Ask the Headhunter: Am I Getting Stiffed on Salary?

BY Nick Corcodilos  May 14, 2013 at 10:09 AM EST

Headhunter Nick Corcodilos explains how to approach your employer when negotiating a raise. Image by Ojo Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I have been a debt collector for more than 14 years and have worked at the same law firm for five years. I was promoted to team leader with no increase in pay. The year after that I was promoted to supervisor with a 4.5 percent pay increase.

Fast forward to last Friday, when my manager accidentally sent out an email that showed everyone’s pay. I am one of the lowest paid employees even though I have more experience in the industry than 90 percent of my co-workers.

My general manager said this is always the case in business, that new people hired with less experience get paid more. I’m always in the top 5 percent of money collected, and I spend five to six hours each week coaching, training, motivating, molding four to five people who all have minimal experience — but they make more money than I do. I have my annual review in 30 days. I want to know how to handle the conversation without sounding angry or rude.

Nick Corcodilos: That’s an interesting bit of double talk from your general manager, who has already told you what the problem is. The firm pays more to get new hires, and less to seasoned employees who train new employees. In other words, they’re taking advantage of you. There’s nothing illegal about it. This is how employers can lose their best workers.

I know you want something magical to tell your boss so that he or she will raise your salary to reflect your contributions. And I’ll offer some advice about how to do that. But first you need to establish leverage. My first advice is to decide whether it’s time to leave your employer. (See “The Wall Says It’s Time to Go.”) Then immediately start looking for another job, even if you can solve your problem at your current firm.

If your boss rejects your request, you must be ready to live with lower pay, or you must be ready to move on. Having another job to go to will make you a more powerful negotiator and it will give you control over your future, which is the real objective here.

I would prepare two things for your meeting. First, a very brief outline of your accomplishments during the past year. You’ve already outlined these, so it should be easy. Second, outline three things you plan to accomplish in the next year. These must be easily measurable so there’s no question whether you have achieved them. This demonstrates clearly what you have done, and what you commit to doing to justify your salary request. (For some added perspective, see “How to Decide how Much you Want.”)

Finally, show your boss the email you received that shows the salary disparity. Now, keep in mind — it’s your boss’s right to pay you anything he or she sees fit. But it’s your prerogative to decline unfair pay. Now you see why you need leverage.

Another job offer will give you that. My guess is, if you can show your boss why you’re worth more, you can do the same with another employer that needs the top-quality services you offer. Find another employer first, or you’ll have no control over negotiations with your boss.

If your boss declines to pay you fairly, don’t argue. Don’t get angry. Be respectful. But be ready to resign. Just don’t do it during that meeting. Take time to collect yourself and your thoughts. Plan your exit so it’s on your terms and on your schedule.

The best way to negotiate for what you want is to prove what you’ve done, commit to what you will do next, and have somewhere else to go immediately if you can’t negotiate a deal that makes you happy. This is not just about getting more pay. It’s about taking control of your career and your future. I wish you the best.


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions