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The Reality of Being Underpaid

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Angela Copeland | October, 2018

Have you ever heard that just getting your foot in the door with a target employer is enough? The theory is that if you get your foot in the door, even at a low level, you can work your way up over time.

I understand the reasoning behind this career strategy, and it has been common wisdom for quite a while. In today’s professional environment, however, this approach can backfire.

Many companies no longer prioritize promoting from within. Employees change jobs so quickly and regularly that employers typically focus more on the new talent coming in.

Furthermore, most employers would rather you show up with all the right experience right out of the gate. They’re less interested in training employees or moving them between departments. Today, companies want you to be productive from day one so they can get the most out of you before you leave two years later.

This isn’t the rule, and it doesn’t apply to all industries, but it is a reality. These new employer preferences change how job seekers have to approach their careers.

In the past, a job seeker may have been willing to take a lower paycheck today in hopes of getting a substantial raise at a later time. However, the average raise today is only 3.1 percent. This means it is in a candidate’s best interest to start off with the salary they want. If you’re underpaid today, you’ll be underpaid next year and the year after.

As the economy has tightened and the unemployment rate has fallen, wages have not grown as much as economists had predicted. Hopefully higher wages are just around the corner, but as long as companies can pay less, they will.

When you are evaluating a job offer, don’t assume you’ll have to take a pay cut. Don’t assume the new company won’t pay you more than you currently make. Do your research. There are a number of online resources where you can find average salaries for your position, including Glassdoor, Indeed, and Salary.com.

If you accept a job that pays less than market value, you’re doing yourself and everyone in your industry a disservice. Accepting a job at less than the market rate is a signal to the company that it’s okay to underpay workers. It’s a signal that you aren’t valued as an employee. It says that you’re okay making less, and it undercuts your competition.

What should you do? First, do your research. Find out what the going rate is for your job. Then, don’t interview for one job at a time. Try to interview for multiple jobs. That way, you’ll have more than one choice — and more competitive offers as a result. The sooner we each stop accepting less than we’re worth, the sooner we will all benefit.

A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.

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