Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

Location: New York, NY

Role: Program Manager

Starting Salary: $120k

Salary after the first year: $143k

When you get an offer, take the time to review it. Don’t accept out of fear, desperation, or relief.

What was the situation when you decided not to negotiate your salary?

Two years ago I took a new role in a new industry and a new city. I had been searching for a while and I was so excited to finally have an offer that I didn’t spend as much time thinking about the quality of the offer as I should have. There was a lot involved in the offer – they were paying my relocation costs, granting me RSU’s, as well as a salary and bonus. The salary was also significantly higher than what I was currently making, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because I was changing industries and moving to a city with an incredibly high cost of living.

I did a little research online about average salaries in the area but ultimately decided to not negotiate. I felt like I was being paid so much – much more than I had expected – and I decided to not rock the boat. I accepted and started the role.

How did you realize you were being underpaid?

The first year I worked incredibly hard. The hours were long, my commute was horrible, and the job was a lot more stressful that my previous job. I was giving it my all but I was exhausted. During the annual review period, my boss had good news. My hard work had been noticed and I was being given a huge raise. A $23k raise, to be exact.

I was stunned. I was working hard and I knew I deserved a great raise, but I never expected to get such a huge increase without a promotion or taking on additional responsibilities. This incentivized me to continue working as hard as possible. Over the next year I took on big projects, I increased my visibility within the company, and I began to plan for a long-term future with the company.

I went into my annual review on year 2 with the expectations that my raise would be at least equal to the amount I received before. I had really stepped up my game even more in the last year and I knew I had impressed my boss.

Needless to say, I was shocked when he shared that my annual raise was only $10k. That’s less than half of my raise from the year before. I told him that I was disappointed with the raise and asked him for candid feedback on my performance. He again told me that I’d performed well and been ranked well. He suggested that if I had compensation questions, I ask HR for more information.

The next day I set up a meeting with our HR person who is involved in compensation for our team. She had looked into my situation and had a simple explanation for me: as they reviewed the compensation of everyone at my level the previous year, they saw that I was being underpaid. I came in at the lowest level I could within the salary band and there was a huge salary discrepancy between me and my other co-workers. They decided to adjust my salary so I could be paid on par, which resulted in my massive raise the first year.

While I appreciated her candid answer and the fact that they did adjust my salary, I was really disappointed in my situation. I spent my first year working incredibly hard and was being paid at least $15k less (by my calculation) than the people I was working with. I spent a year missing out on that money.

After taking some time to be frustrated, I realized that I had no one to blame but myself. I knew it was normal for people to negotiate. I was encouraged by my friends to negotiate when I got the offer. But I was too caught up in finally having an offer to even consider asking for more. It was a huge jump from what I was making previously, how could I justify asking for more?

I now realize that’s the wrong approach and my misstep cost me a lot. I also feel like I look a little foolish for not negotiating. It’s embarrassing to have someone point out that you were being paid less than everyone else for doing the same job.

What advice do you have for other women?

When you get an offer, take your time to review it. Don’t accept out of fear, desperation, or relief. Do your research and if you need to, ask a friend you trust for advice. It’s so easy to doubt yourself and your worth and it can be so helpful to listen to a friend remind you how much your work is worth.

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