If You Know Your Worth, Why Do You Discount It?

Know Your Worth

I was recently concluding a phone interview when the interviewer asked, “before I let you go, can I ask what your desired salary range is?”

First, let me just say that while common, asking for someone’s salary range right off the bat is a major pet peeve of mine. She immediately apologized before I could answer, explaining that she realized it’s a sensitive topic with some people but the company doesn’t want to waste time pursuing someone only to find out that they can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements.

I’ve heard this excuse before and it has never made complete sense to me. It’s understandable, sure, but if you’re so concerned about investing too much time in someone you can’t afford, why not include the range you are comfortable with paying when you post the position?

To me, the hiring process is a lot like playing Texas Hold’em—there’s a lot bluffing, holding cards close to the chest, and looking for “tells” or weaknesses that you can exploit in your opponent. I think the reason companies aren’t transparent about what they would potentially pay someone for a specific role is that there’s a chance the ideal candidate would be willing to work for much less.

Which brings me to my response—the figure I tossed out before really thinking about what I was saying was $5-$10k less than I currently (or most recently) made. After which I went on to add, “of course that range is negotiable depending upon the overall benefits package available.” As soon as it left my mouth, I regretted it.

The interviewer sounded pleasantly surprised. “That’s exactly where we’re looking to go with this position. To be honest, I’ve had people throw figures at me that were 3x that amount.”

(Likely) Reasons You Discount Your Worth:

If you knowingly accept less than you think you deserve or know in your gut that you’ve misrepresented your value, it is a pretty crappy feeling. And what’s worse is that once it happens it is often difficult to recover any lost ground. Using my experience as a “teachable moment,” I’ve been considering some of the reasons why I and people in general tend to discount their worth to avoid making the mistake again.

 1) You Lack Confidence

If you’re approaching a new experience or opportunity and feel uncertain about it, is it a nervous uncertainty or an excited one?

Lacking confidence in your ability to succeed at something that you’ve never attempted before is to be expected. If every goal, job, task, or project felt like a total layup, then what’s the point?

This is a situation where I believe the saying, “fake it until you make it,” applies. You might have three quarters of the skill and experience to tackle the assignment, but there’s that remaining quarter that presents an unknown risk.

It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you never attempt new experiences for fear of failure, you start to believe that you are incapable of those things because you have no evidence to show otherwise. If you fail at least you learned something in the process—either that it wasn’t meant for you or you need to approach it differently next time.

 2) You’re Afraid of Scaring Someone or Something Away

If you feel compelled to discount your self-worth to keep from scaring a person (i.e. a relationship) or a potential job offer away, that should be a sign that it’s not a relationship worth pursuing. If a person or an employer isn’t willing to recognize your value, it will be very difficult to maintain your self-respect, let alone any mutual respect.

When I worked in marketing for an architecture and engineering firm, the practice of intentionally low bidding to win work was rampant. In an extremely competitive industry, clients expected the best of both worlds—highly competent and qualified firms at the lowest price possible. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t hear someone complain that the industry had become commoditized, but who was to blame for that? If you consistently discount your worth it makes it extremely difficult to eventually ask for full value when you’re already doing the work for fraction of what your services actually cost.

 3) You Don’t Think You Deserve It

This one is pretty simple—if you don’t think you deserve something, how can you convince anyone else that you do?  I’m not trying to sound flippant but you have no place feeling undervalued if you can’t define what your value is or how to demonstrate it to others.

I once received a job offer where the salary was so low, I was literally rendered speechless. Instead of immediately rejecting their offer (like my gut had wanted me to), I responded a few days later with a counter offer that described the experience and skills that I could bring to the position and what I thought was a more appropriate level of compensation for them to consider. I hit “send” on that email knowing that I could very likely get a “no” in response and I was OK with that, because I knew I would never be OK with working for nothing.

I chalked my most recent experience up to not wanting to scare a potential employer away if my number didn’t match what they had in mind. Thinking back on it, I wish I had the courage I’ve had in the past to be forthcoming about what I want and not be afraid to ask for it.

If you’ve made this mistake before, how did you recover from it? What did you take away from the experience?



2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Negotiating is a difficult thing. I’ve been in situations where I had to negotiate for my worth and honestly, was way too afraid to do it. But I did have the opportunity to do so in one position. Thankfully, I had help. My aunt (who had actually attended a negotiation camp) gave me some tips and guidance on how to frame the argument to keep it from becoming messy. If I didn’t have her help, I don’t know if I would have even made the attempt. But that’s a key thing for me to realize: I wasn’t going to claim my right to ask for what I’m worth. And it was all because of fear.

    The biggest obstacle to overcome, for me, was to claim my right to negotiate. Today, when I teach classes, I try to give my students at least a handful of tips on negotation. LeanIn has some great resources on the subject. I figure if they can apply at least one lesson, it’ll help them in the long run. But really – every time I teach it, it’s a reminder for me, too. I have the right to negotiate for what I’m worth.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I think it’s particularly tough for women to negotiate, especially when it is your first job out of college and you feel a bit like an unknown entity. Honestly, negotiating my salary for my first job never even occurred to me and even if it had, I don’t think I would have even attempted it. That’s awesome that you’re teaching students to empower themselves to ask for what they’re worth!

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