As an HR professional, salary and compensation discussions are normally at the forefront of my day.
Over the years, I’ve learned how compensation is a delicate art merged with the complexities of science and it can take quite a bit of analytical analysis to understand, however, it’s not so complicated for the layman to understand—at least the basics, and enough to be dangerous when understanding your professional value.
Before we really dig in, I want to come to an understanding of what “value” is being referred to in the context of this discussion.
For our purposes, let’s define professional value as “the monetary price of your skillset, knowledge, education, potential, experience, time and manual labor.”
Naturally, it’s extremely difficult to place a price tag on you as a human resource, but businesses do a variation of this every time they extend a job offer. It’s important to note that employers may not take all of these factors into consideration. In fact, they may have their own criteria to help them determine employee value. That’s not a bad thing, it just forces you to be more diligent in understanding what you bring to the job, and the value you’re offering.
The larger and more important point is, neither of you should be too far off from one another.
Let me paint a picture for you from HR Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Stories (yes, it’s a thing)
I’ve seen executives use lawyers to negotiate their offer package and exit agreements worth millions of dollars (yes, my jaw hit the ground as well).
I’ve also seen candidates with Ph.D’s have salary requirements significantly less than our lowest starting salary.
I’ve witnessed a top, junior-mid level job candidate negotiate nearly $30K in a salary increase, $15K signing bonus, and additional PTO.
The difference between the Ph.D new hire and the other two examples? The negotiators understood their value and were more than willing to go bat for their worth.
Does that mean companies undervalue good talent? No, not necessarily.
What they do want, though, is to get the best-in-class talent for cheap as possible.
Unless you’re a person with a highly-sought after skill and you are the top thought leader in that space, or you have some sort of niche knowledge and that company is willing to pay top dollar for it, many companies will want to employ you on the best of their terms.
Here’s the thing about compensation, there’s several elements that comprise your total compensation, it’s not only your salary.
Companies have pay ranges and will usually target the low-to-middle of the range when extending an offer. As an employee, that isn’t inherently bad simply because it gives you room for pay increases and raises.
The problem comes in when the job isn’t paying the market rate for the job you’re considering (which skews their entire pay range), or they offer you significantly less than your peers for doing the same work, at the same level.
The difficulty in this entire conversation is much of this information is held close to the vest internally. Compensation philosophy isn’t widely shared, and when it is, you receive a partially watered down version.
Don’t settle just because it’s offered; know your value, and protect yourself from being undervalued and underpaid.
Because we’re action oriented in this house…
Here’s how you can do this on your own:
Be objective. I know your dopeness, and I see your black girl magic doing its thing at work, but you have to view this from the eyes of anyone else but yourself. Check your ego at the door. If you think you’ll have a hard time evaluating yourself in this way (which I get), tap in a mentor who can help you think this through.
Audit your professional and career doings. If you’ve been effectively interviewing, you would already know your key professional accomplishments, but this is the time to dig a little deeper. Think about what else you have done that has driven a company, or department forward, no matter how insignificant you may think it is, add that to your list. Have your written white papers? Given keynotes? Wrote articles? Are you a thought leader? Are you the master template maker? Start to catalog and audit these things. Don’t think so linearly, either. If you have a skill set that is useful in your job but it’s not a direct requirement in your new position, add it, especially if it’ will help you be more effective in the new position.
Make a scorecard and start to rank yourself (objectively). You may easily figure out your accomplishments and your strengths, it’s a completely different exercise now trying to rank them. Spend the time really creating a robust process to analyze your value
Determine your own range. Companies have fancy tools that help determine this stuff internally (no, it won’t be shared, I don’t recommend asking), but you can create your own and hopefully get damn close. Use free tools available to generate your market value. I always recommend The Bureau of Labor Statistics as a solid starting point. Levels.Fyi is super good for those trying to benchmark the tech space. Don’t limit yourself to these resources, there’s plenty on free salary tools on the market, beware, though, some are more accurate than others.
Be realistic! Hopefully you saw this coming. Okay, so you’ve put in the work to come up with the perfect number, or range, that reflects your value or worth. GREAT JOB! The downside of this is that for better or worse, it may or may not jive with your ideal company, role, industry, location, or even manager. You’ll have to think about how much you’re willing to give and take based on your value and worth. And that is truly a personal choice only to be made by you.
Like I said, it’s an art and science; rarely will this ever be perfect.
If you give the steps a try, let me know your thoughts and how you fair!
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Chief Everything Officer/Only Operating Officer at The Cultured Career and Workfluence; Tech HR Executive; Forbes HR Council Member, Human Resources and Personal Branding Expert, Diversity, Equity + Inclusion Enthusiast. Your personal hype woman—I unabashedly bully you into believing your dopeness, potential, and greatness. Somewhere comfortably located between glitter and gangsta where my black girl magic is shining.