This may be a little bit awkward to write about, considering how I am connected with my former and current colleagues on LinkedIn (and other social media). So, the probability of one of them seeing this might be high. But, I figured it would be beneficial for myself (to remember) and for others to know and learn about. So, here it is – the story of how I received a 60% salary increment at my new job.
Note: This is a super, duper long post about my experience. It may or may not be useful for every single situation out there. But, hopefully, some aspects of it may be taken to help you in your negotiation. Depending on your industry, organization(s), and role(s), getting a 60% salary increment may be too far-fetched. But, don’t worry too much about the little details. Focus on what you can control within the process, which is how you sell yourself to potential employers by knowing what you’re worth.
A little background story
I know some of you would probably not know me, so here is a little background story. Hopefully, this will give you a little insight into how I get to where I am and the little things I’ve picked up over the past five years that have helped me ultimately land this 60% salary increment.
This might take you a little longer, but it would be useful to know how I ended up here. If you want to skip to the story on the actual move itself, you can skip to the part where I started to look for opportunities, or when the interviews started. You can also just skip to the end to read my tips on what I did to get my 60% salary increment.
2017 – My degree & my first job
I spent four years as a business student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, where I graduated in May 2017 with a BBA in Actuarial Science. Halfway through my degree, I realized that a career in actuarial science was not suited for me. So, to prep me for what might be my career, I decided to take up a Certificate in Education & Educational Services. It was only an extra few subjects, and I had lots of elective spots available anyway.
During my four years in the States, I picked up a few part-time student jobs. One of them was as an Admissions Representative at the Office of Admissions & Recruitment. This was one of the turning points that got me interested in working in higher education in general.
I came back home to Malaysia in June 2017 and immediately started my first job in education – working as a course advisor at Monash University Malaysia. I got lucky when I managed to secure this job. It was an interesting opportunity to learn more about how higher education works in Malaysia. This includes learning about admissions & marketing, academic advising, course administration, and many more. My responsibilities also involved working at Open Days, Education Fairs, and graduation ceremonies. It definitely helped me understand and appreciate the hard work it takes to run a university.
(and, yes, I jumped from Business to Higher Education – no regrets there).
I was at Monash for a little over a year before I quit and left to pursue my Master’s degree.
2018 to 2020 – My Master’s degree & coming back home (again).
In November 2019, I graduated with my MA Education (Youth & Community) degree from the University of Huddersfield, UK. Initially, I wanted to stay in the UK and work there for a couple of years. Unfortunately, the UK’s new graduate visa scheme was just introduced, so I wasn’t eligible to apply for it. This made it harder for me to find a job because even though I secured several interviews – finding one that could sponsor me a work visa was challenging. The job had to be of a certain level and pays a certain amount. In education, it would translate to a managerial level role in a university.
And so, in January 2020, I returned home to Malaysia (just in the nick of time before COVID started!) to start my role at an international school in Malaysia. Working at Alice Smith School was an interesting change compared to my first job. Switching my mindset from working in a university to working in a high school was a new challenge I was looking forward to. It was also interesting because I liaised a lot with universities and supported the university guidance counseling program.
Funny background story: I initially applied for this role back in 2017 when I graduated from my undergraduate. Unfortunately, back then, luck & time were not on my side. The same role was advertised again as I was finishing up my Master’s program, and my heart told me it was fate’s way of telling me to try again.
2020 to 2021 – Exploring how a school operates.
I loved my job at Alice Smith – my colleagues and managers are great, the students I work with are fun, and I get to explore many new opportunities. It was also due to my manager’s help that I could get an added responsibility (with extra allowance!) to dabble in the Admissions & Marketing department – something that allowed me to see how other people work in the school.
The job also pays relatively well, especially considering the work I do and the flexibility that my manager offered me. Before coming to the school, I never understood how some staff had worked there for 5-10 years or more. But after a year or so there, I somehow realized why. It was a comfortable job – the work is routine-ish enough to be easy, but with enough challenges and changes every year, it keeps you somewhat engaged with the job. The perks are fun, and depending on which department you’re in, you’re pretty much on a low work season during the school holidays.
Working in a school means you’re working on a cyclical timeline. There would be months where you’d be busy as hell (mine was August until January/February). But the rest of the year was pretty much laid back and not as taxing. Working during school hours also means that you’re usually home by 5:00 pm every day. Working during school holidays also meant slightly shorter work hours (and casual attire!).
And for me, I enjoyed my job because I got to speak to a lot of academics and university representatives from around the world. I’ve always enjoyed hearing and learning about different programs and courses, so it was a win-win for me.
Started to mindlessly look for better opportunities.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
There were little to no push factors from my job at Alice Smith. I loved it, and my husband also felt that I was enjoying my time there. But personally, I felt like I needed something new. I needed something more from my job to keep me on my toes. And I needed to feel challenged by something more.
So in mid-2021, I started to mindlessly look for better opportunities in my free time. Since I was not desperate to leave, this gave me leverage in my job search. I get to be more demanding regarding what I am looking for, and I can be picky with what kinds of jobs I would say yes to and the companies I would work for.
Long story short: I had the upper hand. If I feel like an opportunity does not give me exactly what I was looking for, I could easily say no.
Coming up with a figure to ask for…
When jumping to a new job, most people would have been satisfied with a 10-25% salary increment. So, initially, I was going to ask for a 20-30% salary increment. That seems reasonable enough for me (at that point), and I would’ve been OK with it. I then talked to my mentor, Azri, about my decision to look for a new job. When I told him my decision to ask for a 20% increment, he said that was too little. For him, while a 20% increment was the bare minimum that I should be asking for, I should also think about all the other costs and/or benefits that would come with the new job.
So I sat down and thought about it…
Moving to a new job would require me to spend more on transportation and parking (Alice Smith was a mere 10 minutes away from home, and I get free parking at the school). It would cost me more time on the road to go to/from work, and I would have less personal time after work. And most jobs I would be interested in would also involve more responsibilities and challenges.
And so, I told myself – OK, I will ask for a 50% salary increment. That felt like a reasonable amount that could give me the pull needed to get me away from my cushiony job. A minimum request of a 50% salary increment would also give me some room for negotiation if the new employer didn’t want to give me that 50% upfront (note: I always, always ask for higher because the chances are that most employers will not give you the highest amount that you ask for initially).
Attending interviews after interviews.
Alhamdulillah, I landed a couple of interviews after a few weeks of mindlessly looking for better opportunities. But, somehow, nothing seems to stick. I received a couple of offers, but I decided not to pursue those opportunities because the pull factors were not strong enough. One potential opportunity was so tempting, but they only offered a 20% salary increment. And while I was half-tempted to say yes, I took my time to really contemplate what I would be giving up and gaining. It ended up being one-sided, as I would be giving up more than what I would have gained, so I said no to the opportunity (reluctantly).
As I said, I had nothing to lose by saying no to opportunities. My previous job was a comfortable and relatively easy job, and I definitely did not mind not going anywhere for the time being. So time was on my side, and I could use this as leverage to ask for higher pay and better benefits, which is exactly what I did.
At the end of September 2021, I saw an opportunity on LinkedIn Jobs, and I was like… Wait, this potentially looks like fun and interesting. So I submitted my application but never put up much hope for it (I knew it would be competitive!).
I had my first interview at the end of October 2021. And while I usually make a note of my thoughts after every job interview that I have (I jot them down in my Notes app on my phone), I actually forgot to do it for this one particular interview.
Side note: To be honest, that particular time period was a dark period in my life. My mother-in-law (& other family members) contracted COVID a few days after my interview. My MIL was admitted to the ICU at Hosp Sg Buloh and passed away two weeks after. Needless to say, my memories of that time period are a bit hazy at this point.
What I talked about during the interview…
The role I initially applied for was for an international recruitment officer for a UK university. For those unfamiliar with the international education industry, this role is basically a marketing and/or recruitment role for a university, helping to promote the university to prospective students and getting them to apply and attend the university.
And while I can’t recall everything, some things that I do recall from the interview included:
- Talking about my background in university guidance counseling and experience in advising high school students.
- Sharing what I know about international student recruitment based on my experiences studying in the UK & the US and working with the Admissions Office in the US.
- Talking about brand positioning – which university (in the UK or globally) would I say is the XX University’s most direct competitor. This required me to have an idea of the whole higher education landscape, both in the UK and globally.
- Talking about student’s motivation and decision-making – Why and how do students choose different universities to apply to/study at? What factors do they think about? How to influence their decisions?
- How to best market to students – This was where my role at Alice Smith comes in handy. Working in a school’s guidance counseling team allowed me to see how different universities recruit and market their programs, and I have a better idea of what types of engagements work with students and what don’t. This was a big selling point for me, one that they really liked and one that I really really utilized in the interview.
- Talking about what I wanted to achieve overall – I wanted to be able to help more students, more schools. Working in one school was fine for me, but I wanted my reach and support to go out to more students.
Addressing the interviewer’s concerns.
I can’t say the interview went absolutely well, of course. But, as with any of my job interviews, I always ask the interviewer if they had any concerns about hiring me, or if there was anything I said that was holding them back from saying yes on the spot. This is a practice I read about when I first started job searching (it’s no. 48 on this list!) and one I’ve used even in scholarship interviews. Personally, I find it a good way to get immediate feedback from the interviewer on my performance and address any issues they may have.
There were some concerns, of course. They especially mentioned that I said I was bored at my previous job (lol), which is one of the reasons I was looking for better opportunities. To be fair, it wasn’t boredom, but more like I had more capacity for work that wasn’t fully fulfilled in my previous role. The pandemic also sucked the joy out of my role at Alice Smith, as I missed out on a lot of the fun perks (traveling, meeting universities, etc.) due to the travel restrictions.
We also talked about my lack of experience in other regions/markets outside Malaysia. While I have pretty solid experience and understanding of the Malaysian market, I have little to no experience with other target audiences in the region – which would be a big part of the role. I addressed this upfront and then discussed what I would do to overcome this.
Making the big ask, and next steps…
First and foremost, I got lucky, as they did not ask for my payslip from my previous job. They asked me how much I was expecting during the interview, and I gave them the figure I had settled on earlier – the 50% increment. Initially, I thought it was too much to ask. But it was a pretty OK ask, thinking back about it now. Looking at the salary ranges for similar roles in the industry also reinforced this thought – especially for an international institution.
Fast forward a week or two after the first interview; the interviewer contacted me about another potential opportunity. From our initial conversation during the interview, he felt that I was more suited for this other role within the company – one that is not tied to just one university but working with a group of universities and high schools across South East Asia. This definitely caught my interest, and I said yes to a short conversation to discuss the possibility.
Pivoting from one role to another…
While they still proceeded with my application for the first role I applied for (I was scheduled for a second interview directly with the university), we started talking about the second role. There wasn’t any job description at hand, as it was a new role they were developing. So one was made just for me based on our discussion. Our conversation became a shorter, second interview as we discussed my thoughts on the role, ideas and suggestions I may have, and any challenges that I anticipate.
Of course, it was for a new role, and I was put on the spot. So, there was little time to actually prep much for it. But thankfully, my experience at Alice Smith and studying abroad helped a lot in navigating these discussions. And as I said earlier, my experience in high school guidance counseling is a big, big selling point for me. A lot of my suggestions and ideas came from what I have experienced in school, which turned out to be exactly what they were looking for.
I was still honest about my worries – especially with my lack of experience and knowledge about other markets in South East Asia. The role would require me to understand other education systems in the region, which would be something for me to learn. But they were aware of it and were OK with it as I had shown that I could quickly pick things up.
The offer finally came… and a 60% salary increment!
A few weeks after our discussion (interview??), the official offer letter came in. And heck, I was surprised as hell when the salary offered was more than I expected. The interviewer did mention that the salary for the 2nd role was a little higher than the 1st role. But it never registered fully with me until the offer letter came in. I was not expecting them to meet my 50% increment, let alone exceed it and offer a 60% salary increment.
Surprised? Hell, of course.
Excited? No words could’ve described how I felt.
Nervous? Like the world’s ending.
It was going to be a big jump for me. A completely new role for me to shape, a huge set of responsibilities & expectations, and far many challenges await me. Was I ready to take it on? Am I fully prepared for this change? But, best of all, I was seriously questioning myself.
Am I really, really capable for this role?
Half of me felt like… “Shit, what if they took a chance on me, and I ended up not performing up to their expectations?” Whereas, the other half felt like, “OMG, they see what I can do and are willing to take a chance on me!”
And, yes, my inner mind debates with and contradicts itself on a daily basis about my worth. I blame you, imposter syndrome!
Taking the leap of faith.
It was scary as hell to say yes, but I couldn’t say no to it. The opportunity was too good to pass up and it would be a great career jump for me. And, of course, the 60% salary increment was the cherry on top of a very good cake. It’s been a little over two months in my new role so far, and I am definitely enjoying it. I have learned so much in the past two months, and definitely looking forward to everything that this role has in store.
Of course, sometimes I still feel like I’m in a little over my head in this role. I still feel like I bit off more than I can chew, that I could not live up to the expectations from my manager. But I’m learning to take it slowly, one day at a time, one target at a time. After all, no one can predict what the future holds. So, instead of worrying too much about the unknown, I try to focus on things I can control now.
Things that have helped me in getting that 60% salary increment.
I know, I know. This has been way too long, but I hope you have found this post beneficial in one way or another. A few people have asked me to highlight some things that can help them in their own salary negotiation, so here are some final words from me:
- My thread on Twitter here still stands. You are in the best position to negotiate if you are in a comfortable job with little to no push factors. When you have nothing to lose, you can demand whatever you want because you can always say no if they don’t meet your requirements. I was in this exact position earlier. I didn’t have to leave, so I had the opportunity to wait for the right offer to come. If you are desperate for a new job (due to a toxic environment, etc), you may have little room to negotiate.
- Knowing your own worth. This can be hard, especially for fresh graduates or people with less experience. But you have to remember that you are unique and special in your own ways. Everyone has some set of unique strengths and skills that they can offer to employers. Find out what you are good at (more than others), and how can you utilize this to benefit the employer. For instance, in my case, my experience in high school guidance counseling was something that they really valued. So I highlighted it in most of my answers and really leveraged this experience.
- Be upfront about what you can and cannot do. Do this carefully though. You want to be honest about your limitations, but not in a way that makes them think twice about hiring you. Instead, talk about how you plan to overcome those limitations. Best yet, bring up examples of how you have overcome similar challenges in the past.
- Offer solutions & benefits – act like a salesperson. Essentially, you are pitching them your skills and strengths, so focus on what you can bring to the table. The more benefits they get from hiring you, the more they will be willing to pay for you. Show that you understand the problems that they may be facing and how you can help them. Help them to understand what they will be getting by hiring you.
- Align your values with the company and the role itself. Finding a role that fully checks off all the list can be hard, but try to find ways to align your values to the company and what they’re fighting for. Show that you believe in the same ethos that they do (whatever it is).
- Ask for more, but expect less. From personal experience, I tend to recommend people to have 3 salary amounts. Say for instance the lowest salary we would accept is RM3,000. But our ideal salary would probably be RM3,300 or so. When asked for our expected salary, I tend to give a little higher (RM3,600 or more). This is because employers sometimes would never give you the highest amount. So, when you give them your highest amount, it gives you some breathing room to negotiate. If you had given them the ideal (middle) number, it gives you less room to wiggle.
- Be realistic about what you’re expecting. As I said earlier, a 60% increment may not be possible in all cases and industries. Most people are fine with a 20-30% salary increment. Think about what would make it worth it for you to make that change in your role/job.
- Know the industry average salary trends – lots of ways to research this. From looking at what people shared on MalaysianPayGap on Instagram, to salary reports by various firms (PersolKelly, JobStreet, PayScale, etc), make sure you know what the average market salary is for your industry! Also understand that different types of companies (international companies, MNCs, GLCs, SMEs, start-ups, etc) have different hiring budgets. So you can definitely expect a difference in pay for an accountant in a Big 4 firm as compared to your small, local accounting firm. Additional note: Be reminded that international companies can usually afford to pay more (due to exchange rate, etc). The company that I’m currently in was founded in the US and has offices around the world (KL included). This helped me when requesting for a higher increment as compared to moving to a locally-based organization.
- Remember to think about the non-salary benefits that you are gaining/losing. I almost made the mistake of forgetting to consider the other benefits I was getting. If we focused purely on making more $$, we lose sight of the other things that may be useful. This includes flexi-hours, transportation cost, allowances, location of the job, work/life balance, responsibilities, annual leaves, sick leaves, and anything else that may be important to you.
- Do not focus on the % salary increment alone. Remember, a 60% salary increment for someone earning RM2,000 translates to an increase of RM1,200. But for someone with RM4,000 salary, a 60% salary increment means a jump of RM2,400. The higher your salary, it may be harder for you to get a higher % salary increment because of the minimum/maximum pay for a particular job level.
Highlight your benefits to the company!
One final word from me with regards to making any salary negotiation – sell the benefits that you can offer before initiating any conversation about salary. Focus on the benefits that you can bring to the table rather than the ‘features‘ or skills that you have.
Think about it… When you see marketers and product owners, they will always highlight the benefits of the products or services that they are selling. They don’t just list down the features that the products have, but they focus on the benefits of said products.
Additional side reading: Features vs Benefits (from a sales perspective).
We all can talk about our ‘features’ endlessly. I am a good communicator and a problem solver, or I can work well under pressure. Some people might even say I am good at using multiple design software. But when you change this into focusing on the benefits, it would make so much more sense to the employer.
I am a good communicator and a problem solver can translate to I can understand customers’ needs and address their concerns quickly to solve their issues, thus reducing the duration of long waits and customers’ complaints.
I am a good graphic designer can translate to I can create unique and eye-catching illustrations and designs with compelling call-to-actions, which can help to distinguish the company from others and create a positive brand and image among our customers.
The more you sell the benefits you can offer to the company, the easier it is for you to ask for higher pay.
Getting a high salary increment is not easy, and salary negotiation is an ongoing skill that everyone will have to learn.
But, thankfully, there are lots of opportunities to learn and develop your negotiation skills. Start small and work your way up from there. Don’t immediately start asking for a high salary increment when you have never tried it, or if you have nothing to show/proof of your work. Make sure you collect all testimonies and proof of your work and achievements and lay them all out nicely.
Practice talking about your accomplishments and successes. Get a mentor or a coach who can work with you on how to sell yourself better. Best yet, practice with a real-life recruiter (through MalaysianPayGap’s platform!) to experience salary negotiation and understand how it works. Be comfortable talking about what you have achieved – find the balance between upselling yourself while staying humble.
And, at the end of the day – believe in yourself and your worth. Remember, not everyone can see your worth. Not everyone can value who you are and what you can offer. That does not mean that you are not worth it. After all, some art paintings can sell for millions of dollars but not everyone can appreciate art in that way.
The same way goes for us – so believe in your own value, and strive to find a place that will value you the same way. It may be hard, but it will be so worth it in the long run.
Shameless plug: I published a book last year called Your Best Self: A Journey of Self-Discovery and Self-Love. This book is perfect for you if you’re wondering what your value is and how can you start planning out what and where you want to go in life. You can get the PDF version of the book, or buy the physical copies directly from MPH or GerakBudaya! There are tons of prompts in the book to help you in your reflection journey! 🙂
If any of you have any success stories to share from previous salary negotiations or job searches, please do share them in the comments. I’m sure lots of people would love to hear from you as well. Any tips, advice, or suggestions are also very much welcome! 🙂
I’m signing off for now. This post is officially one of the longest, if not the longest, posts I have ever written on the blog. Until next time – take care, and stay awesome people!