Editor’s note: This is the seventh post in our advice column. Have a question? Ask it here, and it may be answered in a future post.
Get my money right
I joined a startup as the first employee, taking a sizeable pay cut for the chance to get my hands dirty on a killer product with a great team. Getting in at such an early stage let me work on a huge variety of projects, and gave me a voice in helping shape the product and team.
We’ve just finished an investment round and we’re starting to fill out the team—and while the new hires are being offered competitive salaries (and sometimes beyond that), I haven’t even been offered a raise.
How do I bring up salary negotiations? Do I have a chance at getting the salary I deserve?
–Quit Playing Games With My Salary
When I have to deal with awkward money discussions, I throw myself back to my freelancing days of pricing projects.
There’s 2 dueling approaches to putting a $$ amount on your time*:
*There’s way more than 2, but for the sake of argument let’s stick to these 2.
1. Flat fee
Your time is worth what your time is worth. Whether the client is a nonprofit or a major company that began as a simple search engine, your pricing is the same—and if they can’t afford it, oh well. There’s other freelance suckers.
2. Price per project
The value of your time isn’t based solely on your break-even rate; you’re willing to negotiate down for “worth it” projects, and go up for the big-budget formerly-a-simple-search-engine clients. If you want a project that badly, money won’t stop you.
When you go Soviet Russia on your pricing, without any willingness to compromise, you’re guaranteeing yourself a comfortable, stable income. But you’re also locking yourself out of the projects that can change your career and perspective.
“We’ve been taught that what we earn is what we’re worth.”
However, when you’re willing to compromise hard, you can end up broke and in sticky situations where you feel like everyone is getting paid more than you.
A standard clause in employee contracts prohibits employees from talking about their benefits and salaries with their teammates, precisely for this reason: money is awkward, and it can ruin relationships between people.
(Side note: This is part of why the wage gap lives strong; because we don’t know what our male counterparts are earning. Anyway, continuing on…)
With that being said, whether you know the new hires are earning more or it’s just a suspicion, you know that you’ve compromised—and you want your trust in the team and the product to be reciprocated.
Your desire for a raise has nothing to do with what your teammates are earning; it’s about you knowing that you’re not getting paid fairly, even though the company has the money.
So, you have 2 options:
1. Don’t do anything
This is very much an option. You can sit and stew and pretend you don’t resent the new hires for making more than you, and your boss for making that call. You can assert your status as FIRST HIRE! so that everyone will know how influential you are and how important you are, regardless of the fact that you’re getting paid well below market rate.
Obviously, not doing anything is not a permanent solution. Best case scenario, you quit for a better offer; worst case, you get booted off your team for being a jerk.
If you want to start earning properly without going through all of this, you’ll have to have a conversation.
“Not doing anything is not a permanent solution.”
2. Talk to your boss about what you’re worth
We all need money to pay for things, but the reason we want to make more than that is because we’ve been taught that what we earn is what we’re worth.
We get raises for good performance. We get signing bonuses as a token of excitement. New jobs pay for relocation because they want us to come to them *really* badly.
When we’re the first hire, we’re told that we’re so good at what we do, the company is willing to build an entire budget for us, benefits and all. It’s not just about getting in early—it’s about knowing that you’re the first person to earn the team’s trust, enough for them to put money on you.
When you were hired, that money was enough because it came in a package. But now that people are getting paid more, that amount of money seems paltry.
As your teammates get paid more, what you’re getting paid seems worth less. This is something your boss should know about—and try to repair.
Conversations about money are uncomfortable because we have all of these feelings attached to them: that our salary is what we’re worth, that our raises indicate a company’s appreciation. Ultimately, though, we’re just talking facts.
“Talk to your boss about what you’re worth. It’s better than silent rage.”
Take your boss aside and tell them how you feel: that you’ve brought value to the company, that you continue to do so, and that you want to feel like your compensation reflects your commitment. Let them know how seriously you take your responsibility to the team—enough to join for pennies—and what kind of future you see ahead.
Related: 5 strategies the highest-paid designers use every day
Don’t be afraid of this conversation! If you’re like me and these kind of conversations make you a twitchy mess—well, don’t be like that. Have the conversation and then decide what comes next.
But seriously. Start with the conversation. It’s better than silent rage.
I hate my job
I hate my job, I’m not good at my job, I don’t want to do my job for any more days.
If that were the whole issue, I wouldn’t have to write in; I could just quit. Unfortunately, it’s complicated.
Six months ago I joined a nonprofit, supporting a cause I care deeply about, alongside a team of talented, hardworking people I don’t want to leave. I took a job as a grant writer, hoping to move into copy and branding for the organization—but every day that goes by takes me closer to full-time cold-calling and farther from any semblance of creative work. I know the organization values me, but I can’t handle going into the office for one more day knowing that I’ll be wasting away under a headset.
Is there an elegant way to bring this up to my boss, or do I have to quit and start again?
–Hang Up the Phone Already
Our waking hours are too short to spend at a job we hate. Yet so many of us do.
When I finished college in 2011, the job market was garbage, and my career counselor told me that if I could find anything palatable that I should run for it.
You get what you get and you don’t get upset.
With that advice, my friends and I took wholly unsatisfying jobs at companies whose missions we didn’t care about, working on products that didn’t interest us.
One by one, we all got booted. None of us were particularly good at our jobs, and it didn’t take long for our managers to notice. We were back where we started—in our elementary school bedrooms, sitting in the closet on the phone so our moms wouldn’t hear us.
While this was happening, our friends who loved their jobs were just starting to get hired. They took longer to search, but they were all working with teams that made them happy while many of us were on second or third jobs.
Basically, if you hate your job, you can’t be any good at it.
You’re doing work that you didn’t expect to be doing, which sucks. But did anyone know what you expected to be doing?
“Want to work on something more fulfilling? Make a plan, then meet with your boss.”
It’s not uncommon to take a job for the “in.” The problem is, you have to have a next step planned. Unless you actually tell someone that you want to do something other than what you’re doing, no one is going to know. All they’ll know is that you hate your job.
The process of putting your dream job into words is something Yale researcher and professor Amy Wrzesniewski calls job crafting. In order to work on something fulfilling, incorporating your goals and interests into furthering the company’s mission, it’s your job to come up with a plan: a realistic job description that would keep your boss happy while keeping you at your desk.
There’s no reason to wither away at your desk, or to leave your job without trying. If you want to work on creative projects, why not try? Take the time to make a list of potential projects, benefits to the organization, and what your job would look like on a day-to-day basis (including what you’re doing now, to a degree), schedule a meeting with your boss, and flesh it out.
Maybe it won’t work. But it also might—so it’s worth a shot.
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Shayna is Managing Editor of InVision's design publication, Inside Design. She lives in Tel Aviv with two big dogs.