3 Ways to Get High Salary in Malaysia, Regardless of Your Background
Once, 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 that the world doesn’t work like that.
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 going to 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 in 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
(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.)
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 contribute back to Malaysia in some way or form okay? #tanahtumpahnyadarahku
As you can see, it’s not impossible to earn a high salary in Malaysia without doing multiple jobs or side incomes (Related: 25 Ways to Earn Side Income in Malaysia). 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.
I earn a decent salary in the tech industry as a project manager; motivated to do so as an eldest child to ensure my siblings who’re still studying have an additional financial cushion. My past experience included roles in manufacturing and sales (commissions helped with our family’s financial situation).
As to how I did it, I’ve changed companies twice to look for a good culture fit, and in the process also stood my ground to ask for what I was worth. I keep records of my interviews, no. of rounds and also offer amounts so I can gauge trends and (perceived) market rates, comparing against LinkedIn & Glassdoor.
I didn’t give up even when I was being negged and pressured to join companies at the same salary. When some employers offered me roles, they berated me for asking for an 15-18% increase (the market is quite bad currently so I didn’t lead with a 30% increase ask), and would often say that there’s no way anyone in the market would pay that amount and I should be happy with their offer (same salary, frankly less benefits).
I would tell them that for the same salary, it wouldn’t be worth it to jump. It’s not just startups who act like this; SMEs as well. Some would offer me a lower salary at the end of a laborious, extensive 4-round process because they weren’t forthright about their budget! Biar betul.
Ironically, after experiencing 10+ interviewers saying these things or giving me poor offers (same salary, or 10-15% less) — I met a good employer who offered me a 20% increase, and fantastic work-life balance. This was after approx. 7 months of interviewing with different companies. I managed to land this because I stuck it out and refused to accept less than I was worth.
What really helped was:
1) Enough research about the role’s market rate so I wouldn’t be blindsided by people telling me ‘5k is how much we normally pay for a manager role of 8 years’. Unacceptable. Recruiters also help a lot in this regard; don’t just talk to 1 or 2, talk to several. They have good info about current industry market rates, or how a role’s salary will differ from industry to industry. They can be useful allies or terrible to work with, make your relationship with them work for you while they’re trying to get a commission with your placement.
2) Priming and tailoring my resume well. Hearing from hiring managers and recruiters about the importance of a resume and how you only have a few seconds to make an impression has really drilled this into me. And it’s worked. Like good SEO, a well-formatted and robust resume PDF or LinkedIn profile will result in a lot of inbound leads so potential employers/recruiters will approach you without you having to actively, manually contact them.
3) Actually, engaging recruiters — who were on my side. It’s important to find good ones, build relationships and align your package goals to the commission they want to get, instead of finding average recruiters who just want to ‘land a placement’. Just like it’s in employers’ best interests to keep your salary low, for good and aggressive recruiters, they will push for a better package for you. A good cop/bad cop combo works remarkably well in many situations and with recruiters vs employers this is no exception.
4) Having leverage. The more secure you are in your current job with less urgency to leave, the less leverage a potential employer has to pressure or cajole you into accepting a less attractive offer. This shifts some power onto your side, as the candidate.
5) Practice. If you can, accept interviews from 2nd/3rd choice companies so you can hone your inteviewing abilities for the jobs you really want.
This is a pretty cool topic, and I’d love to read more of your thoughts on it.
Thank you for your awesome comment, Kir! What a thoughtful response, its very clear that you have a high level of self-introspection. I especially like how you recognise how you were being negged, and absolute refusal to accept low offers.
Re: recruiters – that is something I have very little experience in. How did you find yours?
This is what I learned after 3X’ing my base salary in less than 3 years*
*this is with the assumption that you are above average at what you do.
1) Job Hopping (my strategy of choice)
Regardless of what older folk say about how bad it looks on your resume, what matters most is what you achieved during those short months when you are working for the company.
The reason job hopping works so well is because a new employer has a fresh perspective as to how much your worth. If you come in at say 3k and expect 5k by the end of two years, subsconciously they still see you as the “3k person asking for 5k”.
Hate to break it to you but employers are far more interested in saving money on salaries rather than splurging on them.
My shortest job was 6 months. My longest was 2 years. You pick your time.
2) Salary Negotiation (based on peer rates)
The only other person I know who successfully managed to negotiate his salary to nearly double in less than a year… Had a few things going for him.
– his previous salary was higher. He took a pay cut to join the new company. He negotiated over time to meet his previous salary.
– his peers and juniors were paid more than he is. So, he made his case over time and got his raise.
If you wanna make a high salary locally and get higher positions fast, job hop.
And dont EVER disclose your previous salary or your expected salary.
Let them be the first to say the number and negotiate from there.
The 20 something people you heard or seen who managed to make RM10K+ salaries did exactly that.
Thanks for sharing your tips here, Ben! Especially love the part about not disclosing your previous salary – so true! This is so common its ridiculous
Hi, Ben. Good to read your comments regarding this issue. And I attracted to don’t disclose previous salary or expected salary. How did you bounce from the question? Because I usually will get asked about this at first hand.
Just saw this –
I would usually dodge the question by being confident and saying “I’d prefer not to disclose that as that’s not important. You are here to find the best person for for the role / for your budget correct?”
Let them answer Yes.
So let me ask you what is the range for this position?
Remember you are under no obligation by law to disclose your previous salary.
Companies deliberately ask that so they can low ball you and give all that” 30% increment” crap
That’s a great tip on how to avoid answering that common question on current salary. Too many asked the so called common question a.k.a standard procedure.
I know how to answer and react the next time. Thanks a lot for the great tips
My experience – I am a lawyer. I did job hopping in Malaysia and it gave me 10-15% increment. In 2008 I moved to Dubai and successfully entered the high paying expatriate world. Working overseas as professional is one of the best methods to earn high salary. Try it.
Thank you for commenting here, Syamsulfaiz! Love your real-life example
I choose to Job Hop. I began my working life with a brainwashed idea that I was going to get a managerial role with the degree I got. I was a complete fool to believe it. But my first job was fine, I had a good learning curve. Practically learning every nook and corner about the company until I was bored to death. I enjoyed learning on the job, it’s just something I cannot get rid of. The pay + benefits were alright, but I wanted more. Then I started job-hopping. My job-hopping venture was not even in the same industry, just that my job description was similar. I eventually got to where I am comfortable now, albeit I could do with more. Hence, with the current perks + pay + extra time for side income, I am still hoping to get a better package in the near future.
Thanks for sharing your experience here! All the best with your future jobs, hope you find a great one with great pay+benefits
Ive been working for company X for 5 years. Every year, the increment would be about rm200-rm300. But this year, just guess how much I got?
When asked why, was I not performing? The reply was, the company is going through tough times. Right now, I feel lost
🙁 That sucks. Hang in there
This is an interesting topic.
“Decent wages”, “Better Salary/Income” or “High Salary” has been an ongoing topic since 1998. From my point of view, it happens due to massive retrenchment during this period that embedded by parents into the child that it is important for them to earn a high salary to have a comfortable life or better off married with a wealthy individual.
The best way to earn a high salary is definitely by having enough EXPERIENCE & PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE of how to get things done.
For instance, I recall a story during my short period at RMC, a story of a bunch of consultants hired to fix a machine in a factory. The consultant was hired to fix it at a cost of $1,000 per hour to find all the problems and making sure that it would never happen again. Due to the old age of the machine, the consultant then went out to search for a person who had experienced working for the machine. They manage to find a grandpa who quotes them $100,000 take it or leave it, with guaranteed that the problem will fix on the spot + manual about the machine base on his cultivated experience as the machine operator.
They consultant spend a week discuss with the client by telling they have to hire an “outsource advisor” for this and add on charges to the client with 25% markup. Due to the urgency of the issue, the client agreed, the Grandpa come and then make a minor adjustment and the machine work perfectly again, plus clear explanation and documentation of how to prevent it from happening.
So here is the take.
You could never get a high-salary on the get-go. You need experience in a specific field.
What you study at school is bunch of noise.
Focus on ONE skill that you really enjoy doing and make money from it.
It will take a minimum of 1000 hours with a proven track record or 3 years of dog life to achieve this.
Being loyal to a company does not mean anything to a human being. No matter how good you are at that company, they can only pay you that much due to your “TITLE” / “OPEX”.
The best way is to earn a high-salary is turning your EXPERTISE into a business.
I’m in Investment and after a couple of years in the industry, your salary growth will be based on how well you negotiate for a higher salary.
Do more than your KPI, be the best at what you do, network and maintain good relationships with everyone you meet. Through all these, you always have ammunition to negotiate for higher salary. Otherwise, get a better offer elsewhere and know your worth.
Thanks Anon for your insight! Negotiation is such an important skill
I totallY agree with you. I did none of those in my early working years and regret it woefully until now. Though I have come out of that dreaded “i love my tiny paying job,the people around me and don’t wanna quit, but my boss hates me and is planning my funeral” phase. My #1 Advice Is NEVER SETTLE FOR LESS! put a value to yourself and never doubt yourself. If you think your services is work 3k, don’t settle for anything less.
Thanks Nadia for your comment! You’re absolutely right – never settle for less! Let them complain about ‘demanding young people’ – they don’t know how hard it is to survive with little pay!
When I joined the working world as a graduate, it was a hectic search as I was eager for my first job and my degree was not that attractive to employers. So my first job kinda sucked because I didn’t love what I was doing. The next job was also a spur of the moment and it made me miserable. The third job was outside the scope of my education background but I loved the job. The pay was considerably low compared to others my age but as I gained experience and skills for the particular role I got promoted and then I job hopped which really increased my salary. now the increment is nice, and I’m going to stay at the current company for a long time as the environment is good and the pay is good too. On a side note I studied agriculture and settled down for a Human Resources role.
So happy you found a great place to work! Re: working in different specialisation – that’s quite the change but hey as long as it works out and you’re thriving kan. Life is funny that way
Been a lurker for quite some time , but figured I’d chip in.
For hard figures : I’m making about 17k per month – I’m in my 20s. Working as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, in Malaysia. The work life balance is pretty good (40-50 hours a week), though we do occasionally get called in for a few hours on the weekend if there’s urgent support required. Work can be stressful as our mistakes can have serious consequences (death, injuries etc) , but the work is intellectually stimulating and satisfying.
To me, the few pointers I would say are the following are what I would recommend :
1) Income transparency is key – this might sound taboo in Malaysian culture, but I routinely ask my friends (and acquaintances I feel close enough to) on their income, and their industry average. You’d be surprised – realistically, I know my salary is above average in Msia, but I personally know people my age in Msia who are making a lot more than that (ie. Premium consulting firms, law, tech, other oil and gas firms).
2) Choosing the right company : for exactly the same job scope, the pay from 2 different companies in the same industry can differ up to about 3-400%. Case in point : Point (1) was the key for me – I had friends working there , once I knew how much the company was willing to pay, I did everything I could to jump over.
3) Lifestyle creep/inflation is inevitable. when I was making ~3k, I told myself when I hit 5 figures a month, I wouldn’t need any more money with my lifestyle. Now, I’m pretty financially comfortable, but my expenses have significantly gone up (food, outings, stuff) – and my goalpost has shifted once again. I’m aiming for 30k a month (realistically by late 30s/early 40s) but I know upon reaching that, the goalpost will shift once again.
Everybody I know earning my salaries are subject to this.Welcome to the rat race
Hope this bit helps!!
Thanks so much for chipping in – great thoughts and self-reflection! Wonderful that you and your peers are transparent about your salaries – if you never knew, you’d never have jumped over I’m sure.
I also liked the bit about lifestyle inflation. That’s the thing kan. You’d think you’d have enough once you hit a number, then after you do, you give yourself a higher number. I wonder if its even possible to break outside of that number..
I worked as an exhibition designer with 2 years working experience and get RM2500. Then I hopped to an MNC as a designer and get RM3000. I was worried to ask for more because most of the companies out there will hire candidates based to their expected salary too. Besides, most of the companies I’ve interviewed couldn’t afford to pay more than RM3000. But I can say I’m quite lucky to join a MNC during this pandemic and hard time. I’m 25 btw. Creative industry
I earn 18k now per month as a 27 year old abroad. I knew the future was already bleak when I was still doing my bachelor’s degree 7 years ago. Ever since then everything has been adjusted towards getting out. Paid the price for sure.
I hope things will be better for those younger than me.