Most people dream of making a lot of money. The question is, what does that mean?
The truth is that money is highly subjective. Certainly, a billion dollars is a lot of money; there are only a handful of billionaires in the world. Is a million dollars a lot? In terms of total wealth, no; a significant minority of the population has a million dollars or more in total assets to leave to their heirs, largely due to the appreciation of real estate. Were one to make a million dollars a year, however, that person would be among the most highly paid in the world.
Personal perception has a significant role in determining the amount of money that a person can expect to make. The reason for this is that the two factors that most influence earnings–the level of demonstrable skill, and payment requested from an employer–are very dependent upon the individual. Moreover, while skill is partially based on individual confidence and partially dependent upon innate ability, the amount of money that a person asks an employer to provide is solely based on the individual.
Of course, the two are related. One cannot have a minimal skill set and expect to receive a high salary. However, many people have excellent skill sets yet are paid comparatively little versus their peers. Why?
The truth is, they probably didn’t ask–or if they did, they didn’t ask in a way that conveyed they really thought that they deserved what they wanted. In many cases, the boss knows the most that he or she can pay but will be pleased to pay less if an employee will accept it.
Of course, the boss will not tell the employee what he or she can actually afford to pay. But dealing with that is comparatively easy in the Information Age: there are salary guidelines for given locales and positions available on the Internet. The real challenge is not asking a high level of compensation, but feeling that you deserve the high level of compensation for which you are asking.
To do that, one must understand the relative value of money. We have established that being a billionaire is truly remarkable and that accumulating a million dollars over a lifetime is not but that making a million dollars per year is. What about lower income levels–the sort that we tend to see in everyday life?
How much is a lot?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of four in 2006 is $20,000. A family that makes this amount or less is, by definition, poor.
The median income reported for a family of four in 2006, however, ranged from a low of $45,867 in New Mexico to a high of $87,412 in New Jersey. These figures include single- and multi-earner households.
Consider a candidate in New Jersey who holds a degree in a moderate-demand field. Will he or she accepts a salary of $20,000? Probably not. Expecting a salary of $87,412 may seem excessive, though, because he or she would, as a single earner, be requesting the average income of a family of four.
But is it excessive? Actually, no; if $87,412 is the median salary–meaning there are an equal number of earners above and below that mark–the candidate could, in fact, confidently request $90,000 or more. The reaction from a hiring manager would depend in part on the industry and also in part of the applicant’s specific skill set. Another candidate, in another job, however, could ask for it and get it. The trick is to have the audacity to ask.
A real-life story
Shortly after I finished college, someone I knew earned $40,000 a year. His stated goal was to reach a salary of $50,000. He worked hard to apply himself to education and professional development and volunteered for special projects to expand his skill set.
His next job offer caught him off-guard: $73,000. He took it, of course, astonished at how much he now made. Within a few months, though, he realized that others in the field made considerably more. He stayed active in professional development and worked hard to master new skills.
A year into the job, he requested an increase in salary, providing his employer with salary survey data and other information. He received a raise to $89,000 and was offered an incentive plan based on performance.
After three years, he decided to leave. He interviewed a number of top companies that were excited to meet him. He had an offer from one for $110,000 and then got an offer from another for $115,000. Deciding that he preferred the first company, he asked if they would increase their offer. Knowing that this would require approval, however, he offered to take an initial salary of $100,000 until he finished his probationary period. They accepted.
Four years ago, he aspired to someday make $50,000. Today, he makes $115,000–and considers $200,000 to be easily within reach given a few more years. And why?
Because he asked.