Real Talk: Salary Negotiations

text reads real talk: salary negotiations over pennies sprouting from the dirt

Salary negotiations- Simultaneously a vital and taboo part of being employed and/or employing others. This particular subject is (for some reason) very well known to some and completely elusive to others. I hope to rectify that for you, my dear reader, as I was disappointingly far into my career when I learned the lessons I shall impart.

When should I negotiate my salary?

In a word, ALWAYS!

Honestly, there have been so many times when I have avoided asking for more money because I felt too awkward or assumed that the rate I was getting paid was fixed. Sometimes it is a fixed amount, but the worst that can happen is to be told that the original offer is the best you can get. One of my first jobs when I was a teen was at a local party supply store. I did not find out until about a decade after starting that job that I could have negotiated my starting hourly wage! So many people, like my teenage self, assume that these hourly wage jobs are fixed starting amounts. I am here to tell you that is not always the case! So the next time that you are offered a job at $10 per hour, ask for more. Even if you only wind up getting $10.25 per hour, that can translate to an extra $500 per year assuming 40 hours per week and starts you at a higher base for future raises.

Isn’t it worth that extra $500 to ask the uncomfortable question?

man in suit talks on phone

Do not assume that the first offer is the “best” offer.

Another common misconception is that the offer made by the hiring manager or recruiter is going to be the best offer. Make no mistake; the individual hiring you has a goal to fill the position not to do what is in your best interest. Their interest is aligned with the company’s. Sounds harsh? Unfortunately, that’s business. Which is part of why this particular topic can be so painful.

When recruiters are helping to hire an individual, they often make it seem like getting you the best salary is best for them as well. In some ways this is true, the recruiters are often compensated based on the amount of salary the recruit is hired at, but it is a balance. The recruiter’s job is to be the one who helps fill that position, so if they are able to get you to agree to the first lowball offer, the company will be happy and is likely to use them again in the future.

When you are working directly with a hiring manager, that manager typically has a range for the salary that they offer to the new hire. If your employment offer is $10,000 per year, the manager may have been given an allowance to go up as high as $15,000 and you will be leaving money on the table by not asking. Is it possible that the manager will give you the best offer from the get go? Of course! In that case, they will likely tell you that is the best they can do and then you can accept that offer knowing that you did so while still advocating for yourself.

woman wearing business clothes and glasses pumps fists into the air

OK, Liz, we get it. Now HOW do we ask for more?

Asking for more money is the uncomfortable part. If you are someone who loves debates with random strangers and winning is your favorite thing, then you might think this part is awesome. Kudos to you if that is the case! I wish I was more comfortable negotiating my salary.

Do your research. To start I compare sites like Glassdoor and Indeed to see what average salaries are for similar positions. Having data helps you determine what is fair to ask for and also provides you some backup if you are asked why you are requesting the increase.

Value yourself. Even if you have never had a job or you have been out of work for some time, you have value!!! What can you bring to your position or what do you bring to your current position (if you are negotiating a raise)? Be prepared with a list of the ways you add value. You can turn anything into relevant business value. Always use coupons for the grocery store? You are efficient and staying within a budget and finding creative ways to utilize that budget efficiently. Are you responsible for your own laundry at home? You can effectively prioritize recurring tasks and ensure that they are completely in a timely fashion week after week. Seriously, you are worth it.

Mentally prepare. I am a big fan of the Power Pose, as Amy Cuddy talks about in her Ted Talk, to pump up my confidence before an important talk. Even 30 seconds standing like Wonder Woman and I feel taller and more confident. If that is not your thing or that is not enough to give you confidence before this type of conversation, rehearse. Practice key phrases or what you will say in front of a mirror. Note your body language when you do it because, even over the phone, your posture and smile gets translated through your voice. You know this task will be difficult and daunting, so prepare yourself.

So you got an offer that you would normally have jumped at but are heeding my advice, what do you say? Look up some examples online and pick a couple that fit your needs. You could say, “I am thrilled to become a part of this team! Is there any possibility of increasing that salary to $xx.xx?” Always counter with a number (and typically aim slightly higher than what you hope to get) because if you are too vague and ask for an “increase” you may get lowballed again.

man in suit stands on sidewalk with arms crossed
I asked for more and they stated they needed to get back to me, is this a bad sign?

Absolutely not. That is a completely normal business procedure. Typically the person you are talking with needs to run it by someone higher up. Be patient and know that salary negotiations can take several days and calls/meetings.

They asked me what I am making now, should I tell them?

This is a too-often used tactic and it frustrates me. In some states, it is illegal for a potential employer to ask what you make at your current employer. This is a way for the employer to decide how low they can go while still making an offer appealing to you. If you provide this number, you will regret it.

Something you can say instead of giving that information is, “I am looking for a range between $xx and $xx.”

If you have already provided this information to your recruiter or hiring manager for a new job, make sure you set the expectations there. Go back to them and state, in clear terms, that although you are currently making $XX at your current position, you are looking to make between $YY and $ZZ for this new role based on the expectations of the role and the value you can add.

Should I negotiate my raises?

Make sure that you are not unreasonable with your expectations around this, as managers typically have a much smaller range that they can increase your pay for a raise than for a new starting salary, so doubling your salary may not be feasible. Still, it behoves you to ask for a little more!

If you are negotiating a raise for your current role, be prepared! You need to be able to show the value that you add and why you deserve more money. Typically managers get one lump sum to divide as they see fit between all the employees so it really is on you to show your value so that a bigger slice of that pie gets allocated to you.

I missed too many opportunities to ask for what I was worth and I hope that I can help you take those opportunities in the future. Negotiation conversations can be difficult, uncomfortable or stressful but they are worthwhile. YOU are worthwhile and need to be your best advocate.

Have any other tips you can offer someone entering a salary negotiation, or success story where you’ve negotiated a higher starting salary or raise? Let me know in the comments below!

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