Low earnings may attract some employers to your profile, but others may steer clear because they believe you are not high achiever or lack self-esteem.
Many employers are quite happy to interview someone whose past earnings were low because they believe they might be able to purchase that person's talents at bargain rates. From a practical point of view, however, low earnings will sometimes indicate to employers that the individual has low self-esteem or didn't achieve very much. If your past earnings are low, there are a number of ways to address this liability.
Keep in mind that the level of your future earnings is not logically connected with your past earnings, but with the value you can deliver today and in the near future.
Also keep in mind that for many people, the level at which they contribute and the level at which they are compensated is not in proportion. Some are paid far too much, and many are paid far less than they are worth. Compensation is often more a function of how skillfully someone has negotiated, rather than how they have performed.
If you know that others with talents and knowledge similar to your own are being paid far more, resolve to make it clear to your next employer the level at which you contribute, and that you expect to be paid accordingly.
Do not include your earnings on your resume. Do highlight your achievements and connect them to results. Whenever possible, state those results in terms of specific benefits to the employer, preferably in terms of cost savings, productivity increases, new capabilities, or increases in revenues and profits.
Choose to measure them in a manner that will put them in the best light. If the dollar amounts are not large, for example, percentage increases might be more impressive. If a percentage increase is not large, it might be compared to the losses that might have occurred had it not been for your contributions.
Interviews / e-mail / Letters
In correspondence, depending on your level and other circumstances, you can choose either to ignore requests for salary history, state your earnings goals in a general range, or indicate that your compensation falls within standard ranges for positions of the type you held. Avoid bringing attention to your low pay.
In interviews, avoid the discussion of compensation until you have first sold yourself and the value of your contributions. If it is brought up during discussions, be prepared to give examples of how you achieved, performed, and contributed at a level well above average, or at least at a level equal to those who were more highly paid.
You can usually turn this to your advantage by pointing out that you worked for the satisfaction of contributing at a high level, and were never inclined to boast or ask for a raise, but that does not mean you were not acutely aware of your true value. Explain that you are not satisfied with the recognition of your value at present, which is why you are seeking a work environment where you will be compensated in proportion to your contributions.
In some cases you can also point out that you "paid your dues" by accepting low pay while you developed valuable skills, but now that you've developed them, you intend to get paid what you are truly worth in today's job market. Emphasize that you are confident that you can go out into the marketplace and sell your talents for considerably more than what you are being paid.
If you have timed your job search so it coincides with a recent raise, that higher rate of pay will establish a higher platform from which you can negotiate. You can add that you expect your next increase to be even more significant, and use that amount as your basis for negotiating.
And of course, if you are interviewing with more than one employer, you can share that the ranges discussed have generally been much higher than what you've earned previously. This correctly implies that the marketplace has already placed a higher value on your talents than your current employer does.
When negotiating, be certain to probe to learn the compensation range. Many times the top figure will be 1.5 times the base or more. Know what the upside potential could be. In early discussions about money, confirm that the decision maker intends to match compensation to the level of contributions. Virtually every employer will agree to that principle.
As you interview, be sure to bring into the discussion all of the employer's needs, requirements, problems, opportunities, challenges, and potentials for improvement. Relate your request for pay to the contributions you will be making in these areas. Remember, what you made before need have no bearing on what you can make in the future.
What you get should be your fair share of the benefits you produce for the employer. This makes it very important for you to give concise examples, preferably in a memorable situation-action-result story format, showing the many ways you have accurately analyzed situations, then taken specific action steps to achieve results that met or exceeded expectations. As on the resume, you will want to state those results in the most impressive terms possible.
The more functional areas in which you show you will be able to contribute, the greater the comfort level the employer will have with higher compensation, because it will be measured in proportion to the larger results that will be expected. The employer is in effect placing a bet on you that your future performance will be just as superior as the examples you are communicating.
Examine your contributions closely, and prepare several action-oriented stories that get across your talent for achieving results that deliver measurable value. Be prepared to give as much evidence as possible in memorable stories. This will reassure the prospective employer that you truly are worth far more than you've been paid.
Develop and coach enthusiastic references from inside your employer organization if possible, as well as outside, e.g., customers, suppliers, sales reps, consultants, etc., who will be happy to attest to your contributions and the fact that you delivered more value than others who were paid more. Review your resume with them, and make sure they keep a copy available for reference when and if they are called.
This step will enable you to make the statement in an interview that, "You've heard about me from me, but you really need to hear it from some of the people who know me best, and I strongly urge you to call them." This will reinforce that others who are in a position to know, also recognize you are worth more in the marketplace.