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Not knowing what to ask for or worried about being underpaid. We’ve all been there. While tech startups are known for their cool benefits and high salaries, they are also notoriously unstructured, which can be breeding ground for pay inequality. Today I want to offer three steps for you to get your ideal salary.
Know what you want
Previously we talked about identifying your motivation in your next job, which could be learning & growth, brand name, flexibility, and/or salary & benefits. Rank your top motivators in writing. How important is salary & benefits? If they’re the most important, then you’ll know that you don’t want to compromise in your salary conversations, and can focus your search on companies that can offer the most. If they’re not as important as other factors, then know that you can be flexible about different offers, and that you have space for compromise. Keep coming back to your own ranking to not lose sight of your main motivation.
Know the market
Alright, onto the much anticipated section — what are other people actually earning? Do two things:
1) share salaries with other tech people in your network;
2) research on current salary levels.
Keeping salary information confidential is only benefiting the employer so we won’t know if we are getting underpaid. I strongly believe that salary transparency is one of the most powerful things that we as employees can do to gain leverage and help one another. If this is not something you or people you know are comfortable with, no need to rush into it. But I encourage you to start having conversations with other people in tech.
“I want to make sure we are not getting underpaid compared to our peers. Would you mind if we share our salaries with each other? I’m happy to share mine.”
At my company ACELR8, we created clear career levels and released the salary ranges for each level for the entire team. This actually brought more trust to the team and guided career conversations.
Here’s a list of helpful websites that collect salary information:
Gehalt.de: A German language website that shows income levels in Germany by region and job function. It also comes with a tax calculator (Brutto Netto Rechner).
Comparably: A US-based company that offers salary insights by job function and company. It also offers a simple equity calculator but it seems like you can’t see much until you sign up.
Levels.fyi: If you’re only looking to work at big tech companies like FAANG, Levels is your site. Although Levels also focuses on US salaries, and have more data in software engineering jobs than other job functions.
Angel.co: Not a salary site, but Angel List has plenty of startup job postings with salary and equity offers listed out.
Berlin Salaries: an anonymous salary sheet started summer 2021 with about 200 entries.
Tech Salaries in Europe: Gergely Orosz, former Uber & Microsoft engineer, tweeted earlier this year asking people working in Europe to submit their salary data anonymously and now has collected 3000+ entries. The data will be released in September.
Ask for it
Now that you know the market ranges, it becomes easier to know what you should ask for. Here you can use the 3 W framework. In my pre-recruiter life, I was trained in consulting by PwC Academy, and they taught us that always have your 3 Ws before you go into a negotiation: Wish, Want, Walkaway.
Your Wish price is the most ideal amount that you’d like to receive. Your Want price is the amount that is easier to achieve than your Wish price, but higher than the bare minimum. Your Walkaway price is the lowest, minimum amount, and if this amount is met, you’ll walk away.
If you’re new to tech startups and/or early in your career, and you don’t want your salary expectations to block potential offers, here’s what you can do when speaking to companies.
Make them give you their range first. In a lot of interviews, some candidates would give me their expected salary which is lower than the lowest end of our budget, and not every recruiter will tell you that. I’ve had candidates who ask for 40k when the position was budgeted for 45k-50k.
Recruiters are sometimes also told not to give numbers first, so you might have a stalemate; but don’t worry, tell them that we can come back to the salary conversation later in the interview process, as you also need to understand the role expectations and growth trajectory better.
- Never tell your current/previous salary. In Germany, recruiters are actually not allowed to ask about the candidate’s current salary, and even if someone asks, you as a candidate are not obliged to answer truthfully. If a recruiter asks, simply say “For my next role, I'm looking for x amount.” You don’t have to give any additional explanation or justify the number, leave it at that and see how they react.
Start high. Don’t worry about the company rejecting you because of one sentence you said, salary conversations are, well, a conversation! Unless the gap is huge (10k+), or they wanted to reject you for other things, it’s unlikely they’ll end the conversation there. Salary negotiation is not just about you negotiating for a higher salary, it’s also about the company negotiating down. If they do reject you on the spot and make no room for further conversation, you probably dodged a bullet anyways.
Having seen countless candidates receiving their offers, one thing is always true: you get what you ask for, and if you don’t ask for something, you won’t get it. If you want 50k but only asked for 45k, thinking that the company will want to make you a 50k offer, they won’t. So start high with your Wish price, and save room for your Want and Walkaway price.
When asking for candidates’ salary expectations, I often hear: “I’ve not researched on the market levels, so I’ll get back to you on that.” I understand that you’re not ready to give me a number, but this is one of the worst ways to deflect. You just told me that you have no idea what you should or want to get. While this might not be true, you’re giving away your power, and you’re letting me decide how much you should get. Don’t do this! There are so many ways to deflect, simply:
“I’ll give it a think based on what we discussed today, and get back to you tomorrow.”
Finally, if you’d like to be paid better and help others achieve the same, please share all the salary data with everyone you know! Only when we work together can we create a more equal workplace.
Another interesting article on salary in Germany who runs the My Life in Germany blog, that could be useful to you.