Unreasonable to Want Higher Pay or Better Fitting Position?
April 10, 2014 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I get the feeling I'm underpaid in my current position and my primary skillset is definitely under-utilised, but without a degree or even the industry standard certificate for what I really like to do, I feel like I have to accept that. Am I wrong? It would change my life to be wrong.

Current Position:
SaaS product tester, mostly user and stability testing without automation, all through the GUI. I also do process improvement, metrics tracking, test case authoring, release tracking, team member training, some documentation, and pitch in on side projects like data migration. I've been doing this for a little over 2yrs. I'm paid a little over $40k per year in Austin, Texas. Salary references for similar positions all seem to point to a cold minimum of $10k more and an average of nearly twice my salary.

My immediate supervisor does not have an interest in leveraging anything other than what I'm doing right now. My true interests were well-known when courted for this position and have been put to use in minor ways, but no way near the level they could be truly useful. Based on my manager's needs, I must remain a reactive asset with narrow leeway for proactive initiative with no guarantee of acceptance of output. There's more to it, but that's the most relevant aspect.

Primary Skillset:
My true love is project management, process analysis/development/improvement, and training. I have more than a decade of solid experience in this realm, some professional training supporting necessary and complementary skills, and a certificate for Project Management that was a precursor for PMI certification, but current job interrupted trajectory to take test, so don't have that crucial boost. Also have well-regarded professionals available as willing references supporting my experience and skills in these areas. Salary references for PM alone have a start of about $60k and quickly average out around $100k, rocketing higher for those with deep experience, advanced degrees, and great connections.

I'm currently wasting tons of energy and opportunities to enjoy life because of my underpowered salary, but can't shake the feeling that this is the best I can get because of the lack of degree and most-respected industry cert. I ended up here after 2 miserable, worrisome years of unemployment during the worst of the recession, so there is definitely a mix of gratitude and fear keeping me loyal.

But...am I wrong? Should I be hunting for a level-up position?

Extras, since this is anon:

• Willing to leave Austin, with preference for Houston or Pacific Northwest. It would be nice to stay here for a couple more years, though, due to family concerns. Would your answer change based on a move?

• Can't pursue higher education until I have a past tax issue resolved, so that's not an option right now, even though it feels like it would solve my whole problem permanently.

• It'll take 1.5yrs at current rate of pay/responsibilities to save the $2k for the PMI test, so that's not as moveable an object as it might seem to be. Do have litany of valid PDUs and can easily immerse in study materials to get back in the flow of it once I have it saved, making it a viable longer-term option.

• Don't have coding experience. Have QA'd backends and PM'd throughout the SDLC, though, and understand things like database table structures, queries, syntax, the difference between client-side and server-side, and other fundamentals.

• I'd love to consult, but I think most outfits want degrees and I definitely need health insurance coverage, which makes that seem like a bad fit on both sides. It would be great to be wrong.

• If current workplace suddenly paid me closer to $50k, I would likely be content for another couple of years doing little bits of PM/process improvement like I do now...unless a head hunter or "perfect" opportunity came along offering me an even more livable deal, of course.

Thanks for any and all advice and input on this, AskMe!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You should always be hunting for a level-up position. ESPECIALLY if you are unhappy in your current place.

Have you actually applied for anything? Just apply for stuff and see what happens, that will be the best indicator of if you are worth more money or can do more.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:55 AM on April 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

There's no such thing as "deserve" in life, only "earn". And you get nothing if you don't ask. And your education and CV are not absolute determinants of anything.

If you feel you're worth more than what you're getting, go out and see if the market agrees with you. This has nothing to do with your current company or what your supervisor wants. They have their own needs and their own goals and are looking for particular roles for particular salary amounts. That may or may not line up with what any given person wants, but nobody cares what you want. Nobody is in business to do you favors or make you happy or make your life work. So any given person can take what they're offering, bargain them up, or go elsewhere. Sometimes in tight job markets, that's harder than at other times, but people are hiring all the time if for no other reason than the usual cyclical reasons. Somebody leaves, somebody's gotta come in.

Depersonalize it and view it as more of a puzzle piece situation. You sort through a bunch of them looking for the right fit, both you and all the employers out there.

Additionally, people get hired all the time without having all of the qualifications in the job listing. As someone who has hired people, I can tell you that often when you need somebody, you need somebody in short order. And if your pile of applicants doesn't include someone who has all of what you want, you will very often just pick the best of the lot, someone who seems generally capable and who you're confident can pick up things along the way. Also as someone who has hired people when I really didn't see why I was the person qualified to do that, I can tell you that people hire people all the time without being some all-knowing sage who is making a completely informed decision. You never know who you're going to get.

All of this is just to say get out there and start advocating for yourself. Make a confident pitch wherever you go and don't worry too much about what you have and don't have. Never let that stop you from applying. The worst anyone can say is no, and there are so many situations where you can't see what's going on behind the scenes, can't see the people, can't see the reasons, can't see the criteria, can't see what they're willing to do without, can't see their timelines, and whatever those things are could result in an unexpected yes. Make your search be more of a people thing than a list thing.

Life is not a struggle, it's a wiggle. Start wiggling until you wiggle into a good fit.
posted by Askr at 9:09 AM on April 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

I am a software engineering manager in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Portland, OR). There are a lot of QA engineer positions here. If you're interested in relocating, why not start applying? You might not get an offer with relocation, but if you are able to foot your move costs and want to live someplace else, there are jobs here. That said, I would think there are a lot of similar positions in Austin, TX.
posted by elmay at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2014

For what it's worth, I work as a developer for a major internet company that you've heard of. We just transitioned almost all of our point and click QA people into other roles, be they either automation-testing related or PM-track jobs. From my perspective, I'd pick one of those two tracks and explore... I bet moving into more of a project-oriented role would be a totally reasonable next move.
posted by ph00dz at 9:13 AM on April 10, 2014

It's very important to be dispassionate about your professional life.
Unreasonable to Want
I get the feeling
feel like I have to accept that.
My true love
I'm currently wasting tons of energy and opportunities to enjoy life
can't shake the feeling
mix of gratitude and fear keeping me loyal.
Don't feel grateful for your job. You're providing a service and being compensated. They didn't hire you to help you, they hired you to fill a business need.

Your feelings are clouding your judgment. The answers to your questions aren't on metafilter, they're in your industry. My experience has been that job satisfaction is based on a combination of compensation, work environment, and belief in the value of the work you're doing. If you don't believe you are being fairly compensated and you aren't doing work that matters to you, then that's two strikes.
Should I be hunting for a level-up position?
Always. Even if you never apply for one, always know what your field's landscape looks like. What employers are looking for and what they'll accept often differ - experience can trump certificates and degrees.
posted by headnsouth at 9:44 AM on April 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

without a degree or even the industry standard certificate for what I really like to do, I feel like I have to accept that. Am I wrong?

Yes. You are wrong. "A decade of solid experience" is a billion zillion times more important than a certificate or even a degree.
posted by ook at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

With regards to the PMP certification (don't bother with the CAPM), take a look at the process of applying - you need to gather references, write summaries of experience and most importantly take PMI-certified instruction and study for the test.

You can start studying for the test now, which when working full-time can easily 6-12 months, so when you are in a position to take the test, you can do it immediately. Buy a good guide and you can start right away at minimal cost with no time wasted.

PMP certification would be an excellent asset to you.
posted by artificialard at 10:18 AM on April 10, 2014

In my experience, I've found that you'll never get a huge increase in pay unless you go to a different company. Your boss isn't interested in you doing other things because that would make his life harder. I understand being loyal to a degree but don't be more loyal to them than they would be to you.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a QA guy from Pacific Northwest, with no degree or certifications, and doing pretty well for myself. Most of my major promotions have been by changing jobs.

The best time to look for a job is when you already have one. Polish up your resume, create multiple versions based on what role you are applying for, have confidence in yourself, and start applying everywhere. Memail me if you're interested in contract work.
posted by Diddly at 2:34 PM on April 10, 2014

Why would you *not* be applying for jobs?

What's the worst that can happen? you keep doing your current job.

After all, if someone offers you some other job, you don't have to accept...but maybe you'll get a job that pays $60k doing project management, instead
posted by leahwrenn at 9:15 PM on April 10, 2014

I just finished interviewing candidates for Business Analyst and Project Manager positions at my company. We never even looked at the degree or certs. It was all about the listed experience and the way they answered questions in the interviews. the positions started at over $80,000. This was in Dallas.

TL,DR: why are you not applying for jobs?
posted by CathyG at 9:09 PM on April 11, 2014

Mod note: From the OP:
Answering questions and lightly addressing other points where appropriate:

Haven't applied to much or followed up on headhunting/recruitment contact because I've been worried that I was being unreasonable to think I could do better. 2 years of unemployment really took its toll on a portion of my professional confidence, I guess.

Really loved **Askr**'s advice, especially the wiggle vs. struggle part. Genius. I've been part of the hiring team for a lot of orgs, and while I know that stuff applies to other people, I couldn't seem to let myself believe it would apply to me, too.

My hesitation about applying for PNW jobs is that I'd definitely need help with relocation and that was a step I was feeling even more uncertain about than the application process, itself. Daunting! But maybe there's a place out there who would be willing to invest up front in what I can offer. No sense in not trying, it seems.

I push. I've tried so many tactics, applied so many lessons learned from my years out there in complex orgs. And that's how I came to know precisely how firm the boundaries are with this position. That's ultimately what made me get fed up enough to seek outside opinion. I'd be able to take being undervalued a lot better if it were a better fit, so I'm less hesitant about trying to find ways to improve that aspect than the money issue.

I'll agree partially on being more dispassionate, in that loyalty, gratitude, fear, and accepting a bad deal for too long isn't serving me and does not add to my value. Well put.

Definitely have the PMP recs memorised and largely fulfilled, including a pre-PMP certification class under my belt that has a high percentage of successful PMP applicants. Will need to immerse myself in my study materials again (have PMBOk and other guides), though, and originally thought I was held back by gathering the funds needed to get on the test schedule. Turns out I might qualify for a program that will cover that part. Wouldn't have known if I hadn't gone poking about after some of the answers here.

**Diddly**'s answer steeled my resolve and I'll definitely be memailing to find out more. **CathyG**, you give me hope. And make me tempted to consider adding Dallas to the list.

Thanks all for your treatment of my query! Obviously, I have some decisions to make and steps to take, but it's all good stuff and I'm glad to have some extra fire to my soles.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 2:06 AM on April 15, 2014

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