Has Your Company Undervalued You? Use this Checklist to Find Your Worth (and a new job)

fair salary

With unemployment at just 5 percent, it’s an ideal time to look for a great new job with higher pay.

But many talented professionals don’t know what they are actually worth to a potential employer. If your current company has undervalued you—and you rely only on what their current bosses think your skills are worth—you could end up at a big disadvantage on the employment market.

How do you get a realistic picture of what your skills are worth and get a job with the compensation you deserve? Use these strategies.

Do a rigorous self-assessment

The business guru Jim Collins has urged companies to consider the “brutal facts” of their existence as they aim for greatness, so they can improve. Job seekers need to do the same thing.

So how do you do this? Before you send out that next resume or go on another job interview, take stock of how you are doing in these key areas, which all contribute to your value in the eyes of an employer.

  1. Relationships

Do you (a) get along well with others in your workplace and your professional field and have strong relationships with them—or (b) is this something you need to work on?

  1. Vision

Are you able to (a) convey a central theme and purpose to your career on your resume or in an interview—or (b) does every job you’ve had to date look random?

  1. Execution

Have you (a) built a track record of achieving big goals you’ve set—or (b) do you have trouble delivering on what you set out to do and have little concrete evidence of achievement to share? By evidence of achievement, I mean easy-to-understand signs of success, such as hitting a sales benchmark, winning an industry award, getting a key promotion, etc.

  1. Revenue

Are you able to (a) articulate a quantifiable effect on your firm’s bottom line – whether by actually generating sales or by contributing to a great product that makes it easy for the firm to win customers – or (b) does it look like you’re a “cost center?”

If any of your answers are (b)s, they will hurt your potential value in the eye of an employer who does any digging into your background. Before you start applying for jobs, look for ways to move all of your answers into the (a) category.

For instance, if your workplace relationships have been bumpy, spend the next month doing all you can to mend them. Future employers are very likely to reach out to references you haven’t suggested and are likely to hear about recent difficulties in getting along with others.

Similarly, if it looks like you’ve spent the last decade hopping from one random job to the next, work with a trusted mentor or career coach to identify the common thread among all of your jobs, so you can explain that there is a logic to the career choices you made. Perhaps, for instance, the common thread between a past teaching job, a stint at a nonprofit and a recent job in corporate America is that all had a component of giving back – which is something that keeps you inspired no matter what you’re doing.

Create an action plan

You don’t have to be perfect to get a job, but if you focus on improving in your weakest area on the list in the next month, and move onto your second weakest area the month after that, you’ll be surprised at how much more marketable you become during your job hunt.

Most of us are so busy today that it’ll be hard to make much progress if you don’t schedule this. Every week, list one big to-do item in your calendar. For instance, if your workplace relationships have been troubled, invite a trusted colleague to lunch the first week of February to ask for advice on how to fix things. The second week of the month, you could focus on doing something supportive for one colleague who does not seem to be a fan, such as championing his great idea in a key meeting. And so on. Then in March, if you want to create a more coherent theme to your work history, you could make the first week of the month the time you meet with a trusted mentor, the second week when you revise your resume, and so on.

Do your homework

Sites such as PayScale make it easy to research what people in your target job title are earning in your part of the country. Use these tools to find out how much people are getting paid to do the work you want to do—and the job title above it—and what the responsibilities for both those positions are.

If you’re focused on winning higher pay, give special attention to the pay in jobs a layer of seniority above yours. A company that has advertised a mid-level position may be willing to consider you for a senior-level job, too—if you have the chops to do it. However, companies generally won’t suggest that you come on board at a higher level. You will probably have to be the one to suggest it and make a case for why it’s in the best interests of the company.

It’s no secret that salaries—even in six-figure jobs—haven’t been keeping pace with the cost of living. By taking a few steps now to make sure you maximize your value to potential employers, you can tilt the odds of getting better pay in your favor. That way, once you get the job, you won’t face distractions from financial worries and you’ll be able to give your work your full, enthusiastic attention.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Forbes.com, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.