Are You Paid Fairly? And What Should You Do If You Aren’t?

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What is the job worth?

Many people ask me how to go about negotiating their compensation. They struggle to figure out “what they are worth.” Or sometimes when I suggest they are not paid enough and they should ask for more, they ask, “am I worth that much?”

What you are worth is never the point.

Whenever you negotiate for salary or contract rates, don’t focus on what you are worth, focus on what the job is worth, and what the outcome that job delvers is worth to the company.

You need to do some homework to figure this out. Find out what others in a similar role are getting paid. Understand what outcomes the business values most.

If anyone ever says, “You are not worth that much,” you can come back and say, “If this job delivers these outcomes at this level, my data shows that it is worth X in this market; what does your data show?”

“You don’t have the experience…”

I was thinking back to a time in my early career when I was a field-based sales engineer. It was my job to be the technical counterpart to a salesperson. I needed to demonstrate the product, and show customers how our product could be configured to meet their needs and improve their business.

It was my second job out of college and I was about 22. (I graduated at 20). My salary was $30k/year. About six months in, the only other female in our peer group said to me, “Do you know that all the guys in this job are making $36,000 a year?”

My first reaction was, “I guess it’s because they have more experience.” She said, “It’s not fair.” (She got paid the same as me, but had more experience than I did).

Gather the data; build the business case

So I thought about it for a few weeks. Then I watched how the guys did the job. I looked at what they were doing and not doing, and compared it to what I was doing.

It turned out that in every aspect of the role I was performing at the same level or at a higher level than the guys. In addition to that, I was doing a bigger job. I was being used in sales in situations on additional parts of our product that some of these guys either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do.

I was being left alone with customers to close business and develop marketing and training with reseller partners. So I then I finally thought, “this doesn’t add up.” ( I was a little slow…)

Ask for it

In my next meeting with the VP of Sales and the CEO, they thanked me for my good work and I said, “You’re welcome, and I want a raise”.

Their first response was, “You haven’t been here long enough.” I said, “All of my peers are making $6k more than I am.” They said, “They get paid more because they have more experience.”

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So I then said, “But I don’t seem to be getting any kind of slack or break on the work because I have less experience. In fact I am doing more advanced work than they are. I do everything thing they do, and more, so why is their attendance record worth more than my results? I think my salary should be raised at least to what you are paying the others.”

They agreed to raise my salary shortly after that.

The final point in the story is that the other woman called me later and said, “Thanks, you got me a raise.”

What are the lessons here?

  1. If I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t get.
  2. If I didn’t do my homework on knowing what the job was worth, I would not have had a business case to base my request on. Learn the market rate for your job.
  3. A business case is much harder to argue with than, “It’s not fair.”
  4. A business case is much more productive than,You are discriminating against me because I am a woman.” It’s worth expanding on this fourth point. Looking back, of course they were paying me and the other woman less than the men. It took me about 15 more years to notice that by the way. (Again, I was a bit slow on this point…)

Business results speak loudest

But I’m glad I was oblivious. If I had become upset about being treated unfairly as a woman, I would have used up a lot of energy and emotion on that. I might have argued on that basis.

I might have gotten labeled, even unofficially, as “difficult” and that might have cut off future opportunities. By focusing on the business case, I was putting all the right energy in all the right places. I was distinguishing myself on the value I was adding to the business instead of complaining about how the world works.

No one is completely immune from stingy bosses or companies trying to get you to work for the absolute minimum they can get away with.

But I can tell you, at any level, whether it’s an entry level job or a C-Level position, it is always more productive and compelling to focus on building and selling a business case for the compensation you want based on what the job is worth to the the company rather than debating about fairness.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

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1 Comment on “Are You Paid Fairly? And What Should You Do If You Aren’t?

  1. Only problem with this approach is what if you are a person working multiple job functions for a smaller company. Where one function has nothing to do with any of the others, you just have skills at it, it was witnessed by business ownership, and suddenly you are asked all the time to lend your skills to that effort, rather than what you were hired for. If I am a cad designer, and am being asked to perform desktop support and IT functions for the company, what then? Research the value of both jobs and add them up for a final number of worth? That wouldn’t work. What if they also added the maintenance of their intellectual property, not only for the company you work for, but the co-owners 2 other companies as well? Nothing to do with design work, but required of you to perform? Businesses that purposely play dumb, or purposely dismiss the value of these additional functions you perform, by feigning ignorance of the fact it “is” a different job function. Ive heard it all… from “well you don’t have that much design work to do , so be our free IT guy in between”, to being told to be glad there is other things for me to do because “sales” have been slow lately. Nevermind the highly paid salesmen whose responsibility it is to handle that, nor the fact that the lack of sales does not affect managements’ salaries or their cronies. There has to be something a professional can do, because more and more of these job listings are adding multiple high-tiered job descriptions under a heading for a much lesser paid title. For instance, under a “mechanical drafter” job listing, they will state other functions that are typically performed by degreed engineers or qualified technicians for field work, and only want to “PAY” for a mechanical drafter. Basically,,, be our brain surgeon and mow our lawns, and we will pay you as a “lawnmower”…. THAT is the problem with the working world today. Unscrupulous business owners that think they can get a pound for a penny and use sneaky, and fraudulent means with which to get it. “Other duties as required”…. which means,… be our engineer, be our IT guy, be our intellectual property agent, be our website designer, be our graphic design artist, be our videographer and marketing designer….. ALLL FOR THE LOW LOW PRICE OF A “mechanical drafter”…

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