5 Stupid Reasons You're Underpaid—And How To Fix Them

You're not being out-earned because you're out-skilled. People often have blind spots about getting paid—so pull back the veil and start earning what you're worth.

While Teddy Roosevelt may have been onto something when he said that "comparison is the thief of joy," the 26th president probably wasn't concerned with getting paid.

We are.

And Dave Fecak knows why we aren't making enough. Fecak has had long exposure to technologists' salaries: He's been a part of software recruiting since 1998. And while his points are directly intended for programmers, they carry currency beyond coders.

These are the reasons you aren't making enough.

Image consciousness

You'll get paid more if your boss sees intangible advantages in paying you. Influence—or as, we might say, personal brand—can translate into dollar signs. Fecak mentions that open source project leads, conference organizers, meetup leaders, speakers, and authors could all be a part of that trend, evidenced by moves like Google hiring futurist Ray Kurzweil. And on a smaller scale, companies might like you if, for instance, you're a regular conference speaker—they'll get a bit of buzz whenever someone looks at your bio.

The first negotiation

As we've discussed, taking a lowball offer at your first grownup job can set you back $500,000 over a lifetime. Fecak says to think of a starting salary as the principal level for compound interest—a heuristic that helps you understand how much getting comfortable with negotiation can pay off.

Know the market (and your place in it)

If you blindly trust your employer to compensate you fairly, you might be doing yourself a disservice. While it's cute to think that your employeer has your best interest in mind, you need to make sure you have your best interest in mind. Fecak says he's seen folks floored after learning they've been earning 20% below the going rate for years. Don't be that guy. Check out Glassdoor and Bright for background and talk to friends and colleagues in the field—knowing your worth is key to career planning.

Profit or cost?

If you're a technologist, you'll make more in a tech company. Why? Because then tech is a main source of revenue, rather than this opaque tertiary thing that has to be dealt with—and your colleagues might have a clue of what you're doing. If you're a part of the core competency, you'll be compensated accordingly.

Skill scarcity

In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king. If you're literate in the Next Big Thing before it's a Thing then you can command a higher salary—whether we're talking data skills, learning a programming language, or uniquely blended background (look at Gentry Underwood's long road to Mailbox.)

Have another theory why you're not getting paid enough? Tell us about it in the comments.

Why You Make Less Money

[Image: Flickr user Hana Carpenter]

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  • Lawrence Anzo

    I am a college graduate in the Philippines with a bachelor degree and i am presently working in an Advertising Company as a machine operator in it's fabrication department here in UAE. I can actually perform any work in each and every department. I operate the CNC AXYZ machine for the carpentry using a lot of applications like autocad, google sketch-up for 3d designing and v-carve pro, the laser cutting machine, cuts fabric for designing sports uniforms, operates sewing machine for its tailoring department. i work as an artist in the printing department, print customized t-shirt, basketball uniforms etc.Creates graphic designs using COREL DRAW for the administration department, and a lot more which means, i'm a very productive person in the company i have  been working for three years, but i am only receiving a very small salary which is 2600 dirhams only including my accomodation allowance. What should i do, in order for me to receive a fairer salary with the knowledge and skills  i have?

  • Steve Wise

    It certainly always pays to be part of the top line generating team (the number the company wants to expand) rather than the other (cost) line which the management is paid to reduce.

  • Miroslav32

    How much did FC pay you for this piece? I bet it's way lower than what most mag writers would consider fair. You'll argue that the exposure is great. But they'll argue that this article will be forgotten in minutes. And they're right. What qualifies you to write this? Did you get at least $1.50 a word for it? Don't think it's making you a brand or improving your influence, because most people are never going to look at the byline and those in journalism who do will know how little you took for it. So there goes the opportunity to negotiate a higher rate with others. Oh, you'll do alright, but I'd have preferred to see this article written by someone who commands $2 a word all the time, and has lived your advice.

  • Dettie Ad Life

    Interestingly enough, after I read this article I scrolled down to the bottom to see who wrote it. I then honestly thought "I may have to read more of Drake Baer's stuff". 

    I still think this after reading your comment. So, not so sure you about about people forgetting authors in this new age of journalism. 

  • Nneka Okoro

    I would have preferred you kept your little monologue to yourself! I feel assaulted by your venom.

  • Guest

    I would also add that as you climb up, you may not be getting paid for the new role as much as you are getting a raise vs your old salary in the old role.