3 Ways to Get A High Salary in Malaysia

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’.

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.

For example:

  • 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.

high salary in malaysia
Image credit to Micheal Page

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.

How to survive?? Image credit from RinggitPlus

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.)

Last words

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.

 

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10 comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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?

  2. 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.

    Psychology:
    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.

    In closing:
    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.

    1. 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

  3. 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.

  4. Hi
    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.

    1. Hi Nadia,

      Thanks for sharing your experience here! All the best with your future jobs, hope you find a great one with great pay+benefits

  5. HiSuraya,
    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?

    2 ringgit……..

    When asked why, was I not performing? The reply was, the company is going through tough times. Right now, I feel lost

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