To earn more, I never ask for a higher salary at a new job. Nor do I threaten my current employer to get a raise. Nonetheless, I have consistently earned more since applying this simple strategy.
First, a few personal beliefs that are the base of this strategy:
- The value of currency depends on the population believing in it.
- Money is not “quantified goodness”, nor is it related to the positive impact you make in the world (think bankers or drug lords).
- “Money is not happiness”. That is only true above a certain level. That level depends on many factors: family obligations, lifestyle, location, welfare system, available safety nets, etc. and varies from individual to individual.
- You are unlikely going to get rich by working for someone else. If you want big rewards, take big risks and start your own business.
- To maximize profit, a company has every intention to pay you less than the value you create. That’s just how capitalism works.
- What the companies are willing to put on the table depends on the market potential not just your skills or niceness of the employees hiring you.
- Your value as a person is not coupled to the value you create at a certain job.
- Professionals generally don’t undersell their skills.
- If you optimize your career for money, you may end up with a well paid job that is not aligned with your value system.
- The best way to grow is to expose yourself to challenges. The more you grow, the more options you have.
That last point is actually the key in this strategy. In a nutshell your market value depends on two factors:
- Internal: invest in yourself and learn the skills that makes you desirable. If you don’t own the company, invest in your personal brand and disengage your identity and fate from someone else’s company brand because you only have full control over one of them.
- External: be available in an environment where your skillset is highly desirable but scarce
By shifting focus from salary growth to personal growth, you take the responsibility for something you can control. It is not easy and the path to personal and skill growth may be uncomfortable but the reward is higher over time, more reliable, joyful and most importantly gives you the freedom to take your skills from a bad job to somewhere else.
Growth and comfort do not coexist.
— IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.
If you’re interested to read some background about how these beliefs came to be, read this other post:
Stories of salary and growth
I’ve been working at more than a dozen companies over the past 22 years, including my own. Over the years I’ve…
My strategy is not a trick or secret but rather based on mutual trust and leverage. It may not work in all situations, but given the fact that I’m going to spend the best hours of my best years working at a company, trust-from-the-start is the best approach.
Be transparent about what you make
There are many guides on the internet about how to do salary negotiation and the common advice is to avoid mentioning a specific number until you’ve gone through. But my approach is a bit different and more honest: I just ask for the range they have in mind for the position they are recruiting for.
If they are transparent, I just tell the recruiters what I’m making at my current job. Otherwise, I give them a range like “I fall into the X to Y band”.
Ask for a fair pay
It is common for recruiters to ask: “what kind of salary are you looking for?” I always reply: “pay me reasonably as you would pay someone else who is doing the same job”. This answer dodges various bias factors like racism, agism, or sexism. Notice here, I’m not pushing for my worth, but rather suggest them to pick a number that they find reasonable. It’s still up to me to judge what that number represents.
Red flag: if the recruiter mentions that the salaries are decided at an individual level, it means they don’t pay fair based on performance but rather other variables like history or negotiation are at play. In reality evey job has a salary band connected to the expected performance and value you’re supposed to add in that capacity.
So far the previous points were counter intuitive. Here’s the kick: you have to have multiple options to negotiate like that.
Always build options. Options puts YOU in power.
Be transparent and upfront that you are in different processes but don’t mention the name of the companies that they are competing against. Let them work out the numbers. In the end it is not about making more money but it’s about working somewhere with better growth opportunities.
Red flag: if the recruiter insist on knowing the name of the other companies you’re interviewing, it either means that they don’t trust your word or they may affect your chances at the other process. It shouldn’t be surprising that the recruiters also network with their peers in other companies!
Personally, I may not go for the highest paying job though. There are other factors that are more important.
I cannot stress this part enough. The whole reason this method works is the fact that you have leverage and can walk out of a bad deal. If you don’t have multiple options, this method is not going to work. Don’t even think about lying. If you feel like the company doesn’t trust you, drop out of the process politely without burning bridges. This should let you focus on the options that matter.
Don’t threaten your current employer
Some people intentionally turn themselves into a dependency and then threaten their employer to give more money or they’ll quit. This is mean and unfair because those people do everything within their power to hold that leverage. They’ll resist sharing knowledge or properly onboarding others.
A company, should never keep someone only by money. It’s like paying a blackmailer. It won’t stop. If someone is only staying for the money, they’ve picked the wrong motivation after all and it won’t be long before they leave you for a competitor.
I never beg for more money I don’t deserve. My approach is based on “what more can I do to earn more” instead of “how can I squeeze more from an employer”. In the end the pay is affected by the business capacity more than your potential.
Never bet more than you can comfortably loose.
Disclaimer: I can’t rule out the fact that there are some jobs that pay less but present great challenges and growth opportunities.
Update: I left Medium to Substack. You are welcome to join me on the other side: https://alexewerlof.substack.com/ 🙂
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