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What to do if you feel you’re underpaid and want a better salary

Certain strategies can help boost your paycheck.

Certain strategies can help boost your paycheck. Credit: Getty Images / Fullerene

You’re probably working hard, and you’re probably still struggling to pay the bills.

U.S. workers put in more hours in 2016 than the average among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet, overall financial security in the United States declined across most age groups between 2000 and 2014, according to Stanford University’s Center on Longevity.

Figuring out whether your skills, experience and contributions to the company should net you a raise is tricky. Just because you feel underpaid doesn’t mean you are — but it’s worth finding out.

  • Research the market. The internet is a repository for wage data. Use a mix of websites to research the market rate for your position. Look specifically in your geographic area, since differences in cost of living have a major impact on salaries throughout the country. Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool and’s Salary Wizard can both help.

Professional connections at other companies in your field are another solid resource, if you’re comfortable talking to them about money — and potentially sharing your own current salary if asked.

You can say: “I’m working to understand what an appropriate salary would be for someone with my experience. Based on what you know, what’s the range for what I should expect to earn?”

  • Talk to senior colleagues, The next step is to find out how your company approaches compensation. First, ask a senior colleague what you should be earning at your level. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of investing company Ellevest, says that’s what she did when she worked on Wall Street. A formal or informal mentor who has a stake in your success is the best option.

“It takes away that sense of competition that you can have when sharing this type of information with someone who’s your peer,” she says.

The conversation should be part of an overall discussion about your career development.

  • (Maybe) discuss with peers. If you don’t feel like you were able to get satisfactory answers from your mentor or manager about compensation at the company, you may want to seek out peers to talk to. But use caution.

Many companies have policies that prohibit or discourage discussions about pay among employees, even though those policies are illegal, says Jake Rosenfeld, associate professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.


If you feel you have sufficient data about the wage your job pays in your market, approach your manager or human resources representative, and ask about the salary ranges for your position and experience level. Couch the discussion in the expectations for each level: What would it take to move into a higher pay band? What can you do to get a promotion, not only in pay but in level of responsibility?

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