How to estimate your value and negotiate your salary as a developer (yes, even if you're a Junior!)

Even though it’s sometimes taboo to say it out loud, we’re all doing our job for a main purpose: earning a living! Yes, we might see an opportunity to grow personally, to improve, to make contacts, to deepen a passion in our career (that’s all I hope for you, because otherwise the job gets boring quickly), but there is one constant in any case: we wouldn’t probably commit to a 9 to 5 and serve a company if it wasn’t to get a salary.

In this article, I’d like to share tips on how to estimate your value on the market as a developer (web developer, application developer, software engineer, analyst, anything… in fact, most tips could apply to any job in any field!), even if you’re a Junior profile, starting after your studies or a career shift (yes, that’s important and no one talks about it).

These tips are not meant to a particular country, that’s why you won’t see any figure here. But you will get tools to get to know the average salaries in your own place, which is way more interesting.

Finally, I’ll give a few tips on how to negotiate your salary, what you should emphasize when trying to negotiate. In future articles, I’ll talk about my personal experience as a Junior in my 30s after a career shift, and how to level up and stand from the crowd as a Junior, so make sure to subscribe to receive next posts in your mailbox!

Estimate your value on the market as a developer

Before negotiating, you should get an idea of what you can ask. I think it’s important to know your average worth. You don’t want to undersell yourself, of course. But I also think asking for something way too high might make you miss an opportunity. A little too high won’t scare an employer, twice too much could.

Know the field: the job, the companies, the skills

A first important step is to know the job market. You might want to take the easy road and ask for the same amount, whatever the position requirements and characteristics. But just be aware that some criteria can make the salary higher or lower (that can also be a criterion of choice when you select companies/job types to apply to!), and it’s a smart move to be aware of what you can ask regarding these specifics.

What job do you apply for?

First, the job. As a developer, you might fulfill various positions. Salaries may vary from a front/back development position to a full-stack job, or from an app to a website development offer. If you take a chance on various types of jobs, you should collect data on the different positions.

What are the characteristics of the company?

Then, you’ll encounter various companies. Not only the company size matters. And no, bigger companies don’t always pay more! Of course, if you want to work in an NGO, you can expect lower salary. But small and medium size companies sometimes have more flexibility regarding what they offer, compared to big companies with strict patterns. A start-up company may have less means… or they will take more time to find a candidate with the right mindset and invest in them, or they could benefit from governmental helps which allow them to pay better.

The sector might be way more important than the size. Pharmaceuticals, petrol, financial… are usually dealing with big, very lucrative, projects. Companies working with the public sector benefit some financial helps and are steady. It’s difficult to give an exhaustive list as many parameters are to take into account, and situation may differ from a country to another, but those are criteria you want to think about when estimating the means of the company, and then how “generous” they may be.

A note about consulting companies… Working as a consultant in a company (not the same as being a freelance consultant!) is to my opinion really interesting in terms of job content. There is one issue though regarding salary: you won’t always be paid regarding your actual capabilities (how fast and good you deliver, your abilities, your knowledge…) but more regarding how much the company can invoice your services to the companies they make contracts with! Your years of experience in IT, your degrees… will have a lot of importance if you want to negotiate here. While developing internally (so in not-consulting firms), a company can easily see the worth you add to a team, but in consulting it’s about making the biggest profit for each project, thus they could tend to pay less, especially Junior profiles. So, never compare salaries between consultancy and internal development jobs!

Also, companies in niche sectors are seeking for specific expertise, so you want to take that into account. Which leads to the next point…

What are the skills they specifically ask for?

I tend to think that, the more specific the job offer/job requirements, the higher the pay you can get from it. If you place a spontaneous application, it’s thus important to get information about all the technologies used and how much they expect developers to know.

The number of skills itself is not what matters the most! It’s mainly the scarcity and the return on investment that do. For example, basic JavaScript, HTML and CSS won’t have a heavy impact. But if you master, let’s say, Microsoft Azure (at the moment, this info might be totally invalid in just a few years), and the company is about to switch to cloud on Azure, that’s a solid plus for you!

For each skill required or even “nice-to-have”, try to think if a lot, some or very few developers have it, and what it brings to the company (how often it’ll be useful, what financial opportunity it gives them…). Also be aware of how much you know about it, because basic knowledge or mastering won’t weight the same.

Also, knowledge of specifics of the sector (financial, pharmaceutical, retail, transportation…) is a plus, because the company will have to take less time to explain the business. And don’t forget about soft skills, especially those that are rare and that you can demonstrate with real-life examples.

What to do with all this information?

With this in mind, I would advise you to create a file (like a spreadsheet or even a plain text file) or take notes in a note pad, and gather information so you can cross them easily. When applying to a job, you can check the various parameters (job type, company size and sector, skills…) to make an estimation, using all the criteria that you tick, but also taking into account your points of improvement!

Alright, but how would you make that estimation if you don’t know the figures first? Let’s find them with the following tips!

Check info on salaries on the Internet: what and where?

It’s really difficult to put a precise figure on each parameter I mentioned in previous point. But you can get an average idea when comparing with what other people earn.

Check the websites that show salaries

Some of us might be luckier than others here. In some countries, it’s very common to state a range of salary on job offers, which is a great source to make estimations! Have a look at offers, even when you’re not interested, and take notes of salaries. After checking some, you might notice some patterns, like: “Ok, that sector offers on average 10k/year more than others” or “Alright, offers with that skill requirement tend to be higher” or “Meh, companies of that size offer low salaries“.

Read and listen to developers online

Another source of information might be blogs and podcasts. Be really careful to choose blogs written by authors who work in the same country as you, because there are huge differences from one to another. Also, always keep in mind that people expressing in public might change the data a bit for click-baiting or to construct drama or sell products (like, would you admit you have a low salary if you were selling a training to developers to tell them how to negotiate their salary?).

That’s another advantage of being curious of your field actualities. *Personal anecdote* I was once listening to a podcast about women in technologies. It was because I’m interested in the issue of diversity in IT and I keep myself up-to-date and like to hear various opinions and experiences. They were interviewing someone from my country (which is rare because I’m living in a small country) and one of the women, who made a career shift to IT (we were the same age, same years of experience in non-tech field, both no tech degree…), openly said her salary in that delivery of the podcast. Great source of information for me, I immediately took note of course! (And I thank her a lot for those words!)

That leads to another good way to get insight about salaries…

Talk salaries, talk money!

That’s also very culture specific, but in some places it’s taboo to tell what your earn and ask others about it. Please, don’t be afraid to talk salaries! In those cultures where it’s gross to talk salaries, people would get jealous of others if they know they earn more.

Because in cultures where we don’t discuss salaries openly, it’s way more difficult to dare negotiating, hence the frustration.

There’s no use in comparing with others with envy and jealousy, but comparing to understand why you have more or less than someone else if great information! If you don’t want to openly talk salary with colleagues, or even with mates from other companies, you’re only serving the company and you’re doing no good to yourself or to others. Sometimes there’s no “why”, and you’ll just discover that you may ask for more. Totally worth the discussion!

When you feel at ease with someone in your field, don’t hesitate to raise the topic (just avoid telling your salary to the client-side if you’re working in consultancy, this may cause a lot of drama, no good for you 😅).

I had the chance to meet three IT people with whom I could discuss it, and even though I couldn’t perfectly match my profile and theirs, it helped me realize a few things about my current salary at that time, some realities of the market (which companies give better pays in my area for example), and it gave me enough confidence to ask for what I thought I deserved… and get it.

I also had discussion about salaries with friends from other sectors, not at all IT related, but that’s always useful anyway. Especially those positive, helping friends who encourage you. Because lack of confidence discourages you to ask for more, right?

Any recruiters in your friends?

If you have the chance to ask IT recruiters to give you an estimation based on your particular profile, take their insights! They could drop some interesting information. Some won’t want to give you a figure but they can still tell you how good your profile is, or tell you what’s lacking to make you earn some more, or which companies are best to target…

Working with well-chosen freelance recruiters (so not talking about internal recruiters here, but well about those who are not tied to a company in particular) might allow you to get a better salary!

Except for low-cost recruiters (those who send you a job offer for a Senior Objective-C developer role while you’re a Junior Java developer, after having “carefully read your profile”, you know), recruiters have a high interest in getting a good pay for you: they’ll earn a commission based on the salary agreed with your new employer (paid by the employer, not you; otherwise, run away!). So no doubt they won’t be happy if you undersell yourself. You might even be lucky enough to have the recruiter negotiate the salary or at least the range for you.

Contact insiders

That’s a pretty bold move to use with caution! Talking money with friends and colleagues is difficult, raising the topic with strangers is really tricky. Take this path only if you’re really confident about it and are a great communicator. And establish a contact to make a first idea about the person before asking about money and delicate subjects!

Making contacts with people inside a company (via LinkedIn for example) could lead to some very useful information, to no answer, or to offended reactions. The HR might even know about what you did, which is not a big deal to my opinion unless you were very rude or asked weird questions.

There’s very little chance I would personally use that technique, except if the “insiders” are people I’m already in touch with, but I drop the idea for those who are at ease with such communication, or because in some cultures it might appear as something really common. I’m curious to know what feels right or weird in your own culture in the comments!

Specialized websites about salaries

There are two categories of websites I can think of. First, the websites which allow you to get an estimation of what people in a particular field earn. They are specific to a country (that’s why I can’t give examples, but just check Google for “salary comparative” or “salary estimation”) and it’s always interesting to make an estimation on different websites because they could be based on different databases. Some have very specific questions about the company you’re targeting, some are more superficial.

If you can find one or more that are specific to IT, that’s even better. Salaries in tech (and career management on its whole) is pretty different in our world. Don’t hesitate to drop a list of good websites relative to your country in comments for other fellows!

Another website, which I believe exists in almost all countries, is Glassdoor. There, you can find salary ranges and reviews from current and former employees of a specific company. The bigger the company, the most comments and data you’ll see. Keep in mind that reviews are often left by people with grudge (but still, interesting to read, especially if one info is often mentioned). The most interesting part is the salary per job type. If there’s not enough data regarding one particular company, you can check similar ones.

Also, in some case you could be able to grab additional information about the company with a little research. Check press releases, other job offers, news

Just a few ideas:

  • you may find how much income their projects generate (funny enough, I found randomly the range of income by project at a company by reading a job offer for a project manager, while I was candidate as a developer.) You wouldn’t ask the same salary to a company getting $50K projects or $1 billion projects, right?
  • you could discover that their employees are on strike a lot (bad conditions, low salaries, weak packages?)
  • you could also discover that they have a bad financial or juridical situation

Apply, try, correct!

Take chances, because even if you don’t believe you could get a job, or you’ve seen a job that doesn’t perfectly meets your ambitions, it’s always good training to apply, go through the process, and get salary offers!

I’m not saying you should apply to anything randomly (except when you’re spammed by recruiters who don’t even take the time to read your profile, take advantage of them since they wasted your time), but there’s no better way to test your estimation than by asking for the salary and discovering recruiters’ reaction!

Negotiate your salary in IT

With all that in mind, you should be able to evaluate your worth, regarding a precise job opportunity, and know what range of salary you want to apply for. Now, it’s time to ask for it!

Be confident

Really! Don’t fake it, but take the time to convince yourself you’ve got something companies need. A lot of people don’t realize that, unless 100% automated, no company can make profit without employees. You’ve got more strength than what you think, and companies need staff.

IT, as of today, is a field where skilled people are hard to find, and even “lower” profiles aren’t numerous enough in regards to the needs of the market.

To be confident, you have to know exactly your weak and strong points. Knowing your weakest points makes you confident and self-aware, because confidence is not about bragging and refusing to level up. Showing that you know what you have to work on shows the recruiter you’re likely to improve with the time!

Know what you want to ask for

Decide on a figure or a range before the interview. If you get asked while you didn’t prepare (you wouldn’t expect to be asked on a first phone call for example), just tell them you will think about it and come back to them. Or, you might ask if they have a budget, which in some cases would give you a range as a starting point (still, no rush, you have the right to tell them you will think it further).

People pressuring you to take fast decisions are mainly trying to make you make bad decisions.

Also know that you can have second thoughts. I already called back a future employer to tell that I hadn’t thought enough about it and asked for higher salary even though we had an oral agreement. I got what I asked (not saying this is working every time, but just that it’s not crazy to do so).

If you can demonstrate that you have what it takes to fulfill the job, especially emphasizing on what’s hard to find on the market, you have some power in your hands (hence the need for confidence and self-awareness). If the company chooses not to see it or take it into account, you have the choice to run away, or take the job and look for better.

The package

In some countries, in order to compensate high taxes, you get a salary-package with advantages besides the monetary salary. For example, a car. It’s nice, but always think that money can buy anything (like, your food, your rent, your medical bills), while the car is just a car. It lowers your charges but always make sure that the actual money you get covers your needs!

Also, when comparing salaries, always take into account the package, especially when it’s heavy. It makes the calculation a bit trickier, but if you loose all advantages to a small money raise, you may be loosing in the end.

Raise versus a new job

This is not specific to IT but that’s my experience, and I’ve heard the same story from other pals with a few years of working experience. Apart from a promotion to a new job with more responsibilities, it’s pretty difficult to get a solid raise when staying at a company.

I think most employers tend to think that employees won’t quit because that’s a big effort. And it might be true for most of them, I don’t know. But as a result, most companies won’t accept to give a “big” raise, probably taking the bet that it won’t change anything (and your know, “everyone is replaceable”, not taking into account the turnover costs).

That’s why it’s really important to negotiate from the start a salary which makes you happy, if you intend to stay in the company on the long term. That’s a mistake to take the first opportunity you are given if you’re not happy with the pay (except if money is an issue at the moment for you, sometimes you don’t have the flexibility to refuse). Also be aware that you can try to negotiate an offer.

If you can’t get what you think you deserve in your current company, you might give it a try at others. You can just apply for one or two positions, check if they’d be willing to give you the amount you want.

Maybe you’re overestimating, and that will make you less frustrated in your current job. Maybe you can meet an opportunity to earn a better wage, and go for it!

A company would never expect you to leave your current job for the same or a lower pay, they know they will have to pay more for your experience. That said, you have no obligation at any given time of the recruitment process to tell your current salary, you may politely decline (“Sorry but I prefer to keep this information to myself”) if you fear it could encourage them to lower their offer.

The career shift

Career shifts are a pretty recent phenomenon and you find very few information about it regarding what it means in terms of salary!

I changed career around my early 30s. It was really hard for me to know what salary I could ask. I knew pretty well what I was worth in my previous career, but it was a totally different job than now. Comparative websites and salary emulators wouldn’t work for me because I was at the same time a Junior and not a Junior…

I had 10+ working years experience, but 0 in IT. No one, nowhere, tells you how to calculate the worth of your previous work experience. And I must admit, the worth might totally differ from one sector to another.

That previous experience brought you some knowledge and some maturity, it should be accounted in any case, but of course not at the same rate as 10 years experience in IT (except maybe if you have a strong asset that you can demonstrate over your IT fellows and that could really serve the company).

Self-awareness is again important because you have to know exactly what you got from that past career, how useful it is in your field, and how likely it is to find those assets (hard or soft skills) among “real” Juniors (that is, students just out of school).

For example, if you’ve worked 10 years in companies, you’re really likely to know a lot about the internal workflows, real-case issues, ways of working, to have some sector-specific knowledge, to have more maturity than a 20-years-old. Be aware of it so you can express it clearly when applying. And get convinced of its worth.

Career shift to IT will be the topic of a future post, please subscribe to receive next articles directly in your mailbox!

I hope this post was useful, please add your tips in the comments section and drop your remarks and questions so I can improve the article or make new ones to help you!

Illustration images Pixabay

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