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Why You’re Probably Asking For Less Pay Than You’re Worth

Source | FastCompany : By TED LEONHARDT

Brian had been offered the position of his dreams, complete with stock options and generous benefits. He hadn’t accepted, wisely saying he’d like to mull it over for a couple of days, and came to me for coaching.

“Even asking the HR manager if I could think about it was nerve-racking,” said Brian. “I was afraid she’d say no. But I did ask, and she was fine with it.”

“Brian, they clearly want you to be happy and do good work for them,” I replied. “If she’d insisted you answer right away, you’d have known that wasn’t the case. Now you need to get back to them. What do you want to do?”

“Well, I’m so excited they made an offer, I’m tempted to accept. Besides, I don’t want to seem pushy.”

You may think you’re a better self-advocate than Brian seemed to be, but the truth is that many of us don’t push as hard as we can. Creative professionals, in my experience, are more liable than others to ask for less pay than they could otherwise get, but unfamiliarity—with how an industry or a prospective employer or client does business—can leave just about anybody shortchanged. Here’s how to earn every last dollar that you’re worth.


Business negotiations are stressful, and there’s probably no changing that. They require you to think in the moment while trying to square your own goals and sense of fairness with others’—all on the fly.

I coach creatives almost every day on negotiating. Over time, I’ve learned techniques that work and discarded some that don’t. For instance, in my conversation with Brian, I could’ve pushed him to ask for more money right away. But I’ve learned that simply instructing a creative professional point-blank to ask for more just doesn’t work. (I’ve also learned that coaching isn’t about tellingsomeone to do anything.)

Typically, most people don’t push for higher compensation for these reasons:

  • They think their work isn’t worth more than the initial offer.
  • They don’t want to seem too aggressive or make others uncomfortable, especially if they’ll need to work closely together later.
  • They forget that that negotiation is expected.

Here’s another factor I’ve encountered in most creative people I’ve worked with: In general, they’re motivated by the work itself, not by money. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleagues have spent decades studying work motivations. They point out that creativity flourishes when people feel drawn by “interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge.”

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