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Career Corner: The Reality of Being Underpaid

The theory is that if you get your foot in the door, you can work your way up over time. I understand the reasoning. It’s a career outlook that has been around for a long time. But, in today’s career environment, this approach can backfire. – Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

Have you ever had someone tell you that it’s a good idea to get your foot in the door at a company? The theory is that if you get your foot in the door, you can work your way up over time. I understand the reasoning. It’s a career outlook that has been around for a long time. But, in today’s career environment, this approach can backfire.

Many companies no longer prioritize promoting from within. Employees switch jobs so quickly that employers are typically focused on new talent coming in. And, there’s a tendency for the company to want you to show up with all of the right experience. They’re less interested to train you, or to move you into a new department. They want you to be productive on 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. However, this new outlook brings up something interesting. In the past, job seekers may have been willing to take a lower paycheck now in hopes of getting a substantial raise at a later time. But, on average, companies now only give employees two to four percent raises each year.

This means that you should try to start off where you want to be. 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 predicted. Hopefully, higher wages are just around the next corner. But, there’s something to keep in mind. 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 sources where you can find salaries for an industry, a region, and even at specific companies by titles. Check out sites like Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, and Salary.com to find out what your role pays in today’s market.

If you accept a job that pays less than market value, you’re doing a disservice. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and to everyone else in your industry. 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.

So, what should you do? First, do your research. Find out what the going rate is for your job. Then, don’t just interview for one job at a time; try to interview for multiple jobs so you’ll have more than one choice and competitive offers. The sooner we each stop taking less than we’re worth, the sooner we will all benefit.

Angela Copeland, a career coach and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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