One of the unfortunately broken aspects of organizations (Even the best-intentioned ones!) is that the most loyal people are often under-valued. If you stay in the same organization for long enough, you’ll almost certainly be paid less than you’re worth.
This isn’t done with intention. An organization has to work harder to pull someone away from a company where they’re already gainfully employed. This often costs more money.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to get paid more is to change jobs. When you’re already happy with your current job, this leaves you in a pickle. What to do when you want to keep your job but also accelerate your financial trajectory?
The starting point is to know your worth by regularly testing the market.
In other words: apply, interview, and get a job offer on a regular cadence so you know your value on the talent market. This equips you with:
- Confidence you can get a new job if the need arises, which is priceless
- A price tag on your talent, which helps combat imposter syndrome, as well as sets the baseline for your expected future pay
- An opportunity to make the jump to another job if it’s a better fit for your goals
- An opportunity to have a compensation conversation with your existing company with a basis in reality
To illustrate my point, I’d like to share two personal stories. I’ll be open about the salary numbers and context involved so that you can benefit from my experiences in your own career.
My first 50% raise
In 2015, I was growing frustrated with my role and the lack of progress at the company. It was manageable, but I had a growing sense that I needed to make a change to reach my potential. I was earning $60,000 a year at the time.
Outside of work I was doing business and marketing coaching for entrepreneurs in Atlanta. One client was founding a startup in the fintech space, which as an industry was taking off at the time. We had a conversation about me becoming Chief Marketing Officer of the new company at a salary of $90,000 a year plus an equity stake equal to 5% of outstanding shares.
The CEO of my existing company had been a mentor to me for years before I joined the team. I went to him for advice: “I got an offer to join a funded startup to lead marketing for $90k a year and 5% equity. As my mentor, what advice do you have for me?”
The end result of the conversation was him saying, “If you want to lead marketing and money is a factor I’ll happily give you the same deal to stay here.”
What!? That happens?
At the time I had no idea this was a possibility, so I hadn’t even considered it. Now I had two offers to lead marketing at a 50% raise and equity that could be worth real money down the road. I stayed with my existing company by taking the generous offer.
My second 50% raise
At the end of every year, I grow introspective. I take time to review the year behind me and look ahead to the future. This process inevitably raises questions about my career. Some years I feel like I’m on track (ie 2020) and others, I feel like I’m falling off track from where I want to be (ie 2017).
As 2017 progressed, I felt frustrated and stuck in my role leading marketing at ConvertKit. There were a variety of factors at play, but at the core was the feeling that I had more potential that I was able to exercise at ConvertKit (where I was making $110,000 a year).
I felt like we were moving slower than we were capable of and I wanted to feel the invigoration that comes at the intersection of meaningful work and rapid progress toward shared goals.
A spontaneous trip to New York in December 2017 turned into the opportunity to interview for two different roles – one with a non-profit and one with a mentor of mine. Both opportunities were dream jobs working on causes and projects I deeply believe in.
Given my level of frustration at work, I took advantage of the opportunities to gauge whether I was ready for big time roles like these.
The result was two job offers with a salary of up to $165,000 a year. That was more money than I previously thought I was worth (partially fueled by the cost of living in New York). Another 50% raise. I was ecstatic.
I told our CEO at ConvertKit I was leaving for a new opportunity, which sparked the most surprising turn of events of all. He asked me to stay on in a new role as COO, matched the pay offer with an ensuing raise to $175,000 six months later, and offered me an ownership stake in the company
In one of the hardest decisions of my life, I turned down an offer for a dream job to continue the work I was doing and work through the frustrations I felt at the time. Here we are today, years later, and it was a good decision.
Knowing your worth gives you leverage
These stories illustrate one of the unwritten rules that we all assume exist in the world but don’t always understand ourselves: You don’t get 50% raises by doing a good job. You put yourself on a different financial trajectory through leverage. I hate that it’s true, but it is.
Before you run off and start applying to jobs, let’s break down this concept with a bit more nuance.
First of all, opportunities like those in my story most often come from people who already know, like and trust you. In order to open similar doors in your own career, you need to establish and maintain a wide network of loose ties for years before you see any benefit to yourself. More on this on another day.
Second, when you get a 50% raise, you have to deliver. Whether you take a new opportunity or stay at your existing company with a new salary, your job is to deliver value that matches your perceived worth. Otherwise you’ll put yourself in a position to lose trust with everyone involved — it’s a “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” situation.
Third, this entire methodology is a great way to burn bridges in every direction if you handle it poorly. It’s a high risk, high reward way to build financial capacity for your family. The key to getting it right is to keep the relationships as the top priority. No amount of financial gain is worth ruined relationships.
The best way to maintain relationships is to respect everyone involved.
Respect your current employer, even when they don’t appear to be deserving of the respect. Interview on your time. Do high quality work, even when you’re applying for and interviewing for other roles.
Respect the teams and individuals you’re interviewing with by putting your best effort into the process. If you reach a point at which you are no longer interested, remove yourself from consideration. When you receive an offer, stick to a timeline and do your very best to make your yes’s mean yes and your no’s mean no. If you’re not sure, no answer is better than walking back an answer you can’t stick to.
Finally, it’s paramount to understand that a 50% raise doesn’t just apply to your current role. It also sets the floor for your next role. When I moved from leading marketing at my old company to leading marketing at ConvertKit, the starting salary was $90,000 because that was my new floor based on my first 50% raise.
When you don’t understand your worth, you are not only foregoing financial upside in your current role, but every role you move on to from now on.
The Three Most Important Things to Read on Knowing Your Worth
- Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz [Book] – At the end of the day, the difference between knowing your worth and making what you’re worth is negotiation. This is one of the best books on negotiation strategy out there. If you want to maximize the impact of your career, negotiation is an essential skill.
- Give and Take by Adam Grant [Book] – This is the best book on building relationships I’ve ever read. It is a handbook to building relationships in a generative way so that you are always in a position to receive goodwill in return. When you’re a strategic giver, you’re the kind of person who will always have opportunities available to get paid what you’re worth.
- How Strong and Weak Ties Help You Find a Job [Article] – One of the most important concepts in Give and Take is that of weak ties. You might think the best job opportunities will come from the people you know best. In fact, the best job opportunities more often come from the network of people you connect with every once in a while. This is a short overview of the concept.
Don’t hold yourself back; make sure you earn what you’re worth
To get paid what you’re worth, you have to provide value. Ironically, some of the highest value teammates also tend to underestimate their own worth. To avoid underestimating yourself, test the market to gather data.
I’d recommend taking this approach once every couple of years. In between, your job is to provide more value than you’re paid by working hard with your head down.
If you pick your head up and look around at what else is out there too often it makes it impossible to do high quality work. If you never pick your head up around to look at what else is out there it makes it impossible to know your worth. Striking the right balance is what experienced professionals learn to do well.
If and when you land a great job offer, you’ll find yourself at an intersection: take the offer or stay in your role. The simplest negotiating principle to remember in these scenarios: never start a conversation you’re not ready and able to ready to walk away from.
If you want to know whether there is a path to stay at your current company with increased responsibility and pay, say so directly. Negotiate in good faith. And be willing to take the competing offer if you can’t get what you’re worth in your current role. Otherwise, don’t raise the conversation at all — starting a negotiation you’re not willing to follow through to the end will cost you in social and political capital at work.
If you spend the majority of time delivering value at work, you’re probably worth more than you realize. Fadia said it best:
Honor your worth.