Understanding Your Value In Order To Get The Salary You Deserve

FULL TRANSCRIPT – Season 2, Episode 53

Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to to subscribe.

Jessica: Today, we’re so excited to welcome back Jenifer Barkon, who is the Chief Talent Officer, aka head of human resources, at a company based in California. She’s worked at companies, huge Fortune 100 public companies, as well as small startups. She is like the human resources guru here to answer a lot of questions about how to really be able to value yourself and have conversations. Whether you’re getting back into the workforce, or whether you’ve been working for a while and you feel like it’s time for a raise, and how to talk to your bosses and human resources about that. Thanks for being here again, Jen.

Jen: Thanks for having me.

T.H.: Welcome.

Jen: Not a guru.

T.H.: Well, it’s true for us!

Jessica: But really, let’s just dive right into it. Because I feel learning how to be able to talk about money relative to yourself, your own worth work-wise, and how to have those conversations without getting emotional about it, that’s a real struggle and a real challenge I think for a lot of women. I know it always was for me. I was lucky enough for my career to work in the kind of industry where I had an agent. The majority of the time I wasn’t involved in those financial discussions, it was my agent negotiating with business affairs at different networks. But those are the kind of conversations where it brings women to tears.

Jen: It brings a lot of people to tears. You hit the nail on the head, which is you have to figure out a way to remove your own emotion from it because guess what, it’s not emotional for the company, it’s a purely business financial decision. You’re not even coming to the game with the right artillery if you’re bringing your emotion to it. You’re going to get outdone every time.

Jessica: But sometimes you’re working in a company where you know that someone is doing the equivalent job of you, and this is not a man/woman thing, this is not a sexism thing, but sometimes you know there are people that are getting paid more.

Jen: Which could be the world’s worst justification as to why you want a raise.

Jessica: No, but becomes emotional when you’re told you’re not going to get one. Let’s start off with what should your mindset be? How do you prepare yourself, knowledge and research-wise, to know what you’re worth? And what’s a reasonable raise to be able to be asking for?

Jen: I mean it really depends on the circumstances. Large companies, mine included, and we’re not that big, we’re 1200 people so I would consider us a mid-sized firm, but certainly, the larger companies that I’ve worked at have very well-established salary ranges. They do that intentionally to avoid pay inequity liability. You have to remember that there are ranges and in many places these days, the company is required to reveal what those salary ranges are. In the state of California, and I don’t have a 50-state compliance manual in my head, but in the state of California, those are things you can ask, what is the salary range for this position? Similarly in California, and I hate to be so California-centric, but it’s where I am and it’s where I practice, when you’re interviewing for a job, your employer cannot ask you how much you made in your previous job. The only thing they can ask you is what are your salary expectations? You have a little bit of wiggle room and range with which to get some significant jumps in your compensation, by not having to, and this is legislation that was passed in the last several years, by not having to reveal your exact previous salary history. In terms of what do you need to do in order to ask for the raise? Again, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now, do your research and understand – I mean, again, Jessica, you’re 100% right. What you’re going to find on is going to be very wide and not particularly accurate, but it’ll give you some barometer of where things are. I also think that if you’re in the job, you have a general sense. People talk, right? To your point, people know what each other make, and there is no law like there used to be that you couldn’t discuss your salary with your coworkers. So, 100%, people are going to know more than they think they know. I think that one of the things that people should bring to the table when negotiating is a sense for market competitiveness. Now, if you think that you’re attractive in the market, you have a lot more leverage than if you think that you’re not attractive in the market, meaning there’s not a high demand for your job, or, again, supply and demand. If there’s not a ton of people who are skilled in what you’re skilled in, you’re going to have a lot more leverage. Chances are the pay bands that the companies established are going to be reflective of that. We might have, and again, I’m just totally throwing this out there and this is not a real thing, but an engineer who codes a particular language might get paid meaningfully more than another engineer who codes in a different type of language, just because there are fewer people who do this than who do that, and that in and of itself will cause a rise in the pay band.

T.H.: Right. That’s what I was going to say, if you’re in a niche area or specialty skill set, then you’re in a position of power compared to being an executive assistant to one of 50 different people.

Jen: Yeah. And executive assistants, I mean listen, I’ve seen executive assistants make anywhere from $40,000 a year to $250,000.

T.H.: No, I’m not saying that they don’t. I’m just saying that you probably have more negotiating ability if you’re in a niche area. But then just walking into an interview and you ask what the salary is, I would think –

Jessica: Well, who goes first?

Jen: It’s typically the employer that will say, what are your salary expectations? That is most likely to happen before any candidate would say, what is the pay for this role?

T.H.: So that should be the answer, right? When you’re asked your expectations, can’t you say, well, what is the range?

Jen: You can, it’s a little gamey. It would be a turn-off for me. I would suggest saying, based on my knowledge of the market, based on my years of experience, based on my skill, and based on the role that you are considering me for, my expectation would be X. Go high. Go high, but don’t go so high that –

T.H.: I was going to say you don’t want to sell yourself short.

Jessica: But you don’t write yourself out of the job.

Jen: Yeah, but typically you won’t. If I meet somebody, I’ve had this happen hundreds of times, in fact, I’ve done it with my own job searches, where I go in and I tell them what my salary expectations are, typically predicated on my actual salary history. Again, I’m an open book. When someone asks me, what are your expectations? I say to them, I make this now so I would be looking for this to make a move. But I’ve gone in and you get that, ooh, that’s a whole lot more than we were prepared to pay. Then you say, listen, I get it and I’m not sure that I’m willing to take less, but I don’t think it would be beneficial to either one of us at this juncture, for us to stop having conversations. Let’s just get to know each other a little bit more. This conversation is typically going to happen sort of earlier on in the in the journey. I’ve ended up negotiating way more than they were prepared to pay because I got them to fall in love with me.

Jessica: Who wouldn’t fall in love with you?

Jen: Many. Many.

T.H.: You sold yourself.

Jen: Well, right. That’s exactly right. Try not to ever get to a place where you’re letting something get shut down. Say, listen, at the end of this process, you’ve decided that you have a maximum pay and that you just can’t budge. It’s less than what I’m willing to accept, no love lost. I’m really interested in this opportunity and I would love to continue having conversations, but I would hate for us to part ways at this juncture without having fully explored.

Jessica: How do you make sure that you’re not pricing yourself out of the market? I guess it doesn’t really matter, to your point, if your answer is well, I think we should continue talking. I think though that something I’ve always wondered, and probably a lot of other people do also, is when the employer says, here is the range. Is that really the range?

Jen: I mean it should be. I’ve never lied about that.

Jessica: Because I feel that’s what people are always – you’re saying go in high because they may say, we were expecting to pay 150 in this position, and you’re kind of like, but you’re not going to give me your highest number right now.

Jen: Right. That’s right. Also, you need to keep in mind, what are the other components of the compensation package? It’s not just about salary, there’s bonus potential. By the way, if you’re newly divorced, there’s a world in which you need health insurance real badly. There’s real financial value in that, especially with an employer who subsidizes their insurance heavily like we do as most larger employers do. You might be willing to take slightly less on your base if you know that you’re getting premium health insurance subsidized at 80% by the company for you and your children, or whatever it may be. There are a lot of factors. In general, Jessica, in answer to your question about how do you not price yourself out, just don’t be stupid and don’t be greedy. If you were making or you think that somewhere in the realm of possibility that the job is a $150,000 a year job, don’t go in asking for $250k. Typically, I think a 25% range on any particular, and by the way, that’s typically where the salary bands lie. It’s like 20% on either side of what’s considered the midpoint for a position and there are geographical differences. We do cost of living adjustments to pay depending on where you live, but most companies just aren’t that large.

Jessica: What are some of the basic things that people should be thinking about in terms of the value? You just bring up such a good point, I think that a lot of people do go in and they’ll think, I need to get health insurance, and then it’s all about my salary, and they aren’t necessarily thinking, what are some of the benefits that I should be looking for or asking about?

Jen: It’s so diverse because you could take a company like Amazon, for example, a huge, highly successful company, sort of lower on the base salary, huge upside on the equity. They distribute equity to almost every level within the company, if not every. I think it varies dramatically. There are other industries like entertainment that I’ve been a part of where the base salaries are meaningfully inflated. There is limited what I would refer to as incentive compensation, which is bonuses, and long-term incentive, which is equity, depending on what company you’re at and at what level. The type of company that you’re interviewing at, again, financial services, if you’re in a banking environment, a legal environment, those salaries are lockstep, and you have no negotiating power whatsoever, so there’s no need to have that conversation. But in most companies, you have to look at the mix of what we refer to at my company, total rewards, and figure out the value again. There are jobs where you probably have to work a lot of hours, and they’re going to pay you a lot of money to do that, but if you’re a mom, that’s not going to be compelling. It’s probably worth it to you to make $50-$60,000 less for a job where you have some control over your hours and your work-life balance. You just have to be looking at all of the things. By the way, it varies from company to company. I could go be a human resources executive in a company that would own me, and that wouldn’t work for me. I choose to work at a company where I have great flexibility. To be honest, as you get more senior, you can demand more flexibility because they need you more and more.

T.H.: Right. When I was in that job that I was speaking about, I worked remote and that was just because my boss was in Chicago, and my team is all across the country, I was paid a certain amount. Then I saw that some of the other people on my level who were directing programs were getting better title changes and promotions. I said something and went in, and I think they did it because they did it for everyone else. I kind of felt forgotten, but I felt like I had nothing to lose. They weren’t going to eliminate me because then they eliminate a ton of revenue. I think also, if you’re in that kind of a position, that you’re seeing this stuff happening, you can go in and say like what’s happening here. I’m doing the same thing; it just has a different title on it. Like you said, I bring in this much money, I have these many people showing up, I do X, Y, and Z by myself, I don’t outsource anything. I kind of felt like the worst-case scenario was that I say where I’m at, but I want the director title, and I want more money.

Jen: And by the way, be willing to prioritize. I’ve always said in my career, I don’t care what they call me as long as they pay me. So you may be more focused on the pay –

T.H.: It depends on where you’re at.

Jen: Right. It depends on how important career trajectory is to you. If it’s important for you to show that type of advancement, so that you can start thinking about your next move, then there’s worth in that. If you’re not, then I say, forget what they call you. And by the way, what they call you is so dramatically different in so many companies.

T.H.: I know. It’s apples, oranges, and bananas all over the place.

Jen: That’s exactly right. So don’t get stuck on being a director somewhere, if the company that you’re working at has massive title deflation. At Netflix, by way of example, the directors make $250-$300,000 a year, and that’s a Senior Vice President’s pay in any other company, so you’ve got to know what you’re dealing with. They’ll be very honest with you about that. They’ll say we pay top of market and our titles are deflated, and that’s a conversation that you can have.

T.H.: That’s really great to know. That’s great to think about because I was always in the world of titles. If you’re thinking that this isn’t going anywhere, you better get that VP title so that when you move jobs, they’ll pay you like a VP and not like a senior manager.

Jessica: What’s the language to use going in? Words that you should not use, language that you should always use when you’re going in and you’re talking about compensation? Whether it’s a new job going in, and you’re re-entering the workforce, or you’re there and you’re going into your current employer and going to be pushing for more, how do you actually do it? What do you say?

Jen: Again, it all goes back to authenticity and being yourself. I approach those conversations very differently for me than I might give advice on. And again, I don’t know the particulars of any circumstance, but I would say two things. One, and I hit it at the top when you were talking, Jessica, the thing that I like least is when someone comes into my office and says I want a raise because I know so and so is making this and that. That’s not a good reason, and so and so could be kicking your ass, right? You need to be talking about what value you’re bringing to the company. What are the real contributions that you’ve made that you think have had bottom-line effects? The other thing I would stick to, and again I know it’s tough, because there’s not a ton of visibility into it, but know your market worth. I think companies are always thinking about the cost of turnover. What is it going to cost if this person leaves? How much are we going to have to pay the next person that we bring in? How long is it going to take us to find that person? How many hours are going to be spent recruiting and ramping up? Sometimes companies want to pay you a little bit more just so that they don’t have to go through the suffering of replacing you, right? But you have to be good at what you do in order for that to happen. Because I can tell you, if someone comes to me, and they’re not performing, and they ask for the raise, and my alternative is they’re going to leave, I’m going to let them leave. I’m going to be willing to pay more on the replacement.

Jessica: Any other tips? So don’t ever go in and just compare yourself to someone else salary-wise. Anything else I would not have heard of, like words to use or things to say vs. definitely not.

Jen: I just think again, talk about your contributions, what you’ve done, know your market worth, and negotiate like you’re negotiating anything else in your life. I know it’s negotiating yourself, which is really a tough place to be in, but negotiate like you’re negotiating on an apartment. Know what you’re willing to pay, know what the apartment is worth, and get advice from friends and family who you think might know. Jessica, you were very lucky to work in an industry where you had someone negotiating on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to ask someone, like take information back to a trusted friend or colleague and bounce the information around so that you can go back to your employer with some really clean objective thoughts.

Jessica: It’s so interesting what you said because that was something when I was deciding to leave TV, I had gotten to a point where I really needed a lifestyle change. I really needed to be in a space where my whole life and my whole schedule were not being dictated by current events and where I had, not even necessarily flexible hours, but more set hours. Not working basically from 5:15 in the morning until 7:30 at night. I remember taking meetings that were salaries that were significantly less than what I had been currently making at the time and thinking to myself, how much is this change of lifestyle worth to me? Is it $25,000 less? Is it $50,000 less? Is it $100,000? So to your point of knowing what your bottom line is, I think that’s really important. You need to know what’s the least you, obviously, this is what you want at the top, but what is the least amount that you’re willing to make that’s still going to make you feel good. Because there was a time at CBS where I was going in and it was a contract renegotiation. My agent came to me and they’re like, they’re not budging and they’re stuck at this number. Literally, it was a $5,000 difference between what their final offer was and what I wanted. I don’t get involved in the negotiations, but I went to my executive producer and I go, listen, it costs $5,000 for one live truck to do a live shot in the morning on this show and we do like four a day. I can’t in good conscience sign this contract when this is what you’re nickel and diming me over, the difference of $5,000. I’m not going to feel good about it, and I just can’t stay like that. So I ended up getting it because it was so close. But you do have to know what you are willing to – Don’t go in and bluff.

Jen: No, and it’s a really good point. Listen, you did a really great job of advocating for yourself. Most companies I would assume for $5000 would make that change, but you’ve got to remember, for everyone one conversation about that that they’re having with you, they’re having it with seven other people and there’s like 9 other CapEx investments that need to be made and 27 other unexpected hits to the – It’s only $5000 to you and you see them blowing that every which way come Sunday, but people are going to be fiscally responsible and they may hold their ground, and then you’ve got a decision to make.

T.H.: And also when you’re going through a divorce, when you’re talking about the high end, certainly the low end is, what are my expenses, how much is the pay per rent, car, house, school, and miscellany? Really get your numbers in order and maybe cushion it on top, because you probably missed a lot of stuff, and that’s the kind of job you need to find, something that’s going to pay that or you might have to find two jobs to cover those expenses. But be prepared that you’re going in for a job that can at least help 80% of your expenses to be covered. Because it’s a whole new world when you go through a divorce, and if you weren’t working, then it’s a big holy shit moment and where’s the money coming from? It’s a lot, but you have to plan for it.

Jen: I’ve got two points to make. One is back to the point of total rewards. Ask about things like the 401k match, it’s taxed deferred money that just gets dumped into a retirement account, and that has value to it if you’re looking to grow your retirement account. But also in terms of work-life balance, we’re living in a very interesting time right now. I am predicting that 30% of my workforce will be working remotely. That has a lot of appeal to working moms. Now’s a great time to be looking for a job where you have the flexibility and that’s this is what it’s all about. As we’re stumbling our way through what the future of our workplace looks like, we’re talking a lot about how do we move to a place where people aren’t required to be in the office most days and giving people the flexibility that they need. We talked about, do we have core office days where everyone comes in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we’re like that doesn’t work for everyone. On Tuesdays, I might have a commitment. We’re really getting to a place of a lot more flexibility and allowing people to work, and instead of calling it work from home, we’re calling it work from anywhere, as long as the work is getting done.

T.H.: It is great.

Jessica: I think we’re out of time, but that was so much great information and awesome tips. Thank you so much Jen for that. We really appreciate it. I would imagine as always that your suggested resources for people when it comes to trying to figure out what they are worth, going in and having these conversations, would be sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor?  

Jen: Yeah. I mean it’s going to be all over the place. Don’t completely eliminate places like There’s another one, I’m spacing on it, there’s a more current one. I don’t know it, but there is something out there that’s a lot more… Now it’s going to eat me up. Anyway, do your research. If you’ve been in the job market before, call your former colleagues and ask them what they’re making. If you’ve got that kind of relationship, just get as much information as you can.

Jessica: All right, excellent. Well thank you so much for coming back, and we’ll see you next time.

Jen: My pleasure.

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