How I Accidentally Screwed Myself Over When Negotiating My Salary

We aren’t taught to ask for money. We aren’t advised on how to negotiate a salary. There was never a moment when anyone taught me how to look at my paycheck and figure out what I really earned.

And that’s how I ended up screwing myself in a very specific way when accepting a job at my current employer. You see, when I was in the job interview and was asked how much I’d like to earn, I said the number which appeared on my payslip. What I forgot to account for was the fact that the number didn’t include very generous medical aid and pension fund contributions by my previous employer.

That means, from the moment I started working at my current employer, I was earning around R2000 ($150 USD) less each month. It took me a good few months to realize my mistake, wondering why I wasn’t quite making it through the month as easily as I had before. And, when I finally did realize, it was too late. There’s no way I could go to my employer and say, “I’m an idiot, I didn’t ask for the correct amount of money, please pay me more.”

That was my fault; that was on me, and I’ve had to accept the consequences for the past three years. You see, one botched salary negotiation doesn’t just last for one month. It’ll likely last for the rest of your career. You’re always being paid from that lower base. All of your increases, bonuses, and promotions are always calculated from that low figure. It took quite a few increases to even claw my way back to where I was. And it took a promotion to a far more senior role with way more responsibility to even begin earning a decent salary and to finally feel like the boss I’d always dreamed of becoming.

When I casually mentioned all of this to a friend of mine, her immediate reaction was rage. How could my employer do that, she fumed. How could they treat me like that, she wanted to know. It wasn’t them, I assured her, it was not their fault. They gave me exactly what I’d asked for. It was my mistake, my foolishness which had put me in this position. And, so, to help anyone who might be on the verge of making this same mistake, here are some tips.

Know what you earn

Yes, this might sound obvious, but I’ve had many conversations with many people in the ensuing years who’ve had no idea how much they really earn. They also forget to calculate those extras. They might not realize just how many perks they have at an employer. If your current employer offers you daily unlimited breakfast cereal and peanut butter toast, that’s an entire meal you’re not shelling out for each day. And if your current employer offers parking in a nearby lot, that’s monthly parking fees you don’t have to cover. The extras could be anything — they don’t have to be dollars deposited in your bank account to make a substantial difference to your true earnings.

Know how to rectify the situation

Okay, now you’ve taken the job and didn’t factor in the cereal, toast, parking, medical or pension. What do you do now? Well, you need to work your bum off. You need to prove your worth to your employer and show that you deserve that increase, bonus, or promotion. Take the advice of the ultimate #Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso: “Keep in mind one of my all-time mantras: ‘You don’t get what you don’t ask for.’ It’s sad but true. You’re going to have to get used to asking for the things — all the things — you get in this lifetime.”

Know how to negotiate

This is a tough one. Try being honest with your employer. Own up to your mistake and explain what you did. Perhaps they’d be open to having a discussion about working toward your expected salary within a few months. Maybe after you’ve been there three months or six, all the while demonstrating what a hard worker you are, they’d be willing to up your pay. What’s important, though, is that you continue to show your worth during this time. If you’ve missed deadlines on more than one occasion due to your own procrastination or argued consistently with your line manager about petty task details, this conversation is likely not going to go your way.

Know how to budget

And, finally, the least fun option. This is your new salary and you need to learn how to make it work. That might mean a cheaper cell phone package, fewer dinners out, or even, shockingly, a shopping ban for a few months. All that matters here is that you accept your new reality and make it work. And you can, because you must.

Michelle has been writing professionally for a decade, first as a newspaper reporter and now as head of a performance marketing content team. She lives in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. She loves traveling almost as much as she loves personal finance (a lot).

Image via Unsplash

  • Negotiating offers is so important. Making under market value doesn’t mean you are sentenced to being underpaid for life. Sometimes you have to move companies to make what you’re worth.