new salary on your current salary and are therefore much more likely to look at your skills when making an offer.

Are you happy with your current standard of living? Do you enjoy your work? If you answered yes to both those things then it might be a good idea to focus on that and worry less about the exact salary.

  • Thank you for your insights. I am extremely intellectually unsatisfied with the work in my current role and this adds to the pressure on me to look around.
    – Physkid
    Aug 10, 2019 at 14:10
  • @Physkid personally I would I focus on improving job satisfaction ahead of salary. Often interesting equates to difficult so if you can find an interesting job the salary will follow, given time. Aug 10, 2019 at 15:27

Why don’t you give the headhunters your current salary (including benefits) and in addition your minimum desired raise? Getting a 30+% improvement seems to be a quite normal reason to switch jobs (especially when switching roles).


You're currently employed, right? So you're not desperate / have a bit of leverage.

Tell them the reason you're looking for a new position is you feel that you're underpaid and you will only accept $xxxx (+ benefits/whatever) for your compensation package.

Also, most recruiters are a waste of time. There are some good ones, but for the most part you're better off applying directly or as a referral. (At least that's the case here in the US).

Finally -- you mention your current company "can't afford to pay you more" that is the oldest excuse in the book for not giving someone a raise. If you get a better offer somewhere else and they don't match, maybe you're not as valuable to them as you thought you were (or maybe they really couldn't afford an extra 20% pay)

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