Caitlin Boston thought she was making pretty good money. That is, until she found out what one of her male co-workers--doing the exact same job, with the same master's degree, and same tenure at the company--was making. It was in the ballpark of $20,000 more.
This was a turning point for her, she told BuzzFeed News. Boston had just asked for a raise at work, but had been denied. It was time to get serious about making a career move that would bring in more money. She started by finding out what other people made. Especially men.
Making a move to make 41 percent more
Ultimately, Boston landed a job at Etsy, where she was able to command a 41 percent higher salary. Here's how she told BuzzFeed News she did it.
Boston was eyeing a career move to tech, where salaries are generally higher. So she went on LinkedIn and found as many people as possible with her same job title and comparable experience. She sent dozens of people the same message to gain intel about salaries in the industry.
The eye-opening question
Boston posed this question to peers in her industry, even strangers: "Hey, I'm looking to make a career jump into one of the big tech companies, and I just want to know what you're making. Can you just tell me, are you making over or under X?"
Only a few people replied, but that was all Boston needed. At her current job, her salary was in the high five figures. Everyone who replied told her their salaries were in the comfortable six figures.
Doing this salary research was eye opening. She realized she could be making tens of thousands of dollars more.
Why this question works
"No one is going to help you figure out how much you need to make," Boston says. "You need to be really proactive and ask how much you're going to make."
Asking people what they make is already awkward. It's uncomfortable for both parties. Many people won't tell you.
Boston's over/under question makes the conversation easier to stomach. People are more likely to reply if they don't have to tell you their exact salary. Yet asking "do you make over or under this amount?" will get you closer to knowing what other people are being paid.
It's still an uncomfortable question. But in Boston's experience, it's worth it. Posing this question to as many people as possible was the single reason she was able to get a 41 percent pay bump.
Banishing student loans
Boston landed her big pay increase with a job at Etsy in November 2016. She didn't start living lavishly. Instead, she aggressively started paying off her student loans. When she graduated in 2009, Boston had a total starting balance of $147,602, plus $75,214 in interest.
Nearly three years later, Boston made her last student loan payment. She made a YouTube video to celebrate, in which she dances to Lizzo in a purple jumpsuit. Boston ends her video with her biggest piece of advice:
I want to pass along the No. 1 thing that helped me pay off my student loans, and really, it can improve anyone's financial situation, even if you don't have crushing debt. So here it is: Ask your peers what they make. That's it. Especially if you're a woman, you just need to expect that you're being underpaid. Your job is to figure out how much.