Salary and Negotiation Skills

Build Your Salary and Negotiation Skills

If you’re uncomfortable with negotiating salary, make this the year to change to improve your salary power and skills.

Five years ago I interviewed the perfect candidate for a position. It was a startup and I was unfortunately covering multiple roles including HR. I asked how much she wanted for starting salary. She said “I’m hoping to make what I make now, $52,000.” The role was for a technical and unique skill, meaning good candidates were very scarce.

I had searched everywhere for someone who had real, demonstrated experience and this candidate was the best.  I hesitated for a moment, then told her the salary range was quite a bit higher and while the company would love a bargain, I thought her minimum should be $15k more. Then I asked her “So, what do you need for a starting salary?” She smiled and said $70K. I smiled too. She was one of the best hires I’ve ever made and I saw great things from her. I later left the company. However, she had stayed and has since not received promotion.

This interaction taught me several things.

What Your Salary Negotiation Really Means

According to a 2016 Glassdoor Survey 68% of female applicants don’t negotiate their salary at all.  Men not only negotiate more, but negotiation is often seen as a career skill for later on-the-job negotiation. Salary gap is a big problem, and one we need to personally take on while fighting for higher salaries for women publicly.

Your beginning salary at any company is incredibly important. Typically, any raises will be incremental off of your base. If you start at $52K it might be eight years before your salary would reach $70K at a very generous 4% increase per year. The same 4% increase starting at $70K would be close to $96K after 8 years.

What does this tell us? Your entry salary is your most important earnings factor. Bonuses and increases are wonderful, but never guaranteed and never replace a salary gap.  You may be promised promotion and changes to come, or worse, if you first “prove yourself” you’ll be promoted easily. You are interviewing for a specific job and you need to be fairly compensated for it, period.

The Promise of A Future Raise Should Never Change Your Salary Requirement

Think you can later ask for a raise when more comfortable? Don’t make that a plan. According to a Payscale study, including 30,000 individuals, 43% of participants had asked for a raise, of those only 44% received the amount they requested, 25% received nothing.

It is far more difficult to get a raise than to receive the correct salary from the start.

Know What You’re Worth

We now have salary resources at our fingertips. Glassdoor, Indeed, all offer salary information for a variety of general and very specific roles. Go into interviews and negotiations armed with industry knowledge and know what you’re worth. Worried about asking for a salary above what you make now based on these numbers? Throughout my career, my salary has been consistently 30% more than the max listed for my roles, often double when freelancing. You what you’re worth!

Remember Why You’re Being Made An Offer

You are not doing a company a favor. They aren’t settling for you. They are offering employment because you are the best person they have for the position. If you’re the best, you shouldn’t be discounted, you shouldn’t be on sale. They are getting a premium resource and just like everything else in the world, that comes at a cost.

Do Not Share Previous Salary Information

Previous salary questions are illegal during interviews in some states. However, even where not specifically illegal, these questions are discouraged by HR professionals. What they should ask? They should ask you for your “desired salary”, or “salary requirements.” If you are asked about previous salary, flip the answer: “Well I’m looking for a starting salary of $xxx.”

There are many factors that may make your previous salary ridiculously low. You may have started in an entry level position with incremental raises. You may have been doing two people’s jobs and not recognized for it. You may just be awesome and under compensated. Don’t shy away from what you’re worth now.

The Effect of Lower Salary Has a Lingering Effect

If you start a new role at a salary below what you are worth, you are starting on a bad foot. You will remember it when asked to take on new assignments, you will wonder about what other employees are making, you will wonder if a new job would pay more, deteriorating your loyalty. Never discount yourself. Know what you are worth and stick to it. It is incredibly rare that someone is going to give you something – recognition, more pay, responsibility you seek. You need to speak up and ask for it.

You are your best advocate and being humble and waiting has proven to be detrimental to women’s earning power. The story I shared above ends with a statement about the woman not getting any promotion. This is not uncommon. She is a great employee, loyal, talented, a great colleague; but there is never a guarantee you are going to be promoted. However, with her talent, she has loads of options and will likely leave for promotion (I highly encourage it and am waiting with a recommendation).

You’re not Taking Salary from Someone Else

The major reason women don’t negotiate? Guilt and being seen as pushy or ungrateful.
When it comes to compensation, let’s agree to be pushy as hell and be ungrateful for a continuation of pay gap.

In large organizations budgets are renegotiated at least once a year or more. Your rightful salary is not hurting your interviewer, your new manager, or your company. They are better for having you and your salary is coming out of the pool of funds that gets allocated and reallocated.

Salary isn’t personal to anyone but you.

You’re Not Only Defining Your Salary

How does it make you feel to know you are defining the salary of what others hired for the same position will be offered? What you demand for salary is setting a precedent.

You are also defining the quality of your peers. If your company can pay for better talent, they will get it. Having more talented peers is better for everyone. You learn new skills, get better projects, and get to be part of a strong and respected team.

HR Not Budging? Try for Other Benefits

If this is THE JOB and you are convinced it will be great, then ask to meet them half way. Be adamant about your value, but after trying for more salary, understand when they can’t budge. If that’s the case, your job is to get something. Consider it a skill of negotiation. You’re savvy, you’re realistic and you know what you’re worth.

  • Ask for an additional week of vacation/PTO
  • Ask for the right to work from home 1-2 days per week if applicable
  • Ask for for flex-time
  • Ask for increased education or mentoring opportunities
  • or for time off for any volunteering you do.

There are a lot of options, and HR often have these at their disposal more than cash.

You May Need to Walk

It’s hard. You’ve been offered “THE PERFECT” job. They have cooky food bought in for lunch and a puppy day-care and promise the world in soft benefits. It’s so perfect. So, why aren’t they meeting your salary? Be as pleasant as can be, wish them well, but for the sake of respect, your retirement and ability to be financially strong, it may not be the right choice for you. Everyone wants a bargain, but we’ve seen over and over  – and over – Women are getting the short end of salary. Every time you are asked to compromise, ask yourself: Would a man be asked that, and would a man take it?

Interviews are great experience, and I’ve gone on a number that I treated as analysis. Some I used to learn more about industries that I was able to use elsewhere. Sometimes I received calls from interviewers a year later to join them somewhere else, for the right role and compensation.

However, I’ve never, ever regretted a job I turned down. Something so much better came along because I won’t discount myself, and when the job is right, it’s great. A place to grow, be challenged, and be fairly compensated is worth being selective.

Good luck in your search!