28-year-old who once made $12,000/year and is on track to make $1 million in 2022: What to do if you feel underpaid

Lauren Simmons knows the feeling of being underpaid.

In 2017, at age 22, she became the youngest full-time female trader on Wall Street. But while Simmons only earned $12,000 a year, she learned that male colleagues with the same titles and qualifications were earning more than $120,000.

Simmons vowed never to make less than $120,000 a year herself. Since leaving the trading floor in 2018, she’s been successful: Now 28, she earned $650,000 in 2021 through a number of entrepreneurial ventures, and is on track to bring in over $1 million in 2022.

For those still feeling underpaid at work, Simmons says the first thing to do is have an exit strategy ready — before you even bring up the topic of a raise with your manager.

When Simmons was working at the New York Stock Exchange, she asked to increase her salary from $12,000 to at least $60,000 a year, but knew the company wouldn’t agree. She was prepared to leave if the higher ups said no.

“Having an exit strategy isn’t necessarily bad business,” Simmons tells CNBC Make It. “It shows knowing your worth. You’ll be valued more at another company just starting fresh.”

Sometimes, though, you may feel conflicted, especially if the work you’re doing is rewarding. If you find it hard to tear yourself away, look for what Simmons calls your “value add.” Ask yourself: Is there a benefit to staying with a company where you’re not getting paid enough?

Simmons’ stint at the New York Stock Exchange was her first job out of college, and she was extremely grateful for the opportunity, she says. Still, she knew she had to think about her self worth and the future of her career.

It’s OK to stay with a job you enjoy, but it’s also important to think long-term, she says.

“Loving a job is only going to get you to a certain level, and being money motivated is only going to get you to a certain level,” Simmons says. It’s important to find a “healthy balance to be able to merge the two and to be able to be happy with both.”

Even if you like your job, it’s your prerogative to decide that your employer isn’t paying you enough and find one you might also like who will give you what you’re worth. “It’s OK to be able to pivot and decide, ‘This isn’t for me right now,'” Simmons says.

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