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“Know your worth,” career experts often say.
But when it comes to salary expectations, American workers are already setting the bar high.
What some labor economists are calling a “near-perfect” job market has helped propel the amount of money most job applicants would accept to a record this year, reaching $78,645, according to the latest New York Federal Reserve employment survey.
However, when broken down by gender, the differences are striking. For men, the average lowest wage they would be willing to accept for a new job is $91,048, about $25,000 more than the average women would accept, which currently stands at $66,068.
“As a woman, as a woman of color, there are systemic biases,” said Cinneah El-Amin, who leveraged her network as a recent graduate from Barnard, an undergraduate women’s college of Columbia University, to help increase her income.
Regarding her first job as a senior analyst in 2017, El-Amin said, “I was offered $68,000, I countered and asked for $72,000,” she said.
Since that first successful negotiation, El-Amin relied on those same skills and alumni network to grow her salary with every new position. In her most recent role, El-Amin, now 28, earned $200,000, she said.
“I didn’t come from wealth, but I’ve been able to ascend to a different level,” El-Amin said.
El-Amin now advises other recent Barnard graduates to focus on the skills and value they can bring to an organization, even at the entry level.
“We discredit ourselves before anyone else does,” she said.
Consider those initial conversations as a way to test your capacity, said A-J Aronstein, assistant vice president of lifelong success at Barnard.
“This is not just about increasing compensation,” he said. “It demonstrates you are going to be an advocate for yourself and do it in an effective way.”
The payoff can be huge. Even small increases in your salary at the outset can have a tremendous effect on your lifetime earnings, studies show.
1. Negotiate for higher pay
Men are slightly more likely than women to ask for higher pay, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, and those who counter on salary are more likely to get at least some of what they asked for.
“Everyone should negotiate,” said Trevor Bogan, a regional director at the Top Employers Institute. “Salary discussions are a natural component of the job market right now.”
But “do your research,” he advised. Look at salary data, industry trends, competitive benefit offerings and schedules as well as the value you can bring.
“Educate yourself and align your background to the role so it’s easy for the hiring manager to connect the dots,” Bogan said. “The worst thing someone is going to say is ‘no,'” he added.
If higher pay isn’t in the cards, there may be other assets nearly as valuable, such as a flexible schedule or career advancement opportunities with added training and development classes that could lead to a better salary down the road.
“Don’t be afraid to ask those questions,” Bogan said.
2. Identify an advocate
Finding people within an organization that will lobby on your behalf is key, according to Laurie Chamberlin, head of LHH Recruitment Solutions, a division of the Adecco Group.
“Women tend to look for mentors and men tend to look for sponsors who will help them negotiate,” she said.
Mentors play an important role in providing advice and support at work, but they may not influence the person making salary decisions. That makes a difference, according to Gallup. A mentor shares knowledge and provides guidance, while a sponsor provides access to opportunities at work and advocates for career advancement.
“Ask yourself what you are missing out on,” Chamberlin said. Then, find those people who can help you reach your goals.
3. Make a financial plan
In the long run, lower wages could also contribute to greater financial insecurity, said Alex Gailey, an analyst at Bankrate.com.
Although most people feel at least somewhat worried about money, 64% of women with college degrees do not feel financially secure, compared to only 36% who feel the same, according to a recent survey by Bankrate.
The same survey found that 43% of men with college degrees feel completely financially secure, and just 16% of women expect to achieve that milestone at some point.
Aside from salary, making a financial plan early in your career is important, Gailey said. Build an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses, spend less than you earn and invest for your future self, she advised.