The deed is done. You've accepted a new job and you're very excited to discover which flavours of coffee pod are in the kitchen and who will be your new work BFF (or frenemy). But that initial "I did it!" high can fade if your salary feels flimsy.
Don't be discouraged. Maybe after job searching for months this position hit all the other right marks, or you were changing careers and simply weren't aware of market rates and accidentally low-balled yourself. Doesn't matter. You are where you are - and here's what to do now.
The biggest hurdle is lack of knowledge. If you already know you're low-balled, that's great (really!). If you suspect you settled for too little but need more info, investigate salaries in your industry on Glassdoor, ask for advice from friends in the same or similar fields, and compare hard numbers if you feel comfortable.
One conversational icebreaker I use is: "Hey, so, I really like talking about money…!" If my friend says, "Me too!" that's a green light to swap experiences. If they try to flee, shut it down.
Know Why This Is Important
Maybe you wanted to appear grateful when you got the job offer, or you felt uncomfortable negotiating, but think of yourself in 10 to 15 years and remember: It really pays to get paid more now.
Research shows that salaries you accept at the beginning of your career can determine your future lifetime earnings. According to a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, median lifetime income for men has been on a downward trend (the median male who turned 55 in 2013 earned $174,098) less in lifetime income, measured in 2013 dollars, than a 55-year-old 16 years earlier) and the authors attribute that to a downward trend in men's earnings in the early years of their career.
On the other hand, the median lifetime income for women has gone up, but that's only because they, well, started from the bottom. If you're already groaning thinking about retirement, don't feel locked in by where you are now. It's time to think strategy.
You're already in the job, so try not to resent your low salary. No passive aggression or whining to your colleagues or partners. It is what it is, and if you spend valuable time being annoyed or dreaming of that extra couple thousand dollars or moping around feeling undervalued, that's going to show through in your work, which won't lead you down the right path.
Get Everything in Writing Up Front
If you know you're going to accept a low-ball offer - and there's no further room to haggle at the moment - you should ask for performance measurements and get them in your contract, the better to negotiate future raises, says Theresa Merrill, a career coach who specialises in salary negotiations and interview prep.
"You have to advocate for yourself," she says. "No one is going to come to you and say, 'We need to pay you more!'" So you can tell them you're coming in a little bit below where you want to be and you'd like the opportunity to revisit your salary a few months later. Telling yourself, "Well, I guess I'll check in with my boss in a year," won't lead to concrete results, so Merrill advises asking for performance reviews and raises if you reach quantifiable goals. "If somebody's just made you an offer, they're not going to say no then," she says, "but once you're in the job, they are going to say no." Operate from an early position of strength because, as she notes, "They don't call it post-nuptials."
Deliver Great Work
Even if everyone knows you're underpaid, once again, no one's going to just hand you the extra cash. "It always comes back to delivering results. You can't go in to negotiate if you're not performing," notes Merrill, who's also a Muse Master career coach.
Make people aware of your results and performance as they happen, even if it's just as simple as emailing, "Glad that presentation was what you were looking for," or something that sounds vaguely like a humblebrag but is actually just the truth. This will come in handy during your review.
Walk Your Boss to the Finish Line
When it's finally time to ask for that raise, don't go in with an ultimatum. "Good negotiators find common ground, they're not adversarial," says Merrill. Ease into it by asking things like "Have you been pleased when I was able to convert these clients/make these sales/increase web traffic?"
After talking about all the goals you've conquered, say, "Now I'd like to discuss having an increase in my salary because of the work that we've just talked about."
"Then they can't say you're not doing a good job, because you just got them to agree you're doing a good job," she says. Don't flinch on this front.
Consider Your Options
If you're not able to get a raise as quickly as you'd like, you have two options: Leave your position or…actually, there's just that one option. Other perks might encourage you to stick around for a couple years, but don't underestimate the psychological effects of staying in a low-paying job, which can skew your perspective on your own skills, self-worth, and value in your industry.
It never hurts to sniff around other places - and the quickest way to get a salary bump is actually by jumping to a new company. According to two reports, employees who changed jobs earned about 1% more year-over-year than those who stayed with the same employer.
Jump Up in Your Industry
Maybe cheap-o offers are the norm in your line of work. There are still ways to climb the career ladder. Experience makes you a hotter commodity, so consider investing in attaining skills that make you more attractive to prospective employers.
Salaries can also vary widely across companies - a boutique firm won't pay as much as the big guns, so think about what matters to you the most at a company. Plus, geography can play a huge role in salary differences. If your career doesn't tie you down to one location and you have nomadic genes, you may be able to get a salary bump by moving to a city with higher wages - or, alternatively, feel like you received a pay increase by moving to a city with a lower cost of living.
The most important thing to remember? As challenging and frustrating as job-hunting can be, you don't have to settle for what's offered. And if you took a less-than-stellar offer, you've got plenty of options for improving the situation, and can learn from your mistakes for the next time.
Educate yourself, communicate often, ask for what you deserve, repeat. And let us know if you get what you want.