How to Gauge -- and Leverage -- Your Financial Worth at Work

How do you feel when your landlord asks you to pay more rent at the start of a new year despite not having made any improvements to your apartment or building? Not great, right? Well, now you can understand why your boss might be surprised that you're seeking higher hourly pay or annual salary if you haven't held up your end of the the bargain. In the often uncomfortable employee-employer process of deciding on a fair wage, this is first and foremost: To get the bump you want, you will have to increase your value as an employee, usually through the addition of responsibility or knowledge. If you haven't made the level of improvement that you'd like from, say, your super, wait a tic. If you have, keep reading.

Whether you already have a job or are looking to land one, here is everything to consider, from knowing your worth to explaining it in the conference room.

Ask Yourself and Others: What Factors Determine Your Financial Worth

Whether you're an entry-level web developer, a veteran basketball coach or, more likely, something in between, it's good to know your numbers -- what you've made in previous positions, what you're making now and what you should be earning soon. To get a handle on these latter two numbers, we need to consider a range of factors. What is your education and knowledge level (these are different)? How much experience do you have? Where are you looking for jobs, or where is your job located? What have you accomplished inside or out of the office? Have you (or will you) take on more responsibility? The answers to these questions will affect your number. Just visit a website like salary.com (glassdoor and PayScale also have their pluses), which asks its users to populate the data for its salary-comparison tool. Salary.com looks at the years of experience, education level, company size and industry of everyone who shares your job title. None of these sites pump out the same answer, but it's worthwhile in that it at least gives you your range. 

To shrink that range down to a specific number, the time is right to draw comparisons. Ask your friends, peers at other companies what they make. You can be coy about it to turn a taboo issue into a friendly one: "Would a salary of X and company Y be appealing to you?" Who else can you ask? Take phone calls from recruiters; check out publicly-available government job salaries online; scan job listings that include salary ranges; consult your professional association; and stay in the habit of interviewing elsewhere even if you have no intention of resigning your current gig. (If you're a woman, it would also behoove you to see if any disparities in salary exist between you and men with similar skills.)

Use all of the information you gather to come up with your number. Then worry about how to ask for it.

Ask for More: What to Say to Your Boss and How

So you know your number and it's been cross-checked across other salary-earners in your position elsewhere. Now it's time to ask for it. First, there are some things to understand. Your salary, no matter how large or small, is a part of your company's budget, and a certain allotment has been budgeted for it (the same way that you budget a certain amount for specific expenditures). There is no reason this allotment can't increase, but be aware that salary structures are in place to keep all company employees on a relatively even playing field. Furthermore, consider the other benefits available to you at your new or current company: Are you offered a medical plan? How about dental and vision? Is there an acceptable amount of paid vacation time? What other perks are passed down from the powers that be? It's worth considering the monetary value of these benefits and whether they should increase, decrease or keep your number what it is. Lastly, have a good understanding as to the context of your number as it relates to your own earning history and future. There is a temptation to enflate your previous earnings and while this is not advisable, be sure to not take any steps back from your actual prior salaries while also giving yourself room to grow quickly in the near future.

OK, now it's time to sit down and discuss. There is much advice out there, but it's highly dependent on the kind of relationship you enjoy with your supervisor. If you're interviewing for a position or negotiating your first salary, it's a commonly-held belief to cede the power in the conversation: Let them bring up the topic first, and they will in due time. With that said, have your number and your story ready when the time is right. Do not, it is often advised, offer them a range. Instead, lay out your number and explain why it's the right one. This should be the case whether you are a prospective, new or current employee. What will change is your evidence backing up that number.

First of all, itemize what you bring to the table. These facts -- such as the skills you have gained, how you set yourself apart and why you fit so well in the company's culture -- will help you establish leverage. Also feel free to dress up your proposal. Some say that building a "brag sheet," a compendium of colleague testimonials, will help you prove your worth. Then lean on your research into the dollars and cents of it all. Establish the going rate for the work of someone in your position and pit yourself somewhere along the documented range to ensure you'll be getting "market value," a preferred go-to phrase in this realm. Letting your employer name the first number (say, of a new salary, or a new raise) puts you in a strong position to make a counteroffer, but putting your number on the table first establishes an important baseline for the conversation; there are good arguments for both strategies. Regardless of your choice, view this exercise as one about seeking fair value to help your savings, not about getting the "most you can" out of your boss. After all, whatever number you and them agree upon, you're the one who will have to live up to it.

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