Negotiating Your Salary 101

According to Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee, you don’t get what you deserve – you get what you negotiate. She shares two definitions of negotiation: A) Five syllables that conjure up nail-biting anxiety, self-limiting doubt, and a debilitating case of oh-no-I-can’ts. B) A key life and leadership skill you can master over time with practice. Crucial for getting what you want and getting along with others, so you can thrive.

Before landing in one of her negotiation workshops, Definition A seemed much more relevant to me, especially when it came to my salary negotiations. I had previously been much more aware of what the other side wanted, or how I might be perceived, and limited my own asks accordingly.

It doesn’t take much internet research on salary negotiation to find that this is often the case for many women; women are self-reportedly more comfortable negotiating for others than for themselves. The majority of female college graduates do not negotiate their starting salaries at their first job. (I didn’t.) In fact, regardless of career stage, only 7% of women negotiate their salaries compared with 57% of men, according to Stanford professor and master negotiator Margaret Neale. What’s worse, not negotiating your salary or pursuing deserved raises can set your earning capacity back by years.

Fortunately, we can all cultivate what she calls negotiation prowess. This brings us back to Definition B: negotiation is a skill you can master. After the workshop, Jamie and I had a deeper discussion of four key steps to a successful salary negotiation:

Embrace “no”.

From the very beginning, get comfortable with the fact that your ask could be rejected. This is not a rejection of you, just of your ask. It is also an opportunity to truly begin negotiating. (More on that in a bit).

Do your homework.

80% of negotiation is the preparation. If asking for a raise at your current job, you’ll need to:

  • Update your job description. What additional items have you consistently taken on that were not part of your original job description?
  • For your own benefit, write out everything you do for the company and what the value of each task is. You might even want to include something as mundane as the amount of time you spend fielding email requests. This will help convince you of your value.
  • Write out the high-value items that you will share with your employer: the deals you closed, the problems you solved. Provide the bottom line numbers for these items. You want to show your employer the value you provide as clearly as possible.
  • Research the market value for your position.
  • Determine the number you will ask for. You may want to leave a bit of room for negotiation (ask for a bit more than you want). According to Jamie, your ask should be “reasonably ambitious”.
  • What alternatives are there to an increase in salary? Can you ask for more paid time off, to work from home more regularly, etc? Are you asking for a promotion? Know the title you would like to have.

If you’re switching companies or even careers, the information you need is similar with a few added items:

  • If you’re switching careers, you’ll need to evaluate your transferable skills.
  • When researching the market value for your position, try to get the inside scoop for the company you’ll be moving to as well.
  • You’ll need to determine a cutoff number. Decide at what point you will need to reject a job offer based on inadequate compensation.

I know this seems like a lot – but it’s actually just a portion of the preparation you should undertake before getting to the negotiation table. Jamie has some helpful worksheets on the Resources section of her website.

If they say “no”, ask diagnostic questions.

It’s very possible that your initial ask will be turned down. If this is the case, ask open-ended questions beginning with what, how, why, etc. You want to learn why your offer was refused, and where the wiggle room is. Does your number need to be lower? Might there be more resources at a later date? What can be negotiated (days off, working from home, amount of work)? Is there anyone else that you should talk to?

Keep negotiating.

Once you reach an agreement, keep your negotiations skills sharp. If an initial job offer was reasonable but a little less than you hoped, you can ask to revisit the conversation in 6 to 12 months. Even if you were pleased with the agreement, know that you can negotiate projects, resources and deadlines.

Negotiation is an essential life skill – so embrace “no”, do your homework and stay confident!

Photo Credit: Kaleio