why you’re not getting the salary you want

If you’re not getting the salary you think you deserve, one of these might be the explanation:

1. You didn’t negotiate well when you were hired. There’s a lot of variation in whether and how people negotiate salary when they get a job offer. Some people accept on the spot, others push for a little more money, and others push for a lot more – and some of them get it. (Unfortunately, asking for more now probably won’t close the gap; it’s never as easy to negotiate after you’ve accepted the job.)

2. You haven’t made sure your accomplishments on the job are visible. You could be doing the best work in the company, but if your manager doesn’t know about it, your salary probably won’t reflect it. Don’t be shy about sharing accomplishments with your manager, whether it’s glowing feedback from a customer, a tricky problem that you solved before it blew up, or a cost-saving measure you implemented.

3. You haven’t pushed for a bigger raise. Many people just wait for their employer to reward them with a higher salary and simply accept what you’re given, even when the amount disappoints them. Sometimes getting more money is as simple as asking for it – but you do need to ask.

4. You think doing your job adequately is enough. Doing a merely adequate job isn’t enough to merit significant salary increases. Big raises go to people who go well beyond the minimum expected. Speaking of which…

5. You haven’t taken on enough responsibility. Big raises don’t just get handed out because another year has gone by while you do the same work. A raise is recognition that you’re now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set. A raise says “your work is now worth more to us.” So you need to make sure that’s true before you make your pitch.

6. You’re difficult to deal with. If you’re defensive, a prima donna, negative, complain regularly, or are otherwise difficult to work with, you might not be frustrating enough to fire, but no one is going to go out of their way to keep you, either, and that includes increasing your compensation.

7. Your skills aren’t worth as much in today’s market as you think they are. If you don’t know what your experience and skills are bringing in today’s job market, you might be drastically overestimating what your skill set can command. Do some research on industry norms for your particular work in your geographic area and see where your salary falls relative to those markers.

8. You’re not as valued as you think you are. Many people overestimate their own performance and their own value to their company – assuming the company would fall apart if they left, when in fact the company would continue on just fine. Pretend that you’re your own manager and ask what about your performance would really impress you, or what your manager should be upset to lose about you if you left. If you can’t come up with much, assume that your manager can’t either!

Ultimately, if you don’t you don’t like your salary, talk to your boss about what you would need to accomplish to earn a raise. That conversation could lead to valuable feedback, which might help you discover a solid path to the salary you want. And if your boss won’t budget, you can always go out and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like better – or you might decide that you’d rather stay put.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. SW Engineer*

    Excellent points as usual, Alison.

    I would add one more reason to the list – employers being incredibly cheap and not paying people what they’re really worth. This has really been compounded with our current employment situation.

    I’ve had a lot of interviews where they just tell me “..this job pays X”, with no negotiation of any kind. Pretty much a take it or leave it situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s also the question of whether people are clear on what they’re really worth in today’s market. If someone can’t find an employer willing to pay them $X, then it might be that their skills actually aren’t worth X in the marketplace right now (even if they used to be).

      1. SW Engineer*

        You’re right on that point. As with any job, skills migrate. If you have mobile and/or web development (which I don’t) skills, then you can make more money. I’m not in that group, so I know I’m a little behind.

        I’ve also noticed that many employers also don’t seem to value certain skills, like customer service, people management, project management and other “soft skills”. These are important for engineering, and employers only seem to focus on hard skills, like programming in Python and other web technologies, even for lead/management positions.

      2. Blinx*

        This is what I’m finding. Freelance rates that are posted on some listings are less than they were 10 years ago!!

      3. Charles*

        Yep, “their skills actually aren’t worth X in the marketplace right now (even if they used to be).”

        It’s that “used to be” part that I think many folks are missing out on (and just plain missing, sigh)

        Pay rates for certain jobs in the US have fallen in the last couple of years.

        I just left a job (started only a few weeks back) because the rate was less than I used to get; But, the real kicker is that the boss was expecting overtime and weekend work to be done while telling me to only report 40 hours per week. Since he let me go, I’m sure that the job market will allow him to hire another person for even less money and get the free overtime and weekend work!

        1. SW Engineer*

          “Pay rates for certain jobs in the US have fallen in the last couple of years.”

          You’re spot on there. I’ve noticed a dramatic drop, especially with all of the additional unemployed out there. Even salaries senior level software engineering positions have dropped a LOT – when I’ve looked around they’re offering junior level pay, but they still expect senior-level work.

          I’m trying to be realistic with salary and mentioning my soft skills, but it’s tough out there.

          If you have the right skills at the current exact moment, then it works out. It’s a case of employers only looking at current value and not really looking at the entire package.

  2. Anonymous*

    I just want to point out this covers about everyone except for governmental, educational and some releted fields. In those cases salary is usual set by other reasons that are not at all releted to the employee. For governmental jobs it might be releted to budget concerns, for educational it might be tied to taxes or to funds that are gifted to the school/university. For those fields you may have to accept you’re never going to get what you’re “worth” or may never get a substantial raise – or decide to get a job in another field.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Even there, I think I’d argue it falls under #7 — that your skills aren’t worth as much in your particular market as you think they are. After all, you should know what your field pays (even if it’s different than what another field pays) and base your estimation of what you should be earning on that.

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