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I’ve spent some time self-reflecting recently, and I have felt underpaid for the work that I do for a while, but I have been having trouble finding a job that pays what I am worth. How can I convince an employer to pay me for the value that I know that I can bring? (Below is my job history story)

Job #1: When I was fresh out of school, I was looking for a job that would pay me around $60k. Ultimately, I was passed over several times for positions, and being a fresh grad, eventually, I realized that I have no leverage, and the longer I didn’t have a job, the longer it would hamper my career, so eventually, I accepted a job at $50k. Within the first several months, I proved to be a complete success at my job, and within 9 month (which was my total experience in aggregate), I was promoted, and received a 5% raise. Ultimately, I stuck with the position, a little bit longer before leaving.

Job #2: When I was looking, I wanted to get a salary around $80k. I remember talking to a recruiter, who I came in to meet. I remember, when I told her my salary expectation, she was like “based on your years of experience, I can’t help you find a job at $80k”, and she ended the conversation and walked me to the door. The job that I ended up accepting (for a variety of reasons) was around $65k. Within a few months, I proved to be a success. I was given responsibility that was 30-40% greater than my peers at an equivalent level. (However, I wasn’t being paid extra to do it.) While I did get a promotion, they accompanied it with even more responsibility (50-60% more), and after 4 years at the company, I was only making $81k, which is still less than what I was looking for when I first started (when adjusting for inflation). Ultimately, I demanded a 2nd promotion because of the workload, and they declined, so I started looking again.

Job #3: When I tried looking again, I was searching for a role that would pay me $120k. However, companies would either ask me if I would come down in salary, and if not, they would not interview me. Their reason was that I didn’t have a manager title currently, so I wasn’t worth the money. (Ultimately, I felt that I did have the experience of a manager from Job #2, the issue was that they did not want to give me the promotion that I earned). Ultimately, I came down to $100k (and even then, I still faced issues with companies demanding that I go lower and/or accept a lower title), but I did find a job at $100k with the title that I wanted after 8 months of searching. Again, after 6 months, my boss gave me a glowing year-end review. I had done way more than he had expected in a short period of time, and he gave me the maximum allowed year-end raise of 5% (which HR pro-rated to 2.5% since I started mid-year, which I guess covers inflation).

When I look at it, I have always been paid 20% less than the value that I believe I bring ($50k vs $60k; $65k vs $80, $100k vs $120k). Even though, after a few months, all of employers can see that I am phenomenal at my job, yet none of them want to pay me what I am worth at the outset. Further, because of how salary increases work in the corporate world, I’m never going to get that raise at my current company, and other companies will decline to interview me because I don’t have enough on my resume (it’s like I’m a teacher without the job security). What can I do to get paid what I am worth? I feel the only thing that employers care about is your last job title and dates of employment, not what you can do for them or your skills and abilities.

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    How did you arrive at what you think your salary should be? Why do you think you should earn 20% more than someone with a similar level of experience?
    – Seth R
    Jul 9 at 20:48
  • Your question is really confusing. If - right now - you want a higher salary, you have two extremely simple choices. (1) ask for a higher salary (2) change jobs. This is as simple as the sun rising. What is it you're asking here? If you want a higher salary, ask for it (or change jobs).
    – Fattie
    Jul 10 at 15:09
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    @Fattie I can't speak on what tradice9 is thinking, but I find this kind of comment often comes up with coworkers who want the money, but don't want the risks of a new job or believe (or have been told) they won't get a raise in their current one. Those people want their employer to suddenly realize how valuable they are and do the work of giving them more money, validating their feelings. This isn't going to happen, so their feelings aren't validated, and they grumble. Ttradice9, if you're really undervalued, you will do well looking for your raise.
    – Edwin Buck
    Jul 10 at 16:47
  • just as @EdwinBuck says ...
    – Fattie
    Jul 10 at 17:11
  • Re When I look at it, I have always been paid 20% less than the value that I believe I bring .. That is utterly unrealistic. You are getting benefits (paid time off, retirement matching, insurance, ...). And then there's office space, equipment, ... Those alone raise your cost to your employer by at least 20%, more likely >50%. And this leaves no room for your employer to make a profit, subsidize internal research & development, write proposals, recruit new employees, pay the C-level people, ... At a very bare minimum you should be bringing in double your salary to the corporate coffers. Jul 10 at 19:28
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You're quoting a lot of numbers here, but you're not saying how you got there. I could pull a number out of my butt and say I'm worth a million bucks, but realistically nobody's going to pay me that, and I'm going to have to take a job that's significantly less than what I say I'm worth, if what I say I'm worth is a truly ridiculous number that I got without doing a dime of research.

So here's what you do: Actually do some searching. Places you could look include asking your friends, checking on job search sites such as Glassdoor, and, failing that, ask, don't tell, the companies you're recruiting with, what they're willing to pay you. If 10 companies all say you're worth $80k, then chances are pretty good you're not worth $120k that you think you are.

It's also worthwhile to note that compensation varies geographically. You will necessarily make more in a large metro hub, because the cost of living is higher in a large metro hub. You wouldn't survive a week on Lincoln, Nebraska salary if you're living in SF, and conversely you would live like a king in Lincoln if you made SF salary. Companies know this and adjust accordingly; they pay people who live in Lincoln less, and people who live in SF more, even for the exact same job. In fact, this is an incentive for large companies to create branch offices in small towns, to leverage the lower cost of living to pay their employees less without impacting their standard of living; in fact, companies can cut salary for rural employees (relative to urban employees) and be praised for it! So make sure your salary expectation takes into account the area you live in; if you live in Lincoln, you're just simply not going to get paid an SF salary, it just ain't gonna happen.

Another thing that I noticed is that your salary expectations are not constant, nor are they even scalable. Your first job, you took at $50k (nevermind you "thought you were worth" $60k; you took $50k). At this company, you worked for about a year ("a little over 9 months"), and then for your next job you wanted $80k, which is a 60% increase. Do you really think you deserve a 60% raise after 1 year of experience? That's pretty unreasonable. So you couldn't get the 60% raise you wanted, and you "settled" for $65k, which is a pretty decent 30% raise. You got a promotion and a raise and worked there for 4 years before leaving. When you were searching for your next job, you were looking for $120k; between the 2nd and 3rd jobs you got 4 years of experience, and your requested salary increase is almost 100% (65k vs 120k). Do you think 4 years of experience deserves twice the salary? Jeez, I wish I could double my salary every 4 years, that would be nice; after about 8 years of experience in industry my salary is still not even double my first job straight out of university (it's close, but not quite there). But you can't, it's not reasonable. So you "settled" again for $100k, which is still a 55% raise.

To remove all the exposition, here is what happened:

Job 1: Ask 60k, get 50k
Job 2: Ask 80k (60% raise), get 65k (30% raise)
Job 3: Ask 120k (85% raise), get 100k (55% raise)

Here's the thing: You're simply asking too much. You're getting a lot actually if you consider the above figures, but you want a lot more. If you want to make what you're worth, you probably want to reassess what you're actually worth, relative to your locale, industry, and years of experience, because you're probably way off base.

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How can I find a job that pays me for the value that I bring?

The only way to do this is to be self employed.

When you work for or attempt to work for someone else, they will pay you no more than what they believe your value to the company is. It does not matter what you believe, all they are looking at is your previous experience and titles. If you want to break this cycle, you stop looking to work for someone else and start looking to work for yourself.

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  • @Joe Strazzere, I can do a lot for their company. They have no issues giving me a lot more work after a few months. The issue is that they don't want to pay me to do it.
    – tradice9
    Jul 9 at 20:08
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    @tradice9 You don't get paid "What you're worth", you get paid what the market rate for your skills and experience is. 2 very different numbers. When you buy something are you paying "what it's worth", or are you paying a price that is actually quite a bit less than what you'd be willing to pay? If you want to capture 100% of the value you create, you have to own the company you work for (and then you have a new problem of getting clients to pay you 'what you're worth').
    – Kaz
    Jul 9 at 20:27
  • Being self employed doesn’t necessarily pay you anything. This is a wishful thinking answer that’s not actionable for the OP.
    – mxyzplk
    Jul 9 at 22:52
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I can't speak exactly on your situation; but, I saw this kind of comment a lot at a former employer.

There it was often expressed by coworkers who wanted more money. They didn't want the risks of a new job or they believed (or had been told) that they would not get a raise in their current one (for whatever reason).

They wanted their employer to suddenly realize how valuable they were and for their manager / boss / company to do the work of giving them more money, validating their feelings.

This never happens, their feelings aren't going to be validated, and they continue to grumble.

The core of the problem is that money is a bad validation of a person's value. Companies know this. If they give you a raise, and still keep in place the culture that makes you feel undervalued, you will eventually leave due to the culture or request additional raises while still grumbling because the core issue is validation of your personal worth (which despite jokes, can't be bought).

If you're really under earning, you will do well asking for a raise or seeking a new job. If you are undervalued as a person, you will do much better seeking a new job, even at the same salary. Getting paid more doesn't make a manager suddenly decide you need to be treated better.

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  • I don't disagree with you. I felt this way more so in Job #2. I had issues with the job, but it was not until they started dumping even more work onto me that I had an issue. Ultimately, I did not want to work that much extra for no additional comp because I felt that they were treating like a "work-horse" (and that's not my wording, it came from another director in our division).
    – tradice9
    Jul 10 at 23:17
  • @tradice9 Well, there's things you can do to fix it, but there's nothing that doesn't come without a risk. If you are good at finishing tasks, then you'll get more of them. That generally comes with them valuing you, but you must be missing a piece of the puzzle, because that part isn't happening. words like "don't disagree" instead of "agree" double-down on the negativity. Maybe it isn't what you're saying, but how you say it. Honestly I really don't know, I'm not there; but, I hope you find your way (which might require a new job if it's gone too far).
    – Edwin Buck
    Jul 11 at 5:47
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As guiding rule - its not what you think you worth, its how much your can get paid on the market.

Feeling of being underpaid is common ;)

Most people strive to get as much as possible for as little as possible.

In my experience, if you feel you worth a certain amount - first check the market rate for that salary and align your skills and personality to match.

But i imagine, then you would think you worth more than that :)

Perhaps for you a solution would be your own company

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