Make no mistake—trying to figure out how your salary stacks up to that of others in your field is a challenge. The unavoidable fact is: people get cagey when it comes to talking money. (Personally, I believe that being more open about these things will only help us close the pay gap, but that's an article for another day.)
If you suspect you're being underpaid, getting a free salary report from Comparably or PayScale and scouring Glassdoor is a great start. But that's all it is—a start. To figure out whether you're being underpaid, you need to pay attention to the signs. Or, as career expert, bestselling author, and former Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan (oh, and four other magazines) Kate White says, "You need to be a mercenary for information."
Here are the top five signs you're not getting paid what you deserve.
1. You didn't negotiate your starting salary.
I know this is difficult to hear, because the majority of female millennials didn't. But accepting this fact is the first step. "That's your first clue," says Kate White. "It's a sign that you probably are being underpaid because often if you don't negotiate, you're leaving money on the table." Now, if you didn't negotiate, all is not lost! Make a commitment to yourself to never take a job without negotiating again.
2. You've taken on extra responsibility recently without an increase in salary.
This one might sound obvious, but employees let it slide all too often. Just recently a friend's workload was effectively doubled without a plan for a salary increase or title change. When she went to her manager to make a case for a salary bump, he threatened to simply take away her increased responsibility. Don't fall for this. If you're doing significantly more than the role you were hired to do, you deserve appropriately increased compensation. And if you can't get it at your current company, go get it elsewhere.
3. You've been at your company—without a major raise or a bid away—for more than two years.
"Here's the problem: the market rate increases faster than the rate within a company where people may be getting 3% raises," says Kate White. "I saw it happen to people who worked for me at different times, and as the boss you felt bad, but often the company tied your hands.
When the new person was coming in and was able to negotiate for a certain salary, sometimes it was better than people on the same level. But again, a company won't necessarily let you say, 'Hey, if I bring this person in at X, I hate the fact that this other person is only making Y.' So if you've been at a company for awhile, you can practically bank on the fact that you are not doing as well as people coming in from the outside."
4. You find out the range for your position at a comparable company.
This is less a "sign" than a fact, but it's worth mentioning. Again, talking to people about salaries can be tough, but there are ways to get the information you need.
"You could ask a mentor or someone who used to work at your company and has since moved on," says Kate White. "And maybe you could say it in a bit of a cheeky way, like 'If I told you my salary, what amount would make you think, 'Oh my God she's an idiot'? You're never going to get someone who left, especially in a lateral move, to tell you what their salary was. But I think if you ask in that way, sometimes people like to answer those types of questions."
"Or find people who have comparable jobs in similar companies. Without asking what they make, you can say something to them like 'Would you mind me asking you the range of X position at your company? I love my company but I'm just curious what the range is elsewhere.' I think people will often answer that as well."
However, proceed with caution.
"I've been in situations where people found out salaries by snooping around or having conversations about it in the office, but if your boss finds out it really makes you look small," says Kate. "So I would say that's something to avoid."
5. You have a gut feeling.
I have found this to be true in my own experience, and Kate confirms to trust your gut. If after a few months of watching and listening, you have the sneaking suspicion you're being underpaid, you probably are.
"I think a lot of times our gut feelings about things like this are absolutely accurate," says Kate. "It's almost as if you're picking up clues on a lot of different subliminal levels. Maybe a guy on your same level invited people from the office over for drinks and you saw his apartment and realized, 'Wow, that's pretty nice.' Or you notice the vacations he takes. And sure, maybe he's got a trust fund. But all those little things that happen—the way your boss might be evasive, the spending habits of people on your level—all those things end up being almost imperceptible clues that on some subliminal level make your stomach twist a little bit. And you just sort of know.
"It could be from things people inadvertently say, but the point is that it's not just one thing—it's a combination of those various, vague little things, and what they add up to that speak to you on a subliminal level. And a lot of what they say about intuition is connecting the dots and I think you should connect the dots in this case and listen to your gut."
For more advice from Kate White on negotiating and more, pick up a copy of her tell-all career bible, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve.