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Advice / Job Search / Job Offer

What to Do When You've Been Lowballed

Dear Negotiators,

I recently had my annual performance review at work. The performance review came with a modest raise, and I expressed that I felt it was not high enough and that I also deserved a promotion.

My manager agreed that I probably deserved an immediate promotion and asked me to give a ballpark salary figure for what I thought was fair. I then gave my manager a number (but foolishly didn't research it). My manager then got back to me later that day and said they could do the salary I asked for. Finally, the next day I signed an acceptance letter of the promotion and the new salary.

 Afterward, I did more research about how much I should be making, and I realize now that I should be making significantly more than what I asked for. So now, I'm frustrated that I essentially lowballed myself. Should I try to ask for another salary adjustment, after having just received one? Should I even bring this up with my manager?

Mr. Lowball

Dear Mr. Lowball,

First, I want to be clear: There is nothing wrong with you. Congratulations on your promotion and your raise.

Even though I’m going to point out five things, five thoughts, that may have held you hostage during your review and resulted in an increase that was below your market value, you are not to take this as an indictment, but rather as an appreciation. You recognized your misstep and sought support and information about how to do things better. You, my friend, are ahead of the curve. The vast majority of us do not take that step.

So, what’s underneath your (our) underasking is a thought sequence:

  1. If I know my true market value, I will have to acknowledge that I’ve been lowballing myself. And that leads to another thought…
  2. If I know my true market value, it will disrupt my belief in the “just world phenomenon—a.k.a., “my boss knows and values my accomplishments and should have been rewarding me accordingly. I shouldn’t have to ask.” And when I realize the folly of that thought, I have another one…
  3. If I know my true market value, I’m going to have to be responsible to myself for shoring up the difference. And the prospect of asking puts me directly in contact with my feelings of worthiness, fear of rejection, and possibly even worries about being perceived as greedy. And so rather than confront that discomfort, I hatch a plan…
  4. If I research my true market value and discover the gap is quite wide, I may feel the only remedy is to leave my job. And the prospect of leaving my job produces another thought…
  5. In the job seeking process, we are typically asked for our salary history, so how will I ever break the anchor of my perpetual lowball?
  6. All of this reasoning and rationalization is what often keeps us in the labyrinth of underearning. What’s important to recognize, Lowball, is that you were (and are) in a position of power—so much so that your boss agreed to an immediate promotion. We hesitant negotiators often so loathe asking for something for ourselves that we fail to see that getting our market value is an exercise of power as possibility. Power that’s generative and allows you to accomplish things that are good for the company, good for your family, and good for the global economy.

    A recent consulting client of mine was in the very same predicament and was told by her manager in preparation for her annual review that she had better “demonstrate she was worthy of a promotion”—which is exactly what she thought she’d been doing all year. I cited the research that women are often promoted for their past accomplishments, while men are promoted for their future potential. In this regard, you are also in a position of power because it's likely that you don't have this bias nipping at your heels.

    My client also prepared a list of accomplishments she gave to her boss to demonstrate that she was already doing the work without the title or the money. Along with that, she focused on the goals and projects and ideas she planned to put in motion in the next year. She walked away with a promotion and a 20% raise.

    So yes, you may—and you should—go back to your manager prepared to provide the same slate of accomplishments, as well as your 2014 goals and projects (your future potential). I recommend making your manager your partner in the process by saying:

    I want to let you know that I’m grateful for my recent promotion and salary adjustment. I was so excited I did not do my due diligence in researching my market value before our conversation, and as a result I am making X% below what I should be. I’d like to brainstorm about how we can bring my salary into alignment so I can focus productively on the year ahead. To help us in this conversation, I've prepared a list of my accomplishments, as well as the goals and projects I'd like to put in action for 2014.

    Seize the power you have, and allow it to be translated to monetary value. This demonstrates the respect you have for yourself and your work and the influence and power you have in your organization.

    Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

    Photo of person signing offer courtesy of Shutterstock.