Finding Work: How to benchmark your own self worth

cord helps Engineers direct message other people looking to hire them. But finding work isn’t just about access to hiring managers…

Finding your best work is a life’s journey uncovered through an ongoing conversation with ourselves and the world around us.

The Best Work Stories podcast hosts conversations between Ben (Co-founder and CEO of cord) and Founders, CTO’s, Software Engineers and people in tech who are on their own journey to find their best work.

Transcript

Talhaa Ahmed (00:00):

Literally yesterday I was talking to my friend. I said, “Look, you’re getting this job, ask for this much.” And he’s like, “No, they’ll never offer this much. They’ll never offer this much.” So then what he asked, they offered him more money than that. So he was like, “Wait, I could have asked for even more.” I was like, “Yes, dude, these boundaries that you’re giving yourself, they don’t exist. If you’re good at what you do, people should be paying the world for you.”

Ben Henley-Smith (00:26):

How would you describe your relationship with work, Talhaa?

Talhaa Ahmed (00:29):

I feel like different people have different perspectives of what work means to them. For me personally, work has always been a big part of my life. I’ve worked since I was 16 nonstop during my life, I’m 25 now. From the ages of 16 to 25, there has been a period of one month where I was unemployed, right?

Talhaa Ahmed (00:49):

So I’ve always constantly been doing something, whether it was related to technology or whether you’re younger, you just want a bit of money, so you work at a fast food joint or you work at a shop or something just to get some money. I’ve always felt like I’ve put myself in a position where I enjoy myself. If not by the work that I’m doing, at least by the people that I’m surrounded with. And I feel like you can find ways to enjoy your work. And maybe if you don’t, then it’s time to consider different options.

Talhaa Ahmed (01:21):

So these days, because I work in the tech sector, work is basically my life, in the sense that I’ll be talking about it, I’m really interested by it. And it’s sort of what keeps me going is-

Ben Henley-Smith (01:32):

How does someone who is passionate and engaged and good at the job, we all have to start in this with the same black slate when we look for work. We might have a few more connections than the other person, but we all go through roughly a similar process. What’s your process when you look for work? You most notably moved from Capgemini recently. How did you go about making that decision? And what process did you go through?

Talhaa Ahmed (02:03):

Just before we begin answering that question? I just want to go through a quick overview, right? Because I feel like it’ll provide a better understanding. So I spent just under two years at Capgemini as a fresh grad. And even though I was a fresh grad, I had quite a bit of experience. Now, I’m not necessarily dealing with software engineering per se, but a year as a software test engineer, two years working as IT help, not to forget that if you take a look at my LinkedIn or, it is just filled with stuff, I was always busy doing something. So I felt like I built the right platform for myself, right?

Talhaa Ahmed (02:42):

My two years at Capgemini were a humbling experience, I would say as well, because I felt like I had quite a bit of experience. I went in a little bit too big-headed, I thought I knew everything. And then once I dived into it, I started to see, “Oh, I actually don’t know everything.” I need to humble myself a bit here because there is so much more out there than what I think.

Talhaa Ahmed (03:08):

But luckily again. it’s always luck with me, isn’t it? I found myself on the perfect project, everything that I wanted to do when it comes to data, finding patterns, et cetera, et cetera. I was in the perfect team and I was able to integrate myself very well.

Talhaa Ahmed (03:25):

The reason I left specifically Capgemini wasn’t anything to do with the people or the management or anything like that. I have no problems with the company or the people there whatsoever. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in my lifetime, I go back again. However, what was pushing me to leave was the fact that I knew that my pay progression wasn’t going to be as fast as I hoped. And I sort of knew that that was happening anyway. I sort of knew two years in, as soon as I joined, because I knew so anybody else who worked there. So I understood what was coming anyway.

Talhaa Ahmed (04:05):

I had a long term target of how much money I envisioned myself to make within two years.

Ben Henley-Smith (04:14):

When did you create that?

Talhaa Ahmed (04:16):

As soon as I graduated, I was like, “In two years, I want to make this much money.”

Ben Henley-Smith (04:20):

Right.

Talhaa Ahmed (04:22):

That was just based off of just a few data points basically. Like it wasn’t anything complicated. It was just a [inaudible 00:04:29] number.

Ben Henley-Smith (04:29):

What data points did you use though?

Talhaa Ahmed (04:31):

So there was a few different things I would take into consideration. First of all, I would take in to look what the average graduate salary is right now. Then I would look at what my friends were making. Then I would look at what people would make in other countries. And then I would also look at what the progression is like for the specific sector I’m in.

Talhaa Ahmed (04:50):

And there isn’t that much data out there in terms of finding out what other people are making because the first question is ow do you know these numbers are accurate, right? How can you trust this data? But you ask different people, “How much are you making? Are you make…” You start to gather, you get a good feel of what the sector’s like. And I sort of already knew what my target was just based off of that. And then not to mention the people that I knew that were working in cybersecurity, who were making much more money anyway. Right? So I sort of knew what the benchmark was, and I knew that’s where I wanted to get to.

Talhaa Ahmed (05:29):

Anyways, I sort of knew that I wasn’t going to get to that figure where I was, which is what sort of pushed me to start finding other roles. Now again, if you are good at what you do, here’s a tip for anyone watching this as well. Right? People feel that there are these boundaries set to them when it comes to pay. I want you to understand if you are good at what you do, these boundaries don’t exist. They simply don’t exist. Literally yesterday, I was talking to my friend. I said, “Look, you’re getting this job, ask for this much.” And he’s like, “No, they’ll never offer this much. They’ll never offer this much.”

Talhaa Ahmed (06:15):

So then what he asked, they offered him more money than that. So then he was like, “Wait, I could have asked for even more.” I was like, “Yes, dude, these boundaries that you’re giving yourself, they don’t exist. If you are good at what you do, people should be paying the world for you. So don’t put yourself in a position where you think that you can’t ask for more.” Please don’t put yourself in this box of like, this is the maximum, I can make, this is the minimum. Trust me, that doesn’t exist. If you’re good at what you do, these companies, be willing to pay pretty much whatever.

Talhaa Ahmed (06:44):

Anyway, sorry I’m very emotional about that because I feel like people limit themselves. And what really hurts me personally as well is people undervalue themselves so much, Sometimes, I hear what people are making. I’m like, “Wait, what? How?” I just don’t understand.

Ben Henley-Smith (07:02):

It does make you wonder why there isn’t more information out there that helps people make more informed decisions about salaries.

Talhaa Ahmed (07:08):

I think the culture is quite closed. I think, especially in the UK, people don’t like talking about their salaries. People like to keep that stuff to themselves. Rightfully so, right? It’s up to you. It’s your salary. You can choose to decide whether you want to broadcast that to the world or not. But I do feel like it would be much better for everyone to know how much everyone else makes. Now, I’m not saying on a personal level, I’m not saying, “Oh, Ben makes this much money. Let’s go have a go at him.”

Talhaa Ahmed (07:36):

No, I’m talking more of a sort of an anonymized sort of view of a data set of like, okay, cool people in this sector between this age, with this much experience, usually make around this much. And there are tools out there that allow you to get those kind of insights. But again, sometimes there are barriers to entry. Sometimes you have to sign up. Sometimes you have to pay for that stuff. And then at that point it becomes, “Well, why should I have to pay for, I’m not a business.” So you have to start getting your priority straight, I guess.

Ben Henley-Smith (08:11):

Yeah, yeah, completely. Sorry, I interrupted you then. And going through Capgemini-

Talhaa Ahmed (08:17):

Yes.

Ben Henley-Smith (08:18):

I mean, the pay scales…

Talhaa Ahmed (08:20):

Yes. So, going back to that. So the pay is what made me decide that okay cool, I need to start looking for opportunities. Now again, thankfully, because I feel like I have a very good LinkedIn profile, good outreach as well, quite a few connections… If you have a decent LinkedIn profile, you should be getting at least one message a week from some random recruiter asking you for this glorious opportunity that arises, right?

Talhaa Ahmed (08:43):

I got an invite to Cord, it was one of my messages. So I thought, oh this is just like any other service let’s sign up to it, let’s see how good it is. To me, I don’t mind trying out new things, especially when it’s a service that can offer something good. And then when I signed up and created my profile, I was like, “Oh, okay. So these people actually say how much you’re going to get paid. It’s not, oh, competitive salary.” Right? And that’s something that I really liked and appreciated, because I don’t want to be going into an view with a band of competitive pay. That doesn’t mean anything to me. In fact, I’m so passionate about that, that I feel that it should be a legal requirement for a job posting to say what the band is, at least a band, right? So that I know where you stand.

Talhaa Ahmed (09:31):

And I don’t mean a band, which says something like $20,000 to 100,000, that’s not a band. That’s just throwing something in the air and expecting something to come out. I mean, a legitimate “We’re looking for someone with this much experience, we’ll probably pay them around this much.” Because the people posting the jobs will turn around and argue, “Oh, we want to know how passionate you are. We want to know how skilled you are.” It’s like, well, if you already know how skilled you want someone to be, you should also know how much you’re willing to pay for them. So, yeah, sorry. That’s something else that I’m quite passionate about.

Talhaa Ahmed (10:06):

That’s a feature that I really liked on Cord. So what I did was I started filtering out for the jobs in my sector for sort of the scale that I wanted to be at. I interviewed for a few companies and then ultimately I got a call back from Sky. We had a couple of talks and then yeah, we sorted everything out. And I was quite happy with how everything went. It was quite a smooth process. Some of the companies, they didn’t respond, but that’s the way the interviewing world usually goes.

Ben Henley-Smith (10:37):

Once you got through that first step, so once you created that filter and made sure that you had only the positions and the people that you wanted to talk to, who would match your criteria and specifically your salary criteria. From that point on what was the most important part of your search then? Was it still the salary and then negotiating the salary as you go through? Or were there any other factors that then entered your decision making beyond that point?

Talhaa Ahmed (11:04):

So obviously the main one was the salary. However, there are other factors that are very important, obviously like people say you should enjoy your work and that should be more of a priority than the pay. You can agree and disagree on that. I personally do think that your enjoyment from the work should be right up there, but ultimately my retort to that is, “Would you work for free?” The answer is no, you work to get paid. So that’s why I feel pay is above the enjoyment, but the enjoyment is also a very, very top priority.

Talhaa Ahmed (11:42):

Now, the other factors were company history, future prospects, and my specific role within the company. What will I be doing on a day to day basis? Now, if you start tracking random technologies that I don’t really know how to use or your startup that I know is going to need a lot of help building up, my whole mindset changes. I know the environment is going to be completely different. So those are other factors that I was definitely keeping into the back of my mind.

Ben Henley-Smith (12:17):

How do you calculate your self-worth other than going to a salary benchmark or talking to your friends or for any other way that you can figure out where your self worth is?

Talhaa Ahmed (12:33):

Yes. So obviously the money side, it represents the numerical value, right? But I guess another numerical value that you can use is, how much can you do, okay? Evaluate from it from the other way, if I was on the other side of the table, would I hire me for whatever I’m asking for? What is it that I can do? How many of the technologies out there do you actually know how to use, right? Because if you’re somebody who just knows how to do a bit of programming, do a bit of this, do a bit of that, but maybe you don’t have the real technical knowledge in the real world, take a course on either Azure, GCP or AWS, and you’ve increased your worth by 30% automatically. Just based off doing one of the basic courses. It’s all of these cloud services and infrastructure, all of these things, if you understand how much that works, for me personally, you are already worth 10 times more than anyone else.

Talhaa Ahmed (13:42):

So I feel like it’s all about knowing how the technology works. That is your real worth. That is what you are being paid for. That is what you’re going to use to say, “Look, I know X, Y, Z, I can implement X, Y, Z for you. That’s why I’m asking for this much.” And I’ve always felt like I’ve known what I’m going to do or how I’m going to implement stuff when I go into a company or a project. I really do feel that is your worth. If you don’t know how to do something, also ask yourself, how would you go about learning this, right? So you won’t know absolutely everything, and in the world of technology, it would be ridiculous to think that you would know absolutely everything. The question is how well can you manage those situations as well? And how quickly can you learn and adapt? Because if you know every technology, it’s crazy.

Ben Henley-Smith (14:36):

When did the penny drop for you that you could increase your self worth by going after what you’ve gone after?

Talhaa Ahmed (14:43):

Well, it’s funny because I haven’t actually taken the courses. I just know how to use the services, which is kind of like a cheat code. Really, you should go out there and do the courses because that’s the proof that you know how to do it. Now, I guess I could prove to you that I know how to use these services by, I don’t know, we could do a test or whatever, whatever, whatever, right? I do plan on getting those certificates, but right now I don’t have them. But because I have the experience instead, that’s equally as valuable. And that’s sort of how I got there.

Ben Henley-Smith (15:20):

Yeah. Talhaa, I’ve loved talking. Thank you so much for sharing a story and for going into so much detail, I think that the way that you’ve calculated your own self worth over a period of time will really help others figure out how to calculate those too. And thanks so much for sharing your story.

Talhaa Ahmed (15:40):

Well, thank you very much, Ben. I’ve had a great time having this chat with you and thanks to you and the service of cord, I was able to get the current job that I’m in. So thank you for that as well.

Ben Henley-Smith (15:51):

Love it.

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