underpaid employee
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Under 30 and underpaid: How to beat the pay trap

24 Feb 2017

How many of us have taken the first job we were offered after graduation, only to be stuck with the same low salary for years? Hays Recruitment’s Martin Dixon is here to help you escape the pay trap.

On receipt of their first job offer fresh from university, understandably, many recent graduates are just happy and relieved to have finally secured their first meaningful permanent role that doesn’t involve frothing milk.

At this early stage in their careers, initiating salary negotiations can feel almost ungrateful and therefore, is not seen as a priority. However, the knock-on effects of this attitude are almost always felt down the line.

Think about it: what happens a year or two into your new role when you realise that you should be on a much higher salary considering the contributions you make to the company, but because you started off low, you don’t feel able to ask for too much of an increase?

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, one option – which isn’t recommended for obvious reasons – could be to simply ‘walk’.

After all, leaving for a better-paid job does send a pretty clear message. However, it’s important for you to understand that this won’t be the last time in your career when you will need to assert yourself and ask for what you deserve in the workplace. There’s no time like the present to learn how to do this effectively.

Whilst your company may have formal salary review processes that take place at a specific time of year, don’t feel obliged to put these discussions off until then.

Approach your direct manager and ask for a meeting, and then make sure that you’re ready to deliver a performance that proves you’re worth what you are asking for.

Prepare to big yourself up

List your full and current responsibilities against those you had at the start of the contract, as well as any additional tasks you have taken as your career has progressed.

Prepare concrete examples of successes, demonstrating that you delivered on your new responsibilities.

If you have key performance indicators that you have exceeded, mention these, especially if they are quantifiable in terms of profit you have made for the company.

Prepare to talk money

Have the amount in mind you want, but make sure this is based on research and fact. Prepare an exhaustive report on your salary and earnings since you started at your current company.

Show any evolution over time, listing any salary reviews alongside the date they took place. Map out the trend over the next three years to show where your salary is headed at the current rate of increase.

It may also be a good idea to check out the industry standard for your role and level of experience. Play this card carefully, and simply have it up your sleeve should you need it, phrasing it as: ‘I’ve done my research, and this is what the average earnings are for someone in my role with my level of experience’.

You don’t need to hold your employer to ransom, threatening to leave if they don’t give you what you want. This is a subtle way of saying: ‘This is what I could get if I went elsewhere’, without actually saying it.

Keep it professional and positive

During the meeting, be sure to phrase everything positively, eg instead of saying: ‘I’ve been here over a year now, I’m doing much more than most people earning my salary do, yet I haven’t seen an increase in my pay’, you would say: ‘I’ve had a really progressive year within this role, I feel I have taken on more responsibility, and I would like to continue to do so whilst earning a salary that is more reflective of this progress’.

Don’t bring personal factors into the situation, for instance, your age or your personal finances. Keep it professional and be sure to highlight what is in it for them, ie you staying motivated enough to continue along this trajectory of making progress and taking on new challenges.

Get ready for objections

Be ready to meet some objections on your manager’s part. For instance, your employer may suggest an alternative, such as an increase in your annual bonus. Are you willing to be flexible on this?

Your employer may also suggest an annual raise in line with company policy. In this case, politely point out that this isn’t based on, or reflective of, your individual performance.

If your manager is more confrontational than this, they may shoot back with: ‘What if we don’t give you a raise?’.

As I mentioned before, don’t hold them to ransom and threaten to leave. Explain that you will continue to do your job to an extremely high level, however, you need to be in an environment where you feel that your continued efforts are recognised and nurtured.

Be patient

Don’t expect a decision there and then. Often they’re not going to put an amount on the table. Tell them that you understand the need for them to think, but give them a clear indication of how much of an increase you want, and a time frame.

To sum up, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of preparing thoroughly for salary negotiations. If you can’t make a persuasive case based on the clear evidence, then this meeting will not go well. Everyone would like a big pay rise. The point is, you deserve one, and you need to be able to justify why. Good luck!

By Martin Dixon

Martin is the EMEA director at Hays. He joined the company in 1996 and has worked for Hays’ EMEA business for the last 10 years.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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