Salary Negotiations

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Full disclosure up front: I have only ever once negotiated for an increase in my salary. I got it, but the difference was between the $8.08 per hour I was offered to the $9.25 per hour that I negotiated up to. I understand this is a pitiful amount of money (I don’t even want to admit this, but I had more than one degree under my belt at the time) but I took the job for many reasons beyond money.

I didn't mind the low pay because fishing is the most fun job in the world.

I didn’t mind the low pay because fishing is the most fun job in the world and you never have to buy seafood at the store.

Nevertheless, I feel very strongly about negotiating salaries. When you are offered a position, negotiating your salary is the single easiest way to earn more money at your job. Think of it as the world’s most awkward 10 minute conversation….but you can come out of it $5,000 richer. That is $500 per awkward minute. Totally worth it. Be brave and go for it!

And to my dear female readers…I am leading a personal crusade to reduce the income gap between men and women. In case you did not know, ladies, we make $.77 for every $1.00 that a man doing the EXACT SAME JOB makes. There are some factors that skew this data a bit (like taking time off to have babies and an imbalance between male and female engineers*)- but if you are in an office with the same skills and in the exact same job as a man, you should be making the exact same amount as that man is. Because it is 2014. Time to move society forward, people. Women are badass and it is time we get paid for it.

One of the reasons people say that women make less than men is their reluctance to negotiate for more money. Do you have the same experience, education and skills as that man over there? Then you should be making the same. Period. So think about all of the awkward crap that women have to deal with in their lives- doctors appointments, running into ex-boyfriends, bikini waxes- all much worse than talking with your boss about how valuable you are and why your pay should reflect what you are worth. $500 per awkward minute. You can do it!

Men- I want you to negotiate too because I want everyone to succeed and make the most out of their time and energy. I just think women need to step up their game a little bit.

Once you have been offered the job, the tables have turned. You have gone from being the “seller” to being the “buyer.” Before, you were trying to sell yourself to the company. As soon as they agreed to hire you, things changed. Now you have the upper hand. You get to decide whether the salary, benefits and job are right for you. The best way to succeed at negotiating salary is to mentally shift your attitude. You should go from feeling like you are giving your number out to every man at the bar to feeling like every man at the bar is giving you his number.

Reasons why it is important to negotiate your salary:

  • you are confirming to your employer that you are as valuable an asset as they believe you are.
  • the higher a salary you start with, the higher your earning potential in future jobs. If you stay in the same field, you should expect to increase your salary with experience. If you start at a higher salary, you will make more throughout your life. Negotiating $5,000 more early on could turn into $600,000 more in earnings throughout your career. It’s as if someone said to you, “At this job you can make $1,000,000 over your lifetime, or you can make $1,600,000 in your lifetime at the same job doing the same thing- and all you have to do is have one awkward conversation.” How is this even a question?!?
  • If you are worried about the company not being able to afford a few thousand, there won’t be much job security at a company with such tight finances.
  • You making more money reflects well on yourself, your education and your school (and your gender earning potential).
  • Um. Obviously….You get more money for doing the same job you would be doing anyway.

But how do you negotiate for more money?

1. Do your research ahead of time. This means:

  • Figure out the minimum you are able to survive on (while saving for retirement and emergencies. Don’t forget to factor in income tax. You don’t actually get to take home all that the salary says you are getting). Give yourself a little wiggle room. Do not accept less than this unless you want to be working two jobs or are able to reduce your expenses. Your dream job is not worth it if you can’t pay the rent while you are working there.
  • Try to figure out a typical salary at that organization for someone with your same experience and job title (see if you can get location-specific information, as well). Glassdoor.com is an extremely helpful resource for this sort of information.

2. Mentally prepare to ask for the high end of the range that you have researched. Read some scripts to figure out what to say without being awkward and uncomfortable. Do a mock negotiation with your mom or your dad or your roommate so you can ask for more money without squirming (I am serious. $5,000 is at stake!). Practice like you would practice a speech.

3. Try to put off the salary discussion until a job offer has been made in writing. (I cannot stress the importance of getting an offer in writing enough. I have had it happen to me and I have heard multiple stories were people were verbally hired and then verbally unhired. It is a terrible, terrible thing that unfortunately happens all the time. Do not discuss money until you have a letter in hand offering you the job).

Wait until your employer says a number. If they insist that you give a number first, give a wide (I’m talking $20k) reasonable range starting with your minimum.

4. Do not accept that number. Always go higher. Remember this is a negotiation so if you shoot higher than you actually want/expect you will end up where you want to be. Don’t go crazy, but also do not undersell yourself- you don’t look greedy, you look smart. They have already decided that they want you, and they expect you to negotiate. Show them that you are really worth what they think you are worth. This will feel awkward (remember $500 a minute to feel squirmy), but you are basically doing another mini interview explaining again to them why you are worth what you (and they) think you are worth. Things to bring up again:

  • Experience
  • Education
  • History of success
  • Skills specific to this job
  • Salary history
  • Future potential for success at this job. What will you bring to the table?
  • Industry salary averages (you did this research already on glassdoor.com, now ask for more than the average because you are an above average hire, right?)

Check out this empowering script as an example.

5. Be polite, listen, ask questions, don’t get upset, and don’t bring up personal reasons why you need more money. If you can’t pay your bills with this job, it is probably not the right job for you.

6. If a higher salary is really not on the table, there are other things you can negotiate for. These things include:

  • more vacation/sick days or even unpaid time off, if their vacation package is skimpy and/or you already have things planned. My good friend just got a job across the country and hasn’t built up any vacation. In the next 6 months she has her sister’s bridal shower, bachelorette party and wedding and she also has to go home to celebrate her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. She negotiated a for-six-months-only amount of unpaid time off so that she can fulfill her family obligations.
  • signing bonus
  • paid moving expenses
  • performance review with potential for a raise in 3-6 months (and subsequent reviews every 6 months after)
  • end of year/performance bonus
  • flexible work hours (an example from my grad school included a student who negotiated not having to come into work until 10 am when the surf was good)
  • telecommute options
  • parking/public transportation reimbursements
  • see if your company will pay your student loans (your office may have a designated “professional education/development” pot of money that they can tap into- it is worth asking to see if they can use that money to help with your loans. This might be especially agreeable if you agree to stay on for a certain number of years)
  • other types of professional development
  • stock options

7. Sometimes the answer will just be no. In this case, try to shoot for scheduling a performance review for future raises (you should be making approximately 3% more each year to keep up with inflation, so performance reviews should be standard). If you can’t afford the job without a higher salary, you can always walk away. Otherwise, take the job (and the lessons learned during salary negotiations) as an important learning experience.

The point is- you will never know if you don’t ask. The company wants you. If you don’t have the conversation, you could be cheating yourself out of the easiest money you’ve ever made. Women- step it up! Let’s get over the awkward awfulness and just do it. It won’t be that bad. When you are done successfully negotiating you can toast yourself (and that large step for womenkind) with a huge margarita- made with top shelf tequila- because you really earned it!

*If you are in college right now and you don’t know what to do with your life, just give a few engineering courses a try. If you are good at it and you like it, you will never have trouble finding a job and you will be well paid forever.

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6 thoughts on “Salary Negotiations

  1. This is a very informative post 🙂 I was 20 when I negotiated my salary! I had two offers of the same amount and managed to negotiate the other offer up by $6,000! I think I had the recklessness of youth behind me because the thought of ever doing it again is terrifying!

  2. Disagree with the advice to do engineering if you don’t know what to do with yourself…if you don’t love it, you will be miserable!

    Also, my advice for people in unions (oh, the tables have turned…) is that while there are categories that have been pre-negotiated for you in terms of salary, make sure you are in the correct category for your level of experience and education. When I went in for my meeting with the school superintendent she took a look at my resume and gave me a pay bump for having worked full time as a student teacher and being part of the Noyce program. On the other hand, I had to remind her that I have a master’s degree to move into the next column over.

    • “If you are good at it AND YOU LIKE IT” 🙂

      Great advice about negotiating within your pay band. This applies to lots of jobs with pre-ordained pay scales (the Federal government comes to mind). You can’t negotiate how much you make within the pay scale, but you can negotiate which pay band you are initially put into! (Or negotiate to have your band status reevaluated after a certain amount of time.)

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