I had a dream last night: I was working at a grocery store, and my (female) boss wanted me to stay on for another full shift. I explained that I couldn’t do so at my current pay rate (which was $7.16 in the dream), but that I would be happy to work as many hours as needed if my hourly wage was doubled. My manager talked to the company, and came back with a letter stating that they would increase my wages by 10%. As often happens in dreams, my job nonsensically changed from cashier to being part of the advertising department. As I looked at the average wages for the ad dept. and realized that I was woefully underpaid, my manager asked me (inquisitively, not meanly) why I wouldn’t just accept the 10% raise.
This dream stuck with me. I first woke up from it at 5, but remembered it clearly when I woke up around 8. What struck me the most was the way I was implored to just take what I was offered, and not ask any questions, particularly in light of the changed duties and higher level of responsibility. How typical. Women often don’t ask for more money or negotiate their starting salary, and often, when they do, they’re penalized. (Versions 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) In the dream, I was confused that anyone would want me to work for so little, but second-guessed myself when my manager asked why I wouldn’t just take the raise as offered. I had a hard time explaining to her why an extra $700 a year* was not an acceptable trade for all the extra time I’d have to put in.
As I sit here on the cusp of applying for jobs, I have to continuously remind myself not to “settle,” and not to apply solely for jobs I feel I’m qualified for. I can’t tell you how many tabs I had open for jobs that required only an associate’s degree (and offered less than what daycare would cost). It’s not that I’m better than these jobs. It’s that I often don’t look beyond these jobs, and am at risk of getting such jobs and being bored and underpaid within 6 months. I imagine that many women put themselves in this position, and compound their mistake by going from one ‘comfortable’job to another.
When I left my most recent position, I was fed up with not being challenged. I need to remember that frustration, and rethink my application strategy. As Sheryl Sandberg cautioned in Lean In, if I take a job I’m 90-100% qualified for, I’ll master the job quickly and won’t have much left to learn. In my last job, I was tapped as an “expert” contributor to a panel for process improvement when I had been in my position for slightly longer than a year. Comparatively, my husband has been in his position for 2.5 years, and still comes home to tell me about a new process he’s learning. Incidentally, he was only about 50% qualified for both of his most recent jobs. What’s more, I goaded him into applying for both, scoffing at his protests that he wasn’t qualified enough. I need to apply that same critical eye to my own reasons for “why not,” and just go for it.
Applying for worthwhile jobs is a tough gig. It takes a lot of time, patience, and internal pep talks (particularly when you don’t feel entirely qualified). But the alternative is to have no job at all, or worse: a job that neither challenges nor excites you.
*Yes, I’m aware that the math doesn’t add up. It was a dream.