Salary Negotiations: How to Get Paid What You're Worth

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The only person who can determine your worth is you.

The talking heads spend a lot of time discussing unemployment, but for many people, unemployment isn't the real problem.

Underemployment is the issue facing millions of people. These are the folks who work, work, work, but still can't get their personal finances in order because they're simply not being paid enough.

But the idea of being underemployed isn't necessarily restricted to people who are struggling. Even if you're getting by, you may not be making as much as you could be making -- or what you should be making.

More than 40% of U.S. workers feel they're underpaid for their roles, a percentage that hasn't changed much in the last 10 years. If you're one of the many people who feel undervalued for your work, it's time to stand up for yourself -- and your wallet. These tips can help you get paid what you're really worth.

Know your market value

The first step to getting paid what you're worth is to figure out your realistic market value.

Find average salaries for your role. To do that, just type your job title and the word "salary" in the search engine of your choice, and you'll find any number of websites that will give you salary data. Some of these sites will give you a range common to the industry or role, while other sites will show you actual salaries reported by real workers.

Another way to get an idea of what you could be making is to look at job listings. While some listings -- all right, most listings -- don't include definitive salary information, you can find a few that provide at least a basic range for the position. This also gives you an idea of what skill and experience level is associated with that pay level.

Don't stop here, however. The initial research into your field can give you an idea of the range of salaries that are common to your position, but they don't tell you everything about your own worth.

To determine your own value, take an honest inventory of your skills, experience, and selling points. For instance, if you're just starting out in your field, maybe you know you aren't quite at the top of the salary range yet. Conversely, you may have extra skills or additional experience that add value to what you offer, putting you at the top of the range.

Maintain your confidence

The whole point of doing the research is to know what you're really worth. Once you've determined your value, it's important to be confident and steadfast. Know what your absolute bottom line is -- and stick to it.

For example, if an employer sends you an offer, don't feel pressured to accept it (or turn it down) right away. You're well within your rights to reply with a higher number, especially if their initial offer isn't above your minimum threshold.

If the employer isn't willing to increase your salary, you might consider the perks instead. This could be anything from a better retirement plan, to stock options, to a monthly gym stipend. You could even request extra vacation time. Anything that adds money or time value to the offer is worth considering.

If the company makes it clear they aren't willing to meet you in your range, then you have to have the confidence to turn them down and move on. An employer unwilling to pay you fair market value for your skills is likely to undervalue you in other ways.

Don't overshare during interviews

One question that many interviewees dread is the salary question. Some potential employers will ask about what you were paid at previous companies. You don't have to tell them. In fact, this question is actually against the rules in several states.

If you don't live in a state that bans such questions, you can still choose not to answer them. If the recruiter insists on an answer, don't lie; give a truthful response, but also mention the skills you've gained or other ways your value has increased from your previous role.

Similarly, interviewers may ask what you want to be paid should you be hired by them. If possible, don't give them a numerical response. For instance, if you give them a salary range, most employers will likely give you an offer at the low end of the range. Even giving them a specific number could mean you're lowballing yourself out of a larger salary.

Instead, you could counter their question with a question of your own about the employer's expectations: "What do you expect to pay for this role?" Or you could provide a vague response, such as: "I'm open to reasonable offers" or "I'm willing to negotiate a competitive rate."

If you absolutely have to provide a numerical answer (say, on an application), go with something at the top of your range. If an employer is interested in your skillset, they may just give you what you want. At the least, interested employers may make you a counter offer. If you start at the top of your range, their counter should still be within a reasonable amount of what you would consider.

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