Negotiating Salaries: Combating Imposter Syndrome, Resisting Negative Self-Talk and Communicating Your Value

Corrinne McKenna, MBA, CFP®

My very first job was at a mom and pop video store (I think most of us can remember those, right? In the days before streaming when we would have to drive to a store to get a movie that we could watch at home?). I was paid $5.00 an hour and my fringe benefits included unlimited free rentals and permission to eat all of the expired candy. For a 13 year-old, it was a solid arrangement and the thought of asking for more never crossed my mind. 

In the 20’ish years since the video store gig, my idea of reasonable compensation in exchange for providing my skills and time to a business has changed a bit (although I remain a sucker for employer provided snacks). Instead of unlimited free movie rentals or expired candy, I now want things like paid time off and an employer-sponsored retirement plan (like a 401k). As I’ve worn different hats including (in no particular order) non-profit consultant, graphic designer, government employee, and *gasp* shot girl (it was the Hamptons in the mid-2000’s. You would’ve done it too), I’ve gained knowledge and experience that allows me to create revenue generating and cost saving outcomes for my employer. That is valuable. Yet despite that, during most of my working years so far, I have hungrily accepted whatever salary was offered, only to find myself bitter about it a few months in when I inventoried everything I was providing the employer at a suboptimal salary. This was especially difficult to overcome as a military spouse who moved seven times in 10 years and was simply grateful to be employed at all.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to really believe in just how much value I bring to an employer and that I have a duty to myself to clearly communicate that value in order to receive greater pay than what may initially be offered. Since that realization, I’ve negotiated three salary increases in my last three jobs. In order to do this, I had to combat imposter syndrome, which took some serious mental wrangling because, as all of us know (especially women who are socialized to believe we are perpetually unworthy), it’s much easier to tell ourselves all the reasons why we don’t deserve something than it is to say, “I offer a lot and I want to be compensated accordingly.”

Combat Imposter Syndrome by Reaching Out

The first week of my new job as a financial counselor was one of the steepest learning curves I ever encountered. When I came home from the office that Friday, I curled up on the floor in the corner of my kitchen, nestled in that cozy spot where two cabinets meet, and sobbed on the phone to a friend about what a fraud I was. This friend, an accomplished Certified Public Accountant, told me that she felt the exact same way when she began her current job as the comptroller in a large company. “Wait… you felt like a fraud too?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I felt a wave of relief simply knowing someone I found incredibly successful had thoughts like mine.

I believe one of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome so you can get to the place where you can begin really evaluating the value you bring to work is by talking to someone you trust and look up to professionally. Share with them why you think you aren’t worthy. It’s very likely they will tell you they’ve had those same thoughts too. And, chances are, they’ll point out all the reasons they don’t see you as a fraud in their eyes.

Once we believe that we are worthy of the value we bring to our work, we can begin to prepare for communicating that value.

Communicate Your Value by Providing Data

A colleague in a remote/work-from-home company once told me how he deserved a pay raise because he lived in a higher cost area compared to other employees. While I don’t disagree that cost of living is a huge factor when determining if our salary is high enough, I didn’t believe the colleague’s line of thinking would lead to much success in a salary negotiation conversation. The reason is, most employers do not tie your value to the company to the costs of your lifestyle (which includes where you live). Instead, they want to know how you are helping the company generate money, save on costs, and make progress on strategic goals. You can address this with data.

  • Were you involved with a new product that made money for the company? How much money?
  • Did you build a new process that saved the business time? How much time?
  • Did you contribute to a initiative that brought the company closer to achieving a goal? How much closer?

If you don’t have a record of the numbers tied to the work you do, then it’s your duty to track them. Start today. Make a list of the tasks you do throughout the week, month, or year, and try to find at least one quantifiable data point that measures your role in generating money, saving money, or making progress on goals. Put that information in a spreadsheet and set a reminder to update it periodically. When the time comes for an annual review, you’ll be prepared with the data you need to communicate your value.

You Owe It To Your Future Self

I’ve learned that it is my responsibility to monitor, measure, and communicate my value to others in order to be compensated for the full worth of that value. I owe it to my future self, because these salary increases can create major differences in my financial future. For example, if you negotiated a $5,000 raise and resisted lifestyle creep by still spending only up to the amount you were previously making, then invested that pay raise every year into a Three-Fund Portfolio that averages 7%, (percentage only for illustration) you’d have over $200,000 in 20 years. Now, imagine if you negotiated raises multiple times over the course of your career and did the same thing. Those numbers can get really big.

If you want help talking through how you can quantify the value you bring to your employer, or want to get some ideas on how you can invest a raise, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERS at Childfree Wealth can help. Schedule your free intro call today.