Before I became a full-time business owner, I worked in my career for several years and over that time I learned a lot about how to ask for what I was worth, how to negotiate, how to be confident as a woman in the male-dominated industry I worked in and so much more.
"Fresh out of college, there was so much I didn't know at the beginning of my career."
For someone who's just getting started on their career path, switching careers, searching for a new job in their industry or just wanting to do better overall at work, I'm sharing these 4 lessons below to help you earn more money and get the better paying job that you deserve...because you are worth it.
Lesson 1: Always ask for more
When I first graduated from college, I got my first job that had a starting salary of $54,000 before taxes (after taxes it was around $40,000). When I got that offer letter, I was ecstatic. It was more money than I'd ever earned in my life and as far I was concerned I was balling. It didn't once cross my mind to ask for more money or even to ask for a sign-on bonus. I was just happy I got a job, that came with a good (to me) salary.
Well, as time went by once I started working, I got to know my co-workers and became friends with them, and then one day over lunch we randomly started discussing how much we earned (yes despite this being against HR policy we did it anyway because we were cool like that). As the conversation progressed, I realized that myself and another co-worker were the lowest earners in the entire group despite all being hired into similar positions and despite that fact that we all had similar educational backgrounds.
Some of them made thousands of dollars more than I did, and some of them even got sign-on bonuses. The reason why they were earning more? Unlike me, they didn't accept the first offer they received, instead, they asked for more. Not only did asking for more get them more money, it also positioned them to earn more in terms of raises and bonuses, which were given as a percentage of their base salary, over the life of their career at that company.
Needless to say, I was mad...at myself, but the lesson learned and I vowed never again.
Tip: Always ask for more money - Don't be shy or afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that you get told no but at least you'll know that you tried. Before you start searching for a job, do some research to determine how much people typically get paid on average in your industry, in your city and by the company you are applying to. Also compare your skill set and education level to available data as well.
Doing this will give you a baseline to negotiate with. Keep in mind that for every average salary you come across, there are people being paid on the higher end of that average - and that could very well be you too.
Lesson 2: Benefits are up for negotiation too
Negotiating and asking for more doesn't just stop with your salary. You can actually negotiate your benefits too. Especially if there's isn't that much room to negotiate salary wise. Of course after my first job experience and vowing to never just accept the salary I was given, I decided that not only would I negotiate my salary, I would negotiate my benefits too because at the end of the day, what's the worst they could say? They could say no and I could keep it moving.
And so in subsequent jobs, I negotiated everything from vacation days, to work from home days, to summer Fridays, to the type of computer I worked with, to my work schedule, to future bonuses based on my performance. The best part? I actually got a lot of these things from negotiating. If you don't ask, you won't get!
Tip: When it comes to negotiating benefits, do your research (just as you would with salaries) to see what people are being offered at the company in question, in your industry and even with competitors. This will give you more of a case when you go to negotiate and won't make your requests seem ridiculous. Also be mindful of existing company policies. For instance, if your company has a strict policy around a benefit, you don't want to disregard their policy when you make your negotiation request.
Lesson 3: Exceed expectations and make yourself invaluable
Once you get your foot in the door at a new employer, you want to show them why they hired you and why they should reward you in the form of bonuses, raises and promotions by exceeding expectations and making yourself an invaluable resource to your company.
For every job I ever worked, this was a goal of mine. I came into work every day, put my best foot forward, took initiative and made sure that I learned what I needed to excel at my role. I asked questions, asked for and gave feedback, brought my ideas and suggestions to the table and always over delivered on every project I worked on even when I knew I didn't have to.
Even if you are not working at your dream job, it's still important to do your best work and be your best self. Why? Well, you'll be positioning yourself to take on your dream job when the opportunity presents itself as you would have already developed the habits and consistency around doing excellent work and in the meantime, you'll be positioning yourself for advancement where ever you are currently.
Tip: Ask for frequent feedback from your boss. It could be through a monthly formal or informal check-in but make sure you are getting feedback and know what your boss is thinking about your performance.
When I was employed full time, I had a monthly 15-minute check in with my boss (that I initiated) to touch base on how I was performing and if there were any areas of improvement I could work on or additional projects I could take on or contribute to. This meeting made my boss aware of how serious I took my job and made me top of mind when it came time for bonuses, raises and promotions. In addition, my boss also began to advocate for me through the company because he was confident in my ability to deliver.
Lesson 4: Never stop learning
Just because you are really good at your job (or you become really good at your job) doesn't mean that there isn't still room to grow and just because a skill set is not directly applicable to what you do right now, does not mean it's not valuable.
Everything I learned while working full time indirectly prepared me to be my own boss. From learning how to work within a team to learn how to develop systems and processes to project management to software courses I took related to data and analytics, they all apply one way or the other to what I do now in my business. If I had chosen to continue in my career, it would have applied to subsequent jobs as well.
Tip: Find courses, certifications, conferences etc that you can leverage to improve your skill set. This not only helps you become better at what you do now but also at any job you take on in the future.
Keeping these lessons in mind can make all the difference in helping you grow in your career and with increasing your income.
If you want a deep dive on how to put these lessons into effect as you start your career, switch careers or search for a new job in your existing industry, then check out the Ace the Interview course from CareerContessa.com; A platform focused on helping women build successful careers. Career Contessa was created by my friend Lauren McGoodwin after experiencing (and learning from) several of her own professional challenges.
The Ace the interview course will teach you interview basics, how to properly research a company, negotiating for what you're worth, weighing an offer, accepting an offer, and putting in your notice plus a ton more.
Here's to your career success!