How to work your way up after accepting a salary that’s too low

Talking about salary is something many of us find difficult, especially if you’re not comfortable negotiating. So if you’ve lowballed yourself into a salary, what can you do to make sure you get paid what you are worth?

You’ve been offered a new job and you’re excited. Or perhaps you’ve renegotiated your current salary, but the only problem is you’ve taken on a salary that’s less than you are worth.

We asked SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read to share what you should do if you have accepted a lower salary.

The impact of accepting a lower salary than you’re worth

According to Read, the psychological and financial costs of being paid less than what you believe you are worth can be high. “You may feel frustrated or experience a sense of resentment or despair, not to mention the financial implications like struggling to pay rent / mortgage or cover the costs of living,” she says.

Acknowledge your role in it

If you have accepted a lower salary, it’s important to understand why this happened. “Was it insecurity, fear that you wouldn’t get the job if you asked for more money, or passion that you wanted the job so much regardless of pay? Was it desperation after a period of long-term unemployment, low levels of assertiveness to ask for more or were you ill-informed or under-prepared and didn’t do research on current salary industry norms?” asks Read. “Acknowledging how your actions have contributed to accepting a lower salary may be confronting but is a valuable and non-negotiable step towards finding a way forward.”

It’s important to acknowledge that accepting a lower salary is sometimes necessary. The essential thing is to have a plan for what to do next.

 What to do if you’ve accepted a lower salary

Once you’ve worked out how it happened, there are several things you can do to work up from taking on a low salary.

  • Seek to understand the way your salary has been calculated 
    It may well be too late to renegotiate once you’ve agreed upon a particular salary, but Read says it’s worth approaching your manager or hiring manager to gain an understanding of how your salary has been calculated. “Depending on the answer, it may be appropriate to enter into new salary negotiations, keeping in mind that when done professionally, the act of negotiating a salary can highlight your tenacity, sales skills and confidence,” says Read. “Be clear what value you bring to the role including qualifications, flexibility, skills and experience.”

    If there’s no scope to increase your salary at the moment, there are other options to consider.

  • Negotiate non-financial benefits 
    “If there’s little room to move on dollars, explore other benefits that may be easier for your employer to shift including creating flexible hours or days, additional annual leave, paid leave for study or professional development, or volunteering days,” advises Read. “These alternatives can be very valuable to you without the employer directly paying an increased salary.”

  • Put an agreement in place for the future
    While you may not currently be paid what you believe you are worth, you have the chance to change this for the future. Accepting the situation as it is and requesting a review in six months’ time can be a fruitful approach. “Make a concerted effort to ensure your contribution is valuable and that you have clarity around what your employer expects of you and your KPIs, so you’re well equipped to address salary the next time it is discussed,” Read says.

While it can be disheartening to have accepted a salary that is lower than you want, there are ways to address the situation. Understanding the reasons you accepted the salary, requesting non-financial benefits and getting an agreement to review your salary are useful techniques to build up to the money you deserve.