What Am I Worth?
by William Miller
Brighton Business Review
Have you ever asked yourself the following question?
“How much am I worth?”
Chances are you have and especially if you are involved in a salary negotiation for a new position.
This happened to me once and I botched it rather badly, but my loss can turn into your gain.
I learned a lot about what to do, get as much salary information about the position as possible,
and what not to do, ask for a salary that’s way above the average salary for the position.
There I was in the late nineties working in the technology industry. My skills were in demand and
it seemed like everybody around me was jumping ship and moving into new positions with increasing
levels of compensation. It looked like moving to a new position was a great way to get easy money
for doing the same work I was already doing. I was making about $52,000 per year and many of my
colleagues were easily jumping their salaries by eight to ten-thousand dollars a year.
This was my chance to really jumpstart my earnings. I went through a series of three interviews
with a large technology firm. I had breezed through them and had one last interview to go. That
interview was pretty much just a formality as it was a meeting with the recruiter that I had worked with
first and then the hiring manager who would place me in a division. I gave the recruiter my paper work
and he started to head across the hall to hand it to the hiring manager when he literally stopped in
I had asked for $80,000 as a salary requirement. He came back into the office and said,
“We have a problem here.”
He then took the next five minutes to lay into me about not understanding what I was worth and how
he would be embarrassed to take this requirement to the hiring manager. He didn’t even give me a
chance to offer to work for less, I had totally scared him off as a prospect.
The very next day a friend of mine got hired at that exact company in a similar position to mine
for $64,000. He had jumped his salary by $14,000. Why was he successful and I wasn’t?
Looking back now it’s plain to see that I didn’t understand what I was worth to them. I had an idea
on what I thought I was worth, but they had market research and customers that dictated what they
could afford to pay. Eight thousand dollars a year was probably out of the pay grid for the position
or it was at least at the very top. I would be coming in as a new employee and would have had no room
for salary growth in that position.
I had no idea on how far you can stretch from your current salary either. Large companies have a very
good handle on what other companies are currently paying and they aren’t going to go way out of the pay
grid unless you are something very special. I probably could have asked for $70,000 as a stretch and
they may well have accepted that offer. Chances are they would have made a slightly lower offer but
it wouldn’t have been that much lower, remember my friend asked for and got $64,000. I could have walked
away with a new position in the range of $65,000 to $70,000. Instead I returned to my regular position
and continued to make $52,000 a year missing out on the technology boom at the end of the century.
In the end, don’t be afraid to stretch when you make a salary requirement, but make sure it’s within
range or that the company will make a counter-offer at a slightly lower salary. Use online salary
surveys and calculators to find out what the median rates are for the position you are interviewing
for. Know what you are worth and the skills you bring to the table, set a baseline from there and
make sure you can demonstrate why you would warrant a higher salary than the median. This can all be
done in the salary negotiation stage.