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Am I Underpaid?

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"Am I underpaid?" is one of the most common questions I get asked as a headhunter.

Earlier this week, I had an interesting discussion with someone where we spoke on this topic and discussed the Social Inequity Aversion experiment. Put simply, this was about two monkeys that were given cucumbers and were initially happy with them. Then one monkey was given a grape, and the monkey left with the cucumber was angry at not having a grape too, despite initially being happy with his cucumber.

All too often, we end up looking at someone else's "grape". Through the grapevine (no pun intended) we hear of the incredible salaries others are paid and neglect that this could be due to various reasons such as added volatility in the role, longer hours, increased expectations, or the role having a high base / low bonus compensation structure.

Many recruiters often suggest that candidates are "underpaid" to motivate them to explore a move. We are certainly a lot more evolved than monkeys, but we often come across people who get unsettled because of said reasons. Internal equity within the team is always a tricky issue to handle for many organizations and is a lengthy discussion in itself, and for another day.

However, for the purposes of this article, my focus is on an employee / job seeker's salary perspective.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I speak with candidates who have little interest in better understanding a role or the additional exposure that could be gained and maintained. Instead they are only interested in moving for a 20-30% pay increment.

A career move should ideally be driven by things aside from monetary gain. Whether that be an increase in work scope, additional geographical coverage, a management opportunity, or running from a manager you are entirely unable to work with despite your best efforts.

This involves much forward planning, having visibility of how other organizations are structured, and understanding the trade-offs that one is willing to take to achieve certain career goals. It becomes obvious very quickly, the ones who think ahead for their career and the ones who jump from one hot mess to another.

As we embark on the new year, think of what you want and almost create a matrix of sorts when starting the interview process. If the salary is right, location, feel of the team, manager, development and opportunity are all aligned, then know and trust this is a good decision – ignore the noise, but be comfortable you have made the right decision for you.

You could be happy in your job today, but it certainly doesn't hurt to start thinking about what you want out of your next role, beyond the next salary hike.

Eugene is instrumental in placing key legal and compliance professionals in top international banks, key regional financial institutions and global corporations in the commerce sector. For more information on how we can help you build your legal and compliance teams contact Eugene Lim -