Do your homework before jumping to a higher-paying job

Dear Joan,
I have been with the same company for almost four years. I am 29 years old and I am going to school for my Master’s. In the three years that I have been with this company, I have gotten a 7% raise every year. I am a good employee, but I believe the raise was due to the fact that I was brought into the company at a very low salary. I have now worked my way up a few levels.

My problem is that I still feel that I’m drastically underpaid. I am quite certain that people entering into my position enter at quite a higher salary and they have no experience. Also, I am fairly certain that if I left the company, I could be hired at their competitor for about 5-10K more than what I’m making now. I really like where I’m working and what I’m doing, but how can I be fairly compensated?

Do I try to go through Human Resources or through my supervisor? Can I use the fact that for my position, field, experience, I am underpaid? It seems that this is true for most people in most fields. What is the incentive to stay with a company when it seems that the only way to make money is to leave the company? I would appreciate any suggestions that you may have for me.

Before you take this another step, you need to do more homework. Being "quite certain" and saying, "I feel drastically underpaid" is just a personal opinion without some facts to back it up. It’s human nature to feel that you are worth more than your paycheck reveals. The questions you need to answer are these:

1.      What do other people with my level of education and experience get paid for similar jobs in my industry and region of the country?

2.      What other perks and benefits do I enjoy, that I wouldn’t want to give up (and what monetary or personal value do they have)? And what perks and benefits do I want that I don’t have now?

3.      What kind of job satisfaction and growth experiences am I getting that I’m not willing to give up? What experience am I missing that I can’t get here?

The answers to these questions will help you decide whether to stay or to leave. The job market today is so tight that some people hopscotch from job to job, going to any employer who will pay them a few more bucks. While this may be a fine, short-term strategy for some, it won’t give you much time to add to your skill base or build any kind of long-term financial future.

Your case sounds different. You’ve been there four years and your raises have been well above average (which has typically been approximately 4% over the last few years). Because the shortage of workers has driven up wages, it’s very possible that your newer peers have been brought in at a higher level than you were. That is probably why your raises were higher than average—to keep you in line with your colleagues.

Before you approach your manager, do some salary-related research:

§      Contact professional organizations in your field. Many times they have salary surveys by geographical region and industry.

§      Do your own research at a convention or professional meeting. Solicit salary data from your peers, with a promise to send copies of your results. For instance, you can do this informally by describing your responsibilities, the size of your organization, the level of your experience and then asking people what their organization would pay for a similar position. Another approach is to create a simple form and pass it out at a monthly meeting or concurrent session. With data like this you will know exactly where you stand.

§      Be honest about your accomplishments and consider whether they are worthy of more salary. Sometimes people confuse "time on the job" with "experience." Regardless of how much time you’ve been there, you should be paid according to the results you produce.

§      Search the web for salary data. Many career-related sites now offer salary data. However, it would still be wise to get more specific data from actual peers, since many salary surveys only show averages or national figures.

§      Interview with other companies. You can do this by informational interviewing contacts you know in the field, or by actually applying for real jobs.

Consider questions 2 and 3, above to decide whether to interview with the competition, or approach your manager for a raise. Since you like where you work and what you are doing, don’t be too quick to toss it all, if the salary difference isn’t that great. You could wind up in a well-paying job you hate.

If you choose to approach your manager, put your thoughts on paper first. Schedule a meeting and walk your manager through your increased job responsibilities, your results, and your salary comparison data. State your case professionally and calmly. Be prepared to give him or her, a specific amount you would like. If the facts speak for themselves, the decisions will be easier for both of you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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