Don’t Sell Yourself Short… Ever

by FI Fighter on March 25, 2016

in Career, Thoughts

Stephen Curry

When it comes to early financial independence, unlike some people, I do feel like there are shortcuts there. And should opportunities present themselves to you along the way, you owe it to yourself to exploit them as much as possible. Because the fact of the matter is, if you don’t, someone else will…

For most of us, in order to get to the top of the summit, we will have to make the bulk of our progress working for someone else. Since a great majority of people get their start in Corporate America, there’s really no way to escape the traditional pyramid (hierarchy) system that’s in place where we all have to answer to a boss, or “superior” early on in our careers. The rules are the rules… We can either learn and adapt to them, or get abused every step of the way.

The choice is ours.

Job Hopping

In my old life as an engineer, I’ve made it no secret to anyone that the majority of the success that I achieved was made through the means of “job hopping”. What is “job hopping”? It’s exactly as it sounds — I jumped from one company to another to another… Routinely and regularly… Every single chance that I got, I took it. And each new time around, I always had the intent of scoring: a larger salary (15%+), a fat signing bonus ($15,000+), more RSUs, stock options, etc.

Sure, many years ago, it might have been taboo or shameful for someone to admit such a thing… But today? No way, we live in the Information Age, and what works… works. I have no interest in bullsh!tting any of you readers, so I’m just going to tell you exactly how it is. In Corporate America, you either look out for yourself, or you get eaten alive… It’s very a much a dog-eat-dog world out there.

My Old Co-Worker

Please don’t get me wrong here — I am NOT advocating anyone resort to shady tactics to get ahead in life! No, I’m NOT telling you to do anything illegal… No under the table type of dealings or anything like that… All that I’m saying is that you have to learn to recognize your own self worth. No matter who you are, and no matter what it is that you do, you’re probably more valuable to your company than you realize.

In my younger days, I once job hopped to Newport Beach to work for a semiconductor company in that area. During my short stay there, I met a fellow engineer who was a few years younger than me. This guy was from China and had just recently graduated with a M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from UC Irvine, a highly regarded university in California. I worked alongside him only briefly, but it didn’t take long for this guy to impress me. Every day, he would show up to work earlier than everyone else, and he would oftentimes grind it out in the lab until after dinner, when most of our other co-workers had already clocked out for the day. How do I know this? I hustled alongside him much of the time…

The only difference was, I had joined this company as an outsider. As such, they had to “wine and dine” me to secure my services. In other words, they gave me the “fat package” that I was after. So, in that sense, yeah, I owed the company, and it was only fair that I do my part and give them 110%… But my co-worker? He was converted from intern to full-time, and he had only ever known this company… For him, because he was an internal promotion, he got: a minuscule 5% raise, no stock options, no signing bonus, no RSUs, close to nothing… While I was walking around at the time just a notch below “senior” engineer, this guy was engineer level I, at best…

But that all didn’t seem to matter to my co-worker… He was just grateful he had such a “wonderful” job, so he was always more than content to keep on playing his role as the hard-working, obscure engineer. That suited him just fine… The only problem with that? It suited our boss just fine as well.

Over the course of the next year, I got to witness first-hand, “corporate abuse”. My boss and his boss would feed this guy task on top of task, non-stop. My old co-worker was an automation guru, so his “superiors” loved to leverage his skills to the max. They argued, if he could keep on automating various laborious, manual lab routines (that until he arrived on the scene needed to be performed by a technician or intern), he could essentially do the job of 5 workers… So, they indulged in lab equipment, machines, the works, and just kept telling my old co-worker to keep on writing automation scripts…

And it wasn’t before long that all his hard work started to pay dividends for the company. Productivity went through the roof because of those automation scripts… And the bosses were looking pretty damn smart… They were routinely lauded with praise, one of them got promoted into senior management, and although I can’t confirm this, I’m pretty certain they each got a big fat pay raise, or bonus along the way… As for my old buddy?

Zippo.

Nada.

Nothing.

He worked harder, harder, and harder. There were times I would stopby the company on a weekend to hit the gym, and I would venture off into the lab (sometimes) to pick up a jacket, or something that I had left behind… Almost every single time I went in there, my old co-worker was busy at work… Still grinding it out on a freekin’ weekend!

Man, I could not believe what I was seeing…

I confided in another co-worker buddy of mine, and we both agreed that this guy was being royally shafted…

And although I’ve always known full well that the corporate world is COLD, I had no idea that it could be this bad…

This “lab rat” was a ROCK STAR, and they were treating him no better than most interns!

Before I left this company for good, I always made sure to put in an AWESOME word and strong rec for this guy… I went to bat for him as best I could, but deep down, I knew that unless this guy ever spoke up for himself, he would never get fair market value for all his hard work.

Not by a long shot…

My Approach

Look, I’m not going to tell you that I had the whole corporate game all figured out, but I will say this — Early on in my career, I knew that I had to value my work because if I didn’t, I knew damn well that no one else ever would.

Unlike my old co-worker, I always made sure to advertise and promote my creations (credentials). Just like him, I was a “lab rat” and pretty handy with writing automation software. I am seriously not trying to boast or anything like that, but as good as my old buddy was, I was a mentor to him. But the difference between us was that I knew that my work had value and I always made sure to use it as leverage wherever I went…

And it’s not about being smug, or arrogant, or conceited, or anything like that… But if you’re gonna bust your ass all day long, and work on your craft for many, many, many years, and then you do get pretty freekin’ good at it, well, you of all people had better recognize that fact!

I knew my work was legit.

I knew my work brought immense value to whatever company I was working for.

I knew that I was not easily replaceable.

I knew that I had leverage.

For instance, these days, everyone is hyping up Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors for his 3-point shooting prowess, and for good reason… Perhaps in the entire history of the NBA, there has never been another player who could shoot the rock like he can… But don’t you think he knows that? As polite, cordial, and respectful as he may appear on camera, or in person when you meet him, deep down, you must well believe that this man is indeed a “baby faced assassin”. Steph knows better than anyone else out there how good he really is! When he shoots a 3, he doesn’t even need to watch it go in…

That’s playing with confidence!

That’s playing with swagger!

That’s knowing how to recognize your own game!

And yes, that will lead to a MAX CONTRACT, when the appropriate time comes… Not a penny less!

 

In the corporate world, you must do exactly that! Know your talent! Know your contributions! And damn well, recognize your true worth and value!

 

The difference between us and professional ballplayers is that they get to advertise their skills for all too see (both their current employer and the competition) on a daily basis. We don’t!

 

In my own experience, believe me, someone else out there will GLADLY pay for top-notch talent, if your employer is too stupid to do so. But if you never let anyone else know that you exist, then for all intents and purposes, you don’t!!!

 

By the time I finally decided to walk away from engineering for good, I had pushed my own market value to north of $200,000/year. I started my career out as an intern earning maybe $65,000/year.

 

Do you really believe that such a figure would have been possible for me if I didn’t fight tooth and nail for it? There was no cheating, deception, or any kind of funny business going around… My talents had real value in the workplace, and I was always more than happy to shop that around to get top dollar.

 

Even now, I have no doubt that I could get a job at almost any high-tech company…

 

It’s just confidence… maybe a tiny bit of swagger, but there is absolutely a time and place for that!

 

Recognize your own game for what it is and don’t ever sell yourself short! Because if you do, chances are, you’ll end up like my old buddy who is most likely still working for the same company for the same low pay.

 

Fight On!

 

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit March 26, 2016 at 12:09 am

In my experience your current boss’ job is to give you just enough to be satisfied when it comes to compensation. It’s a shame that more companies don’t recognize how much they lose just because of their unwillingness to reward the truly great employees that they have. Of course the bosses are doing the same thing and looking out for themselves. Hey they managed the guy that created all of those great automation scripts. They might as well get theirs too because their bosses are doing the same thing to them.

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2 FI Fighter March 26, 2016 at 12:27 am

JC,

Exactly, everyone out there is out to get theirs… So, you gotta look out for yourself first and foremost. If you aren’t being compensated fairly for what you bring to the table, go out and look someplace else.

But I really do think that many bosses out there are delusional and completely out of touch with reality. They never cease to amaze me with how “penny wise and pound foolish” they can be.

If my old co-worker ever decides to walk, his bosses will be left scratching their heads and wondering how exactly they’re going to be able to replace this most unheralded, but most important of assets. I never managed nobody, but if I did, I would know full well who was really valuable and worth their keep. I would pay up for top talent, or at the very least fight my boss to get my superstars all that I could get for them.

Best wishes!

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3 Hristo March 26, 2016 at 1:17 am

On my current job, the differentiation of the employees is done not by contribution but rather based on the time spent in the company. Even though you might be lazy and do just the minimum to get the job done, if you have been at the company for longer period, your salary will be higher than the 1-year freshman who is taking tasks on top of his regular activities.

I was very disappointed to see that the managers hide behind company politics and established rules when it comes to recognizing the true value of contribution of each individual. And in the end if you do not speak loudly that you feel underpaid, you won’t get a salary increase before the right time comes.

Regards,
Hristo

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4 FI Fighter March 27, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Hristo,

That hierarchy structure is quite prevalent out here as well. For instance, some of the BEST engineers that I have ever worked with in my life, but started out in the 70s and 80s, didn’t have B.S. or M.S. degrees… Despite that, they have over 25+ years experience… As far as the company was concerned, they didn’t deserve higher compensation than most technicians, and definitely not what a new grad M.S. would command.

To me, that was one of these stupidest things that I have ever seen… Experience is experience and if you have a strong record, nothing else should matter… But that’s just how the world works…

I have pieces of paper, up to M.S. and to me those degrees mean next to nothing… I got to where I did b/c of my tenacity and willingest to work hard and learn… A piece of paper should not imply what someone will or will not do. That’s on each individual…

So, you really got to speak up and fight for your worth… Fortunately, there are some people out there who will recognize that and pay fair market value for that.

Cheers!

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5 Roadmap2Retire March 26, 2016 at 5:57 am

Great post, Jay. I have to admit that I have done this to myself – where I have sold myself short in order to stay happily where I had been just because it was a secure and cushy job. I skipped opportunities to jump, when I should have.
Its a realization that came a bit later – and unfortunately, my overall compensation packages have suffered over the course of my career. I have corrected that over the course of last couple of years after the realization….and getting back closer to the industry average of what I deserve.

Great reminder – that your company will only pay the least that I can to keep you. Its up to each individual to fight for what they want.

Best
R2R

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6 FI Fighter March 27, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Sabeel,

Thanks! Yeah, I think we have all done it from time to time… It’s not always easy to leave behind a comfortable, cushy job… But staying complacent for too long can cause one to get stagnant, so my own rule of thumb was to leave every 2-3 years…

All the best!

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7 Financial Samurai March 26, 2016 at 7:40 am

The joys of globalization. Your coworker is One of the reason why wages are being suppressed here in America, and why everybody needs to side hustle to get ahead.

It’s impressive you walked away from a $200,000 year salary of age 30-31. I didn’t walk away until I was 34 1/2. And even then that was pretty scary. But a relatively large severance package that is paying up today and will finish paying out in 2017 really give me the courage to just do my own thing. Did you look into any severance package negotiations at your old shop? Or do you think you were not there long enough to be able to get one?

Job hopping is definitely an easy way to accelerate your career. I stayed at my old firm for 11 years because they did promote me every 2 to 3 years on average and gave me a raise. I probably could’ve made 20 to 30% more if I drop off but I don’t know if I would of been happy or felt secure in a new place. Last-in first out, and the finance industry is pretty cyclical. So the one benefit of staying is having a more comfortable life with more respect from your peers and the ability to negotiate A severance package due to the loyalty. I was really thinking about going to another firm my last two years in the industry for a lot more money, but that would required moving to New York City and I definitely would not of been able to get a severance package once I decided to.

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8 FI Fighter March 28, 2016 at 8:27 am

Sam,

You’re definitely right about side hustlin — The more you do, the less dependent you become on any single income stream. And you’re the champ when it comes to side hustlin’ so you know all about that!

Yeah, my situation is unique and not something I would recommend or encourage anyone else to pursue. I had health issues I had to deal with, so that had a great impact on my decision to walk away. If someone is still feeling strong and vibrant, I don’t know, they have to assess their own situation and figure out if leaving is the best thing to do for their situation.

But in Silicon Valley, many engineers grind it out for 10 years and call it a career; that’s very normal here. You go through hell, but you set yourself up nicely forever after.

Job hopping is kind of an art, but once you’ve done it enough times, you realize exactly how the system is setup to work. I’ve always had to shop around in order to get fair market value… Otherwise, I’d be slapped in the face with 2% or 3% annual raises each year, which were an absolute joke.

All the best!

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9 Elle @ New Graduate Finance March 26, 2016 at 1:22 pm

This topic frustrates me, because I know that you’re right and that I’m hurting myself by selling myself short.

My current employer really tries to force the whole “never talk about how much you make with anyone else!” to protect themself from having employees realize that they’re selling themselves short.

Personally, I think it’s really important to know what others similar to me are making so that I can be sure I am making what I deserve.

On a side note, I hope you continue your “How I Became a Millionaire at 30” series!

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10 FI Fighter March 28, 2016 at 8:33 am

Elle,

There is truth to the post, but it’s also a matter of context — I’m coming from the angle of a burnt out engineer who wants to maximize his worth as quick as possible… And each time I left, I had gone through a period of stagnant wage increases…

When starting out, I would say it’s absolutely most critical for newbies to focus on acquiring job skills… Learning and networking are the most critical things to do… Money is important, of course, but fighting for extra compensation and packages shouldn’t be the main focus until someone is 4+ years into their career and have the skills, resume, track record to command more.

That’s just how I look at it, anyway. I didn’t touch on those points in this post, so I think it’s important I add that here — Money was my focus, but only after I had acquired the skills needed to chase it.

You’re doing really great! Just keep at it and you will go far.

As for the millionaire story, I’m working on compiling a bunch of posts and putting the entire journey with all the details (EXACT details!) into a nice, neat little package. Stay tuned! 🙂

Take care!

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11 Elle @ New Graduate Finance March 28, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Interesting point about focusing on skills in the beginning of one’s career. I’m really working on soft skills and sales/negotiation abilities.

I’m happy that you have been putting posts out more often, and I can’t wait to read the compilation of posts will all the exact details of your journey!

Keep inspiring and Go Bears!

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12 Midwestern Landlord March 26, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Terrific article Jay. The bottom line is corporations can and will abuse you if you let them. It happens all the time. Looking back, I did not do a good job of moving on to another company for better pay or a promotion nearly as much as I should have.

That is really the best way to get ahead at least from my experience. If you want a promotion then move to another employer. It helps to be in a dynamic field in a geographic location that has a lot of competitors. The Bay area seems perfect for this.

At the end of the day though, true FI comes from being able to live on personal assets. They don’t give you bad reviews, tell you what to do or how to live, and they can’t fire you. They just keep working for you. Obviously making as much $$$ in the working years helps the cause.

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13 FI Fighter March 28, 2016 at 8:37 am

Midwestern Landlord,

Thanks! For sure, “corporate abuse” happens everyday in the workplace; everyone is always out to maximize efficiency for as cheap as possible.

As employees, we just have to remain cognizant of that… It’s a lot like dating — if you give someone all the power, they will walk all over you. It’s a two way street. Give and take.

Funny, I’ve always found that employees who jump around a lot get the most respect from their peers, fair or not. When someone says, “I came here from Company X…” everyone always goes, “WOW!” But if you say, “I’ve been at the same place for 10+ years…” you look desperate.

It’s all a game of human psychology, so I just say take care of yourself and maximize your own value. You owe that to your family and yourself.

Best wishes!

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14 Tawcan March 26, 2016 at 8:35 pm

Poor lab rat eh? I’ve been with the same company for a number of years now but have switched jobs internally. A few years ago I thought negotiated my salary again to make sure I’m getting sufficient. You’re right though, company hopping is probably the most effective way to get more money. Like you said, the organization will abuse you if you take it. It’s up to you to stand up for yourself. One of my managers once told me that companies will always try to pay you the least amount they can and you obviously want to get paid as much as you can. It’s up to you to negotiate and find the right point for you and the company. There’s always room for negotiation.

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15 FI Fighter March 28, 2016 at 8:38 am

Tawcan,

Great job on negotiating a larger salary! You’re definitely doing things right! Also, congrats to you and your wife on Baby T2.0! Very exciting times and I’m so happy for you!

Take care!

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16 theFIREstarter March 27, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Echo some of the thoughts above. I know what you’ve said is bang on the money but for a fair few years I definitely sold myself short.

I used to have some weird kind of “I don’t care about the money” attitude, and would never bare faced just ask for a pay rise. In fact I do still have that but I sure as hell don’t let that on to my employers anymore! And I have no bones about asking for what I think is deserved nowadays.
Since the attitude change I got a few decent pay rises and am now working 66% of the year for more money than I earned full time just 5 years ago. Not bad!

I likely could have done much better job hopping but on the other hand I’m loving the current deal so much I have no regrets at all.

I was wondering, you say you put in a good word for your fellow lab rat… Did you ever coach him on getting a raise? Tell him he was insane to stay there while he was getting used and abused? I don’t ask to make you look bad if you didn’t, just wondered. There is a young guy at our work in a similar position. He could get way more money elsewhere and yet despite a few of us telling management he is a rock star and deserves a huge pay rise it hasn’t come as far as I’m aware. If he ever asked for advice I would probably tell him to leave but so far he seems pretty happy so I’m not going to go out of my way to persuade him to leave at it would make my life harder for a start and obviously you want to work with good people!

It’s an interesting moral dilemma that’s for sure.

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17 FI Fighter March 28, 2016 at 8:43 am

theFIREstarter,

Oh yeah, I think we’ve all “been there, done that” with regards to selling ourselves short and being content with status quo from time to time. That’s awesome that you were able to secure such high raises over the last 5 years and found something that you really enjoy.

In regards to my old buddy, I never got into his face about things, but my other co-worker and I did hint it to him from time to time. I mean, I mentioned how I came from another company and got stocks, RSUs, etc… It’s a delicate subject b/c you never want to get in someone else’s face about their own situation (none of my business really), and you don’t want to come across as some kind of braggart (which was not my intention).

But to be honest, this guy was very “old school” and he subscribed to the philosophy of taking pride in ones work but letting actions speak louder than words. He was humble… to a fault… But sadly, that’s just not how the world works. You have to speak up if you want to be heard.

Really, we were coming from two different worlds, so I think my own approach is just too drastic for someone like him… He would have to do an entire mental reprogramming if he was going to do some of the things that you and me have done.

Cheers!

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18 thepermanentweekend.com March 27, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Before I stepped away from full time work I was a VP and got to see the salary surveys we used for annual salary adjustments. Basically, the company would target the low end of the pay range for any existing employee and pay the mid point for any new employee. It didn’t make any sense, we’d pay more for an unknown employee versus our existing strong talent. I can certainly see the argument for job switching during ones career.

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19 Sundeep March 28, 2016 at 7:42 am

Good post!

I myself was one of those guys who didn’t care about money until I did. Somehow I managed to jump jobs in a couple years which resulted in a 30% raise during that time. My final jump going back to the company I originally quit from!

Since that time I’ve pretty much slides back into the crappy raise rut with last years being only 1 lousy percent. Guess it’s time to jump again….

Anyone reading this should forget about company loyalty. It’s their job to pay you as little as possible while it’s yours to maximize your pay. If that means jumping so be it…every time I jumped I left on great terms and was welcomed back. E key is to work your ass off and always leave on great terms because you’re a rock star. You do that and you’ll always be in demand and will always be welcomed back.

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