Answer These 5 Questions to Find Out if Your Salary Expectations Are Realistic

By Chelsea Babin

Before you negotiate a raise or a higher salary at a new job you should know whether your salary expectations are realistic. You don’t want to fail to provide enough value for the amount you’re being paid but you also don’t want to be underpaid for your in demand IT skills. Answer these 5 questions to find out once and for all if your current salary expectations are realistic.

1. When was your last raise? This is rare but some people have reasonably elevated salary expectations when they’re switching jobs because they’ve stayed at a company for 7-10 years and never gotten a raise. Most technical professionals will get out of this situation as soon as possible but, if you’ve stuck around, you probably have higher salary expectations than what you’re currently earning and those would be realistic. Inversely, if you’ve been at a company for 7-10 years and they give performance reviews and raises every 6 months your current salary may be overinflated and, were you to ask for it at any other company, it might put you out of the running the jobs you qualify for.

2. What will you sacrifice for more money? When you’re looking for a new job it’s easy to get attracted to job postings with extremely high salaries and then let your salary expectations inflate after seeing them. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some organizations will feel the need to pay more because their company culture is negative or undesirable and its sending their employees fleeing. Additionally, some companies that use cutting-edge technology and offer a ton of amazing benefits don’t necessarily offer the highest salaries because a lot of technical professionals want to work for them. If you value company culture and other benefits you may want to temper your salary expectations so they’re not only realistic at companies you’d never want to work for.

3. Are you only chasing the dollar? Employers do their best to try to avoid hiring employees who would take their job offer, start work, and leave as soon as they get another job offer with a higher salary (which is why job hopping is often discouraged). If you’re only switching jobs because you want to make more money make sure you’ve gained enough experience and created enough value at your current company to warrant an increased salary somewhere else otherwise you may not have realistic expectations.

4. Can you provide evidence of your individual contributions? When you want a raise or want a higher salary at your next job opportunity you need to be able to lay out the value you created, not just the technical skills you have. Listing all of your technical skills on your resume is a good idea but anyone could write down that they have experience or mastery of a technology, it’s much more difficult to prove it. Unless you’re a contractor or were the sole developer on a project your work is masked within your team’s contributions and it’s hard to prove what you can do without their help. If your technical skills aren’t linked directly to value you can lay out and prove your increased salary expectations may not be realistic.

5. Have you earned it or do you think you deserve it? A dangerous mentality to get into when figuring out your salary expectations is thinking you deserve a certain salary because you read some article saying developers with your skills earn a higher salary on average than what you make or you just feel entitled to more. Employers shy away from this mentality and they do it for a good reason. If you’ve created value and you focus on the increased value you create then you’ve probably earned a raise but, until you’ve gotten into a new company and can prove your value there asking for a lot more money than you’re currently making may backfire. If the company you want to work for is known for offering raises the realistic thing to do is to take the time to prove your worth and you’ll have earned the salary bump.

Being underpaid is depressing but being overpaid is dangerous and often takes away your job security. Finding that salary expectation sweet spot may not be easy but, when you answer these five questions, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not your salary expectations are realistic and earned or if you’re stuck in an “I deserve it” mentality with nothing to back that up.