Let's say that you graduated from college three years ago, and after a year, you landed a job with a medium-sized advertising agency. You're currently earning $30,000 a year.
Although $30,000 sounds like a lot of money—and it is—we all know that money goes fast, and there are an awful lot of things to spend it on. Hardly anyone who works thinks that he or she makes enough money, even if you are grateful for the job you have in an uncertain job market. It's no surprise that the most frequent complaints about jobs are not about bosses (although those probably run a close second), but about salaries.
Talk about a Gen X success story! Jerry Yang and David Filo started the Yahoo! Internet site in 1994 when they were engineering graduate students at Stanford University. Ten years later, Yahoo! is a publicly held company worth billions.
If you have a job you like, but not the salary you'd like, there are several things you can do:
- You can (gulp) ask for a raise.
- You can look for a higher-paying job.
- You can stay in the job you have and hope you'll advance or be able to move on when the economy and job market opportunities improve.
Of these choices, the first two are definitely more proactive and require more courage than sticking it out and seeing what happens—especially in a faltering economy. It takes a fair amount of guts to march (or tiptoe) into your boss's office to ask for a raise. And it takes a lot of energy to start a job hunt, especially if it hasn't been too long since you've been through one. If there's an indication that there's room for advancement in your current job, the best thing to do might be to hang out, do your very best, and see what happens. But if your salary is so low that you can't get by, or if you're forced to live paycheck to paycheck without being able to save a cent, then you might have to take some action.
Asking for a Raise
If your plan is to ask for a raise, make sure you're in a position to do so. Obviously, if you've only been working for the company you're with for a few weeks or months, you won't endear yourself to anyone by asking for more money. Or if the company is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, your boss isn't going to be at all happy when you saunter in and ask for a raise. Another thing to consider is your market value. Never go to your boss and complain that the guy in the next cubicle is making more than you are for doing the same job. Bosses hate knowing that employees talk about their salaries, and opening that kind of conversation definitely will not put you in her good graces. Instead, if you know you're underpaid, point out what other people doing your job on the open market are making.
Trade publications and some professional associations do regular salary surveys and can be good sources of information. Or scan the Sunday classified ads for jobs similar to yours and their salaries. You also can check out JobSmart, a website with links to 150 salary surveys. Access it on the Internet at www.jobsmart.org.
Looking for Another Job
If you're really unhappy with your salary and you know there's no chance for a raise anytime soon, you might be tempted to go out and look for another job. Some people would advise against that in an unsteady economy, but sometimes shopping around for another job seems like the only viable option. If that's the case, what kind of job should you look for?
Employers over the last decade or so have become less likely to insist on a particular degree for a particular job. They're more likely to look for someone who is smart, versatile, willing to work, and able to work independently. If that description sounds like you, it may give you a lot more flexibility if you decide to job-hunt. Don't feel that you're stuck in a particular field just because that's what your degree or certification is in. You may be able to go from one career to another that interests you without much difficulty. In fact, it's estimated that the average worker will have about 11 jobs and three careers over his or her working life.
Although there are other factors besides growth potential to consider when you think about a job you'd like to have, it's an important consideration. It makes no sense to get into a career that won't be around much longer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified 10 job areas as those that will be the fastest growing—both in terms of jobs added and salary increases—between the years of 2000 and 2010. You can find the list on the Bureau of Labor's web site at www.bls.gov.
Although we once looked to big corporations for good jobs and job security, predictions are that small businesses, which can act quickly to implement new ideas and technology, will become increasingly important as employers. And guess who is starting up many of these small businesses that are going to be so important? Right! Gen Xers see owning their own business as a sign of success, and many are making the dream a reality. A recent report by IBM showed that today one out of five small businesses is owned by someone under 35 years old. So don't neglect the small businesses when conducting your job search. Who knows? You may get inspired to create your own business.
If you're thinking about changing jobs, consider using the Internet to help. It's becoming increasingly important as a tool for job-hunting. If you're ready to hop online, try some of these sites:
- CareerBuilder.com is the largest online job search site. It contains a job board and the classified ads of several major newspapers. Access it at www. careerbuilder.com.
- Monster.com is one of the oldest job-search sites and is still considered one of the best. It contains many job opportunities and other career-related subjects. Access it at www.monster.com.
- HotJobs.com is a popular site that's owned and run by Yahoo! It's regarded as effective and easy to use. It's on the web at http://my.hotjobs.yahoo.com.
If you can't reconcile your salary problem, looking for another job might be the answer. Just be careful of inadvertently putting yourself into a worse situation than you are in currently.
Considering a Career Counselor
If you've decided that you can't stay in the job you have, but you're not quite sure where you'd like to be headed, you might consider seeking the services of a career counselor. A career counselor is a certified individual who can help you to clarify your career goals, assess your abilities and aptitudes, provide information about different careers, develop an individualized career plan, help create a resume, and teach skills and strategies for job hunting.
While a career counselor does not go out and find you a job, he or she can help you evaluate where you are, where you've been, and where you'd like to go.
What About a Headhunter?
A headhunter is a person who matches you with a company that is looking for someone to fill a particular position. Normally, the company hires and pays the headhunter. A headhunter also will handle negotiations between a prospective employee and the company.
If you seek the services of a headhunter, be aware that the headhunter's first loyalty is to the company seeking an employee—not you. If you decide to try a headhunter, be sure to ask around and find one who is reliable and reputable.
Sticking It Out
If you can't get a raise in your current job and you're not inclined to go looking for a new one, your only choice is to stick it out, and there are several reasons why you might choose to do that.
Dollars and Cents
It's easy to overspend when you're around people who have more money than you do. Resist spending more than you should in order to keep up, and leave your credit card at home when you're out with your friends.
Maybe you have a job you love that just doesn't happen to pay very much. Certain professions, social work and childcare for instance, are notoriously low paying. No-body going into these fields expects to get rich, but thankfully, there are dedicated people willing to do these kinds of very important, but underpaid, jobs. If you have a low-paying job that you love, you'll have to decide whether to stay where you are. If you decide to keep it, you'll have to adjust your standard of living to mesh with your earnings.
If, on the other hand, you're staying in a low-paying job because you're too scared or unmotivated to go after a better one, you're dealing with a different issue. Reread the previous section about the job market and give it a shot. You've got nothing to lose but a low-paying job.