How to Find Out if You're Being Paid Fairly

Welcome to the working world! You’ve done everything right. You worked hard all through school and landed job. You’re getting paid money you couldn’t even dream of in college and have started planning how to pay back those student loans. You’ve come so far and have been working so hard. Awesome! But you could be being paid less money than you’re worth without even knowing.

Do your research

There are many websites available to help you check salaries in your field. Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker, suggests, payscale and Glassdoor. In your research, it’s important to focus on your geographical location. Mary Pharris, Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Fairygodboss, says that your salary will change depending on where you are because things like cost of living will factor in. She also recommends using your network of friends, colleagues and mentors in your field or related industries to find out about your salary. You may even find help at your alma mater’s career center!

There are many different factors that play into how much money you should be earning. For example, your experience can actually earn you more money. Consider your level of education and time working in your field (even if it's not at your current job) as making you a sort of expert in your field. Similarly, any professional certifications could earn you more money as well. As you work, keep track of the duties you’re responsible for and any projects you complete successfully. All of this can come in handy later!

Consider your coworkers' salaries

What about what your coworkers are making? Well, you may want to think about that. Many people think that money is something you should never talk about with your coworkers. So can you do it or not?

First, you should check your contract. Some contracts have stipulations against employees discussing their salaries and you should follow those. Second, you should choose someone you know and trust. Dezell points out that “unless people show actual paystubs, [you have to] rely on their honesty.” If your contract allows it and both of you are comfortable discussing your salaries, go ahead and hit up Danielle.

Keep in mind that although your company may not want you to, it’s not illegal to discuss your pay with coworkers!

For some people, finding out they’re being underpaid will come rather abruptly. For Cece Buck, an accountant and graduate of Rutgers University, her notification came in the form of a law change. New Jersey passed a law that any employees working full-time in the US had to be paid overtime if they were paid an hourly rate/base salary under a certain amount (about $48,000). “I was under the cut-off, as were two of my male coworkers, so we were each told that we would be raised up to the base. I was excited, but quickly realized that if I was being raised up to the base salary, so were they, and I had been at my employer working full-time for over a year more than them,” Cece says.

Related: The Wage Gap: Why It Matters!

Bring up the subject with your boss

If you find out through your research that you aren’t being paid fairly, there are things you can do. You need to make an argument for yourself. Collect the research that you’ve done on salaries in your field, but also compile a list of your own accomplishments and a plan on where you want to go from there. “The plan is what will really stand out to them,” Pharris explains. “Your accomplishments show that you’ve done great things, but the plan shows that you can continue to do great things.”

From there, you should contact HR or your supervisor. Schedule a sit down conversation where you can make your case. Many jobs actually have reviews built into their schedule; these meetings would serve as a great opportunity for you to bring up a raise. “I sat down with my boss and my human resources representative,” Cece says. “I thanked them for the raise, but brought up that if they were paying me the base, I had to assume that the two other employees were being paid the same and that I should be paid more based on my time with the company.”

Be brave during the conversation

This can be incredibly intimidating. After all, you’re asking your boss for more money. Find your voice, speak up and keep in mind that you’re only asking for what you deserve. The odds are that your boss will understand. You may be surprised by their reaction. “I could tell that my boss, who is a woman in a male-dominated industry, was impressed with my negotiation. I think that she was surprised I had the guts to bring it up,” Cece explains.

If you're denied a raise, you still have options

So what do you do if they say no? Well, the obvious option is that you can find a new job. If you are trying to find a new job, you should make sure you find one before quitting your original job—and always give at least two weeks notice! But this isn’t always super realistic.

If your boss says no to a raise, you don’t necessarily have to leave the company. You can consider negotiating for other benefits like vacation time, remote work options or a higher 401K contribution. You should come up with these back-up options when you make your plan; if you already have the back-up ideas in your head, you’re less likely to just get up and walk away if your boss says no to a salary raise.