Recently, I had the opportunity to facilitate a financial management workshop for WOMEN:Girls NGO. One of the questions I asked the group who said they’d prefer to be employed (rather than be self-employed) is what they think they can do to earn a high salary in Malaysia.
And I don’t know if it’s just that particular group, or if this is the common view among the overall population, but they seemed to think that the way to earn a high salary is to basically:
- Be good at the job
- Be loyal to the company
- Get rewarded with promotions in due time
At this point I was like, hmm how do I tell them nicely. Even the sponsors who were sitting at the back of the room (folks employed at a big cosmetics company) were laughing good-naturedly, mouthing ‘no’.
Don’t wait for promotions that may never happen
I’m so sorry if I’m the one who has to break this to you, but it doesn’t usually work that way. It’s a bit naive to expect and depend on employers to reward you for good behaviour.
Your employer’s job is to leverage on your skills, get the most profit they can out of you. It’s in their best interest to pay the same amount or even less, not more. This is not an accusation, just a fact.
(But sometimes some employers do get carried away with greed and try to squeeze more than they should without caring about their employees, and that leads to a whole other topic about workers rights. We’re not gonna go there today. I’ll assume the employers pay at least a living wage, and provide a safe work environment.)
So that brings us to today’s topic. If waiting for a promotion doesn’t work, what does? Let me share with you some ways you can do to earn a higher salary in Malaysia.
#1 – Negotiate a good salary from the beginning
I’ve read a lot of advice columns about salary and promotion negotiation, and I like the step-by-step method by Ramit Sethi the best. He even prepared a script that you can use during job offer negotiation!
Negotiating a high salary since the beginning is ideal because your salary will compound faster with every annual increment.
- A job offering RM2.5k starting pay with 5% annual increment will be RM3k+ at Year 5
- A job offering RM3k starting pay with 5% annual increment will be RM3.6k+ at Year 5
So do you see how important it is get a high starting pay?
What if you’re already accepted a job with shitty pay? Well, there’s a video for that too.
–SPECIAL CONSIDERATION FOR WOMEN–
Negotiation is one of those things where we women have to tweak our approach a bit. You can’t take the above script word-for-word. That’s because ‘when women bargain like men, they can be perceived as pushy… Previous research shows that women can be penalised for trying to negotiate, even by other women.’
So don’t bargain like a man. Use your femininity to your favour. If society penalises you for having an ambition or wanting more money (not a bad thing FYI), then during the negotiation, frame it as you wanting to serve the the community, for the better good.
Tell them you’re able to serve the company’s customers better in the new role, thus making the company more money. Tell them that you need the higher position so you can nurture the new hires better. It’s less ‘I want to get ahead’, and more ‘we get ahead together‘.
I want you to know that women are not bad at negotiating, not at all. In fact, ‘women outperform men in representational negotiations—that is, negotiating for someone else. As a woman, it is unacceptable .. to be greedy on my own, but it’s completely acceptable for me to negotiate for someone else, because that is a caretaking thing, a communal thing’.
So… negotiate. Negotiate your ass off. Tell yourself that if you don’t negotiate, that long-standing internal issue which demoralises employees will never get fixed. Tell yourself that getting that higher pay means your family can eat better and you can afford better care for your ageing parents.
#2 – Do some job-hopping
Ok let’s say you don’t want to negotiate. I didn’t. Personally I chose to job-hop around because 1) I didn’t discover Ramit Sethi until it was too late, and 2) I’m too paiseh to ask my employers for a raise.
Job-hopping is simple enough to do. I would regularly update my CV and send it to interesting-looking job openings posted on Jobstreet. My results were okay, but not bombastic. At the most, the salary difference was maybe RM500 higher, but still – you can do a lot with an extra RM500 per month right?
Does job-hopping work in Malaysia? Heck yeah it does, and not just for me. It ranges by industry, but according to Micheal Page, the jobs and recruitments agency, you can get 10-25% salary increase by changing jobs.
Experts say you should do this even if you’re happy where you are and not actively looking for a job. If you get a GREAT offer you weren’t sure you want to take, than that just means you have a good problem.
Combining an awesome job offer with negotiation (#1) is LETHAL.
Here’s how to write an awesome CV:
#3 – Consider working remotely
Before you say, look Suraya, that is for US market and for selected employees/companies. Where got Malaysian companies can offer that high a salary, especially if they’re not MNCs and GLCs? Where got companies offering high pay outside of big cities?
And you’re absolutely right. The job market for Malaysians, especially for new and fresh graduates, is horrible. I was earning RM3k per month when I entered the job market 10 years ago. 10 years ago! And now RM2.5k is considered a good amount for graduates??! Malaysia is undeniably facing a youth unemployment and underemployment crisis. I feel really bad for them.
So what can you do? Well you can browse through job listing offering low salaries and get depressed over it, or you can apply for better-paying international job openings that offer remote positions. Google ‘remote working job listing‘, A LOT of platforms are available.
Here I’m suggesting remote jobs because I know that not everyone have the luxury or the inclination to leave Malaysia for better-paying jobs overseas. Of course, if nothing holds you back in Malaysia, go ahead and apply for them too. Do what’s best for your future.
If you do take that job overseas, eventually come back to help Malaysia grow okay? #tanahtumpahnyadarahku
(Note: I’ve never tried applying for remote work directly, but I have had a client from a freelance job offering me a remote position. That’s how I got mine then.)
As you can see, it’s not impossible to earn a high salary in Malaysia without doing multiple jobs or side incomes (Related: Side Income Malaysia: 15 Business & Part-Time Ideas to Try Now). You can negotiate a higher salary, do some job-hopping or apply for better-paying jobs from overseas (remotely or otherwise).
Those of you who used one of the methods above and now currently above-average salaries – I need your help. Can you comment with what you personally did which landed you your high-paying job? What industry are you in? Do share, I want the audience to read as many success stories as possible.