If you’ve ever been hesitant to negotiate your salary with your employer, this should give you the nudge you need.
“I recently decided I wanted to move on from my job for a variety of reasons,” said Michael, 27, in a recent post on Reddit. “One of the main reasons was I felt I was undervalued.
“So with a lot of research … I went from $58,000 to $85,000.”
That’s a 45% leap in pay!
To clarify: In the end, Michael took a new job. But first, he got his existing employer to offer the same raise.
So he had a 45% raise offer on the table to remain in the same position with his company.
How to Get the Paycheck You Deserve
“I felt that the travel, the skills needed, the bad environment and the responsibility needed to do my job well were supposed to pay more,” Michael told The Penny Hoarder.
Michael’s an automation engineer who’d been working in the industry for eight years. He was with his employer for 4.5 years, the first three as a custom controls technician.
As other Redditors pointed out, the move from technician to engineer is not a natural progression in the field. That was the first factor in Michael’s lower-than-market pay.
“I was getting bored with tech work,” he explained in the comments under his post. “I went to some of the managers in the company and showed interest to learn more.”
He went on to learn new job skills on his own time, watching YouTube videos and borrowing training computers from work. He also recommends these sites:
- Khan Academy: free resources across subjects for all ages
- MIT OpenCourseWare: free online course materials for actual MIT courses
- Codeacademy: free coding classes
Here are more places to find free online courses.
After about a year of effort to show his employer he was serious about moving up, Michael got the engineering job.
While he didn’t say it explicitly, Michael’s ability to take control of his own career is certainly a factor in his success.
“Take opportunities as they are offered, and never stop learning,” he told fellow redditors.
However, after two years in the new position, he was ready to take the next step and demand compensation that matched his qualifications and work.
How to Know You’re Undervalued
While the initiative is impressive, such a move within a company can make it tough to ask for the pay your new position deserves.
“The company saw you as a technician in an engineer role and was paying you as such,” suggested Reddit user Kybuck83.
Just as he’d taken the initiative to earn the promotion in the first place, Michael began the necessary work to prove his worth to the company that likely still saw him as the 23-year-old technician hired four years earlier.
Step one? Make sure you’re right.
“I felt I was undervalued, so I needed to prove it,” Michael wrote on Reddit.
Instead of relying on his assumptions or anecdotal evidence from co-workers, he did his research. He recommends these sites for researching salaries:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics — Occupational Outlook Handbook
- And of course, Google job openings and typical salaries for your position.
And keep your location in mind.
Michael points out he lives in the Midwest, where his lower cost of living brings down the typical pay offered for his position. Be ambitious — but realistic.
The salary range for Michael’s position, automation engineer, is $52,000-$101,000, according to PayScale. Geography is the second most important factor in determining where you’ll fall on the scale, after experience.
Michael learned the median salary for his job in his area is $70,000.
“So number one was finished,” he explained on Reddit. “I am being undervalued.”
Next on Michael’s list was to find another job.
He never meant to lure a better offer out of his current employer. Instead, he was prepared to leave his old company to work for someone who properly valued his skills.
Since it was the first time Michael had put himself out there for a position at this level, he started by polishing his skills as a job applicant.
Before even looking for jobs, he spent an entire week just researching the process:
- how to apply
- how to create a resume
- how to do well in a phone or in-person interview
- how to speak like a professional
- how to accent his strengths
- how to follow-up after an interview
Then he spent another week applying for jobs, tweaking his resume to appeal to 15 different companies.
“There were many hours at the computer that week,” he told us. “I took a whole day off work and spent 10 hours straight getting started. I spent hours every night after work, sometimes until midnight.”
He applied for jobs in different industries, but with the same job duties.
The biggest difference between the potential new positions and his current job was the amount of travel. He applied for positions that would allow him to be home a lot more.
“Extra time home is worth money by itself,” Michael said
By the end of the week, he’d lined up three interviews. Within two weeks, he received offers from all three companies.
The offers served a dual purpose: They further reinforced Michael’s suspicion his current company was undervaluing him, and afforded him the freedom to demand what he’s worth.
In addition to the interviewing skills that impressed his potential employers, Michael was bold in his salary negotiations.
First, he says, one company offered a salary range below his bottom line. He declined it.
“Staying strong and not budging on this bottom line is essential,” he explained on Reddit.
In two interviews, potential employers asked Michael to name his salary range, and he aimed high: $75,000-$85,000.
“They seemed OK with it,” he said, even though he’d been hesitant to be the first to name a number at all.
In the end, one company offered him the job for $75,000 — and the other offered $82,000.
A jump from $58,000 to $82,000 in two weeks isn’t too shabby. But it gets better.
When Michael told his employer he was planning to leave for a better opportunity, his employer counted with an even higher offer: $85,000. To stay put.
In case you’re having trouble keeping up, Michael now has three offers on the table, hiking his salary by at least 30%.
The Final Decision
Ultimately, Michael realized he wanted to leave his job and start anew.
“The work I would be doing at the new place was closer to my heart than what I was doing at my original employer,” he told TPH.
“The travel situation was much better. The company was smaller, which was better for me. The company was more stable, and growing.”
Plus, when he mentioned the counteroffer to the company that had offered $82,000, it offered to match that salary.
He would be moving into the same position and duties at a new, better company for 45% more money.
“Getting a 45% raise probably isn’t typical,” Michael acknowledged in the post. “But the fact remains that it is possible to negotiate a better lifestyle.
“It is nerve racking [sic], intense, anxiety inducing and difficult,” he said. “But it is all worth it in the end.”
Sure, a bit of Michael’s situation is unique. He began this journey seriously underpaid at his existing job, and we hope most of you aren’t in that situation.
But for the most part, anyone can take Michael’s advice. Most importantly, you don’t have to settle for whatever opportunity is in front of you.
If you’re tired of your job, figure out how to gain the skills to earn a better one.
If you’re disappointed with your pay, ask for more.
Always do your research. Arm yourself with the information you need to be prepared to get what you want.
And, simply, don’t give up.
“The single most important thing you need to have in your career and your life is persistence,” Michael said. “Never giving up will get you further than the smartest person in the world.”
Your Turn: Have you negotiated a pay raise? What tips can you add from your experience?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).