How to negotiate your salary—and know what you should *really* be earning


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When it comes to the job-hunting process, two little words can make even the coolest cucumber feel anxious: salary negotiation. Sure, it can be an uncomfortable process, but it’s important to develop negotiating skills—because you deserve to earn what you’re worth! Career expert Claire Wasserman is a seasoned pro at bargaining confidently; she’s helped hundreds of women learn to advocate for better compensation. Here, as part of a series on salary negotiation, she shares how you can psych yourself up to ask for money—and how to know what your skills should bring on the market.

I believe that the best way for individuals to help close the wage gap is to advocate for more money. If you get a raise, and she gets a raise, you’re moving the needle for all of us. So I need you to do something: Think about three women you love. These are the women you should remember when you go into your next salary negotiation.

If the thought of negotiating makes your stomach churn, you’re not alone. Out of the thousands of women in the Ladies Get Paid community, 99.9 percent have cited salary negotiation as their number-one work challenge.

But don’t worry, I’m here to help.

Here are 4 things you can do to get the most out of a salary negotiation.

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Identify the mindsets that are holding you back

A lot of anxiety around salary negotiation comes from misguided mindsets, molded in large part by the way girls are socialized. Here are some typical assumptions we make about negotiating (and what you can do about it).

“I’m afraid they won’t like me.”
We’re conditioned to be “the good girl,” to be nice, to not disrupt. It’s no wonder that many women dread salary negotiation for fear of pissing the other person off.

Here’s what you can do: Instead of looking at the negotiation as a win-lose, it can be a win-win. It’s an opportunity to look super professional, too. Walking in confidently, buttoned up, and with a well-researched case presented in a respectful, thoughtful way will make them think, Damn, I want her to do that for my company.

“What if I lose the opportunity?”
The chance that they rescind the opportunity or fire you is extremely slim. Why? Losing you is very expensive because it means launching or continuing a search for a new candidate. So here’s how to deal with this worry. First, make sure you have savings. Having a financial cushion should give you confidence to be strong in your negotiation. Then, interview elsewhere. Never put all your eggs in one basket, despite how badly you might want the job.

“They don’t have enough money.”
Sometimes no amount of negotiating will get you the money you want. (This is especially the case in non-profits.) Here’s the good news: There are other non-monetary things you can negotiate. Be prepared to discuss full compensation—more on this later!—and ask when you can revisit this discussion. Be sure to ask what they need to see from you in order to get that raise, promotion, etc.

“I feel lucky.”
Again, this belief is largely due to how girls are socialized. There’s a difference between being grateful and having gratitude, so make sure you’re not putting yourself beneath the hiring manager just because you feel lucky to have the opportunity. Remember, negotiating is a natural—and expected—part of getting a job. It’s an exchange for goods and everyone does it. (Ask yourself: Would a man be worried about this?)

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Figure out what you’re worth

Knowing how much to charge can be tricky. There are a gazillion sites out there, but there’s somehow either too much or too little information, and it’s never quite relevant.

Where to look

  • As far as online resources go, Payscale is a personal favorite.
  • The company itself. Try to figure out how financially well the company is doing. If it’s a public company, a non-profit, or the government, they have to make that information available. Also, you can go through LinkedIn and see how quickly people are getting promoted (and what kind of person they are), to get a sense of who is moving up—and how fast they’re doing it— assuming they’re getting pay raises along the way.

Who to ask

  • Make friends with recruiters and headhunters; they’re a treasure trove of information.
  • Reach out to your alumni or sorority networks.
  • Email friends of friends of friends and ask them to either connect you to or pass a message along to people in their network who are in your industry: ‘‘I’m doing research to apply for a new job, and I think you have some info that can help me. Would you be willing to share a ballpark salary with me?’”

That being said, make sure the salary you look for is rooted in context: i.e., the size of company, location, years of experience, skill set, etc. For example, a really talented art director friend of mine who lives in Minneapolis, realized that she could charge her San Francisco clients more.

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Pick your numbers

Now that you’ve done your market research, pick three numbers that will be your parameters during the negotiation:

  • The highest number you can say without busting out laughing.
  • A number you’d feel great about getting.
  • Your bottom line. The only way you can really know this is by making a budget of what it takes to be you and what lifestyle sacrifices you’re willing to make for this opportunity.

Going into the negotiation, start with the top number and assume they’ll counter you with something beneath your bottom line. Assume you’ll end up closer to your middle number, but whatever you do, don’t start negotiating yourself down.

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Know how to brag

Don’t assume that your boss knows why you’re awesome. You need to make a compelling case that outlines how you’ve contributed to the success of the company, whether you’re negotiating at a new job or your current one. However, it can sometimes feel super awkward to sing your own praises. Here are some ways to get over that:

  • Pick three accomplishments. These should demonstrate grit, creativity, and enthusiasm. Bonus points if you can directly tie them to the bottom line—but if not, show how they contributed to the health of your team or moving the needle in some way.
  • It’s not always about the obvious wins. If you’re having trouble coming up with your accomplishments, think about the major obstacles you faced in your job and how you solved for it. Despite the outcome, you had micro-wins along the way that you can tell a story about to make you look good.
  • Know what makes you you. Also known as “inalienable powers,” these are intangible characteristics that you might not put on a resume but help contribute to the health and success of your company. Think of things like social and interpersonal skills, a large network, client connections, leadership, and team-building abilities.
  • Talk about the future. Don’t just focus on what you’ve done in the past; get them excited about what you can do for them in the future.

Hopefully you’re feeling prepared for your negotiation, so stay tuned for the next article on what to actually say during it!

The founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman is an educator, coach, and podcaster who helps women navigate their professional options to find fulfilling career paths.

Make 2018 your healthiest, happiest, and richest yet—with a little help from Well+Good’s (Re)New Year program!

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