Know your worth, and ask for it.
I didn’t seek out a career in recruiting. I actually studied Travel Industry Management in undergrad. The staffing industry is one that sort of finds you and yanks you in. It turned out to be a great fit for me. I realized what I loved about hospitality is people, and there is no more “people-y” job than recruiting. I found the job rewarding, challenging, and at times fascinating. As a recruiter, I partner directly with senior leaders of growing businesses to solve one of their most critical and challenging problems - hiring. More fascinating still, I’ve had an eye-opening aerial view of career growth and compensation, and what I’ve found is variance. Incredible variance. Not just in technical fields, but in almost every field. Including my field.
A recruiter with 5 years of experience (that’s two variables: a job title + an amount of time spent in the role) is making anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 per year in the united states. In between those numbers sits a bell curve with a figure of about $80K at its peak (the 50th percentile). There are a seemingly infinite number of variables tied to these three figures and every data point in between, but for simplicity let’s say the bottom of the curve represents a temp recruiter for a small local retail operation in the suburbs, and the top of the curve is a top performing technical recruiter for Netflix in San Francisco. Difference in ability is one factor, but likely much less significant than you might think. Location, industry, company size are all factors that contribute heavily to your pay and they are often factors that offer mobility within your control (you can move to a new city, transition into a new industry, wedge yourself into a new company, etc.)
My career started on day 1 at the bottom of that bell curve. That means from where I had started, if I were just average 5 years later (50th percentile) and I knew which variables to control, I could double my salary in five years. I’ve learned it’s not hard to be better than average. I can guarantee if you subscribe and understand the principles in this blog you will most certainly be better than average.
Like so many milennials I left school with a mountain of debt which made financial growth important. I knew asking for an annual 3% raise wouldn’t get me where I needed to be. I simply had to do well in my then-current job and identify the variables that would lead to more pay in my next job. The aerial view of career growth and compensation I was gaining became an invaluable education which I was able to apply to my own career. I would later come to learn that my understanding of this asset is something that sets me apart. Most recruiters completely miss the opportunity that’s right in front of them (they make up the lower majority of the bell curve). But this is true for any career field. Every job in every industry has a bell curve, and there are more tools at your disposal than ever to get a glimpse of what that curve looks like as it relates to you and your future.
Part of my role as a recruiter is to negotiate salary. The person who tells you salary is a science is fooling themselves. Maybe it used to be a science - we covered how the talent market has changed in a recent post, "You Are a Startup". But today whether a company pays fairly and competitively is largely subjective, and entirely dependent on their people/HR philosophy. A lot of companies really struggle with the topic of compensation, and pay disparity is exacerbated by the rate of change and the nature of competition in all industries. I will not tell you to go into any job asking for $200K unless you legitimately warrant it, but I can't stress enough the importance of knowing your worth and asking for it. First I'll tell you why it's important, then check out my next post titled "Be open to making more $" to learn how I think about navigating your bell curve, and growing your primary income.
Pay disparity is a reality. The data shows us that women and non-white professionals on average make less annually for the same work than their white, male counterparts in the US. It's important to understand the natural causes of this and how to navigate them. Competition is the primary factor at play. Any reasonable business makes every attempt to be budget-conscious. Their objective in any transaction is to maximize value, and minimize cost. That's why when a bright, talented candidate asks for less than what was budgeted, most companies won't hesitate to say "deal!". Seems fair, right? You got what you were asking for, and the company gets to save a bit from what they expected. Of course when you zoom out over time, especially within large organizations, you start to see the macro impact of these micro pay decisions and the outcomes are far more insidious regardless of seemingly harmless budget-conscious intent.
It becomes very clear that marginalized groups (women, people of color, LGBTQ+) who have statistically struggled more to build a career will tend to ask for less so not to rule themselves out of the running. A company, under the impression that the candidate is getting what they want, will happily fool themselves into thinking it is fair in the moment and this dynamic compounds into systemic inequity.
Any ethical company is working hard to address pay inequity, but these problems are not solved over night. The biggest crime in this equation is that marginalized groups are made to feel by society that they should ask for less, or that they should be content with settling because they're lucky to have gotten the job. The best we can do in general is try to counter that mindset, and educate young women and men on their worth/equip them with the tools they need to effectively negotiate.
This applies to anyone reading: Research your market with all the tools at your disposal and know your worth going into an interview. You are better than average, so expect nothing less than the 50th percentile for your city, amount of experience, industry and job title. If a company offers you that or more - that's great! If not, harness the power of data to form a strong argument:
"Thank you so much for this offer! I'm so glad to hear you feel I'm the right person for the job. I'd be excited to join this team and I believe in the value I could add to the company. But at this point in my career, and according to my research on these platforms I believe my experience is worth this much and I hope you will consider meeting me there."
It can feel scary, but remember - if you received an offer it's because you're right for the job and this role needs to be filled as soon as possible. The cost of leaving the role open is often greater than the cost of meeting you at a few thousand more. You have some leverage, and all you're asking for is fair market pay. Few companies will rescind their offer if all you’re asking for is what the data shows.
Making data driven decisions, and supporting your argument with data is a critical element to thinking like a startup. When used effectively, data can become your super power. But beyond learning how to research what you’re worth and present the information effectively we all still experience self doubt and fear. This is the best time to lean on a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, put some intention behind identifying one. A little encouragement from someone who’s been there before can go a long way.
- From "knowing your worth, and asking for it" to "managing up and leading without authority" or "when to jump", be sure to subscribe for more insights from a recruiter in tech.