I worked my way through college, and earned more than that as a waitress. I politely but promptly turned down that offer and held out for the next one. The second offer came in with a resounding $19,000 a year salary. Again, I turned down that job offer in hopes of finding a higher-paying job.
I was so disheartened by those first two lowball salary offers. So when a third offer was laid on the table topping the last one by $8,000, I took it without hesitation. And that set the tone for how I would approach my next job offer. I didn’t do the research to know whether I was getting a fair salary. I didn’t even check what my industry’s pay standards were at the time. I simply asked myself, “Is this more money than you’re making now?” The answer was yes, and I took the lower-than-I-should-have-accepted salary without negotiation.
When I Learned I Was Lowballed
A few days after I started at my next professional job (also a newspaper), I met my coworker-turned-close friend Dan and we got to talking about my offer. “I went from making $27,000 a year at my last job to making $36,000 here,” I bragged. But I could tell by his face that I should be hanging my head instead of puffing out my chest. Dan was hired just 11 months earlier with a year’s less experience in the field than I had, and his salary was $40,000 a year. On top of a higher salary, he’d negotiated three weeks’ vacation.
Initially, I was embarrassed. Then my emotions turned to frustration. Finally, I got focused. When I was presented with another job offer, instead of basing my decision on whether the salary was more than what I was currently making, I started researching to determine what a fair salary actually was for that job. Here’s how I was able to dodge accepting a lowball salary offer.
I Used Online Resources
My third job offer was for a magazine editor at a regional publication. The first thing I wanted to do was get an idea of others were making in the same position. I went online and looked for salary comparison tools. I used the salary tool at Glassdoor and was able to find the average salary for that role in my area. Plus, I was able to see how that salary compares to the national average for that same job. I discovered editors in my area were making an average of $47,000 a year. That gave me a base on which to judge my own offer.
I Talked to Employees
I reached out to contacts and coworkers until I found a connection between one of them and a former employee at the magazine where I was offered a job. The former employee was happy to dish out that he earned $42,000 when he worked in the exact position I was going to fill.
It was lower than the $47,000 average my online research uncovered, but that average included all editor positions – and this particular editor position was pretty low on the masthead. But at least now I had a baseline; I should accept nothing less than $42,000.
I Didn’t Accept the First Offer
The initial job offer I received was at a salary of $38,000. If I’d followed my previous criteria for accepting job offers, I’d have snatched up this one without hesitation. It was more than the $36,000 I was making in my current role. Old me would have celebrated my raise. But new me was mildly irritated at the low-ball salary offer.
I informed my future boss that I did salary research, and I found the courage to counteroffer with $42,000. The company came back with an offer of $40,000 with assurance of a $1,000 raise after six months and an extra week’s vacation. I said yes.
What I Learned
After I took that job, I was having drinks with my new managing editor when the topic of salaries came up. I told her what I was making, and she started crying at the table. She was the-second-to-top editor at the publication and had been there for five years, and I was making $6,000 more than her.
Come to find out, she hadn’t done any job or salary research before accepting the position. And she didn’t negotiate.
When it comes to salary, knowledge really is power. Knowing industry standards, talking to former employees, and fighting for what you’re worth not only helps you earn more now, but it sets you up for financial success in the future.
A version of this article was originally published on Glassdoor. It is adapted with permission.
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