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Advice / Job Search / Job Offer

Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Convince Future Employers to Pay Me More?

person negotiating
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Dear Recruiter,

I’ve worked for a large nonprofit for roughly five years in a management role. I’ve quickly moved up the ranks, having been promoted three times during my tenure here. While I love the organization I work for, I’ve reached a point in my life in which I can no longer afford to stay.

I’ve applied for positions in the private sector. In many of the applications they ask for current salary and “required salary” for the position. How do I handle the large increase in what I am asking for compared to what I’m currently being paid? I’m worried that working for a nonprofit where we all tend to be paid 30% below the salary range for positions in the private sector is hurting my chances at landing a better job. What should I do?


Industry Switcher

Hi Industry Switcher,

Imagine a world where every shirt in every store costs $20. Sounds nuts, right? That’s because we know each shirt’s value is calculated by more than just the name “shirt” and includes factors like style, fabric, designer, and even retail location. We embrace this concept when we buy consumer goods, but we often can’t seem to apply the same logic during the hiring process.

Think of yourself like a shirt. Multiple factors go into your “cost” beyond your job title—your education level, the industry you work in, where you live, and your skill set just to name a few.

Change any of those factors and your compensation should change. You wouldn’t walk into Prada and expect them to sell a classic white T-shirt at the same price as H&M. So why would you expect a private sector job to pay you based off of what you were making in a nonprofit role?

I myself went through the same process a few years ago switching from the nonprofit to the for-profit sector, and I have some tips that’ll help you make the transition.

First, you have to embrace that what you were paid before doesn’t relate to your future pay. You need to enter salary negotiations confident that you’re worth whatever you’re seeking for the specific industry and role.

When I was asked for my numbers, I’d always respond: “Because I am changing industries, I do not believe my previous salary is relevant for this conversation. Based off my research, I’m seeking between $70K-$85K annually, which feels accurate for this industry and for my background and skill.”

If the question is on an application, leave it blank and only include your desired compensation if you really want to get paid more.

In fact, it’s now illegal in some places, such as New York City, to ask for a pay history for the very reason that it perpetuates unfair pay gaps.

If you’re applying to jobs in one of the areas that ban this question you could also gently let the hiring manager know as they may not be aware. Their response could also tell you a lot about their company culture. (But I also understand if you’re not comfortable doing that.)

You also need to do your research to come up with an accurate number. There are great tips in this article to help you determine your negotiating plan. From talking to people in the industry, to pulling numbers from several salary calculators (like these six free options) to knowing exactly what you’re bringing to the table, I encourage candidates to share a range rather than cite an exact number early in the process. This gives you space for future negotiations.

Plus, don’t lose sight of the fact that a compensation package is about much more than base pay: think vacation time, health benefits, and title. But, don’t make the mistake of setting the low point of your range lower than what you’d be happy to accept.

To sum it up: You are a really nice shirt, go get paid like one.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Real Recruiter in the subject line.

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