Let’s be honest: Negotiating a salary for yourself can be scary. You’re expected to provide every reason under the sun as to why you deserve a certain amount of money to come to you for something that you’ll be doing that’s based on your talents to a person who’s most likely a stranger—or your current boss if you’re already employed by them—without even a guarantee of receiving that number you’re asking for. If that sounds exhausting, that’s okay, because it is.
However, just because it’s uncomfortable to request a certain amount of money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it and accept any number that a company, or your current boss, gives to you. According to a recent Glassdoor survey, 68 percent of women accepted the salary they were offered, which was 16 percent more than men. For us women, it seems easier to just accept what we’ve been offered so we’re not perceived in a negative light—but that is no way to close the unfortunate gender pay gap that we’re currently dealing with.
So to get more people to negotiate for their dream salary, we connected with Kit Warchol, Head of Content at Career Contessa; Gabi Lawerence, founder of PushingSix; and Corinna and Theresa Williams, founders of Celsious, to answer our questions about how to negotiate a salary like a boss.
1. What are some things people should do before they negotiate their salary?
“Research. Too often, people guess what they ‘should’ be making or assume that people will make them a fair offer based on their experience. You can start by using an online tool—we run something called The Salary Project, which lets you go through the anonymous salary data of thousands of people for free, and I also always recommend using Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool as well.”
“That said, because salaries vary widely depending on city and even from company to company, you’ll want to talk to real people as well. We always recommend talking to three women and three men (the mix of men and women is important to help you make sure there’s not a gender pay gap happening!) in your company or at a similar company about what they make. I know that most of us are raised to believe talking about money is taboo, but salary transparency is an essential part of making sure women are paid fairly for their work. Ask politely, explain you want to make sure you’re asking for what’s fair, and that you won’t use their names if they’re not comfortable with that. And if they say no? Go ask someone else.” – Warchol
2. When negotiating a number, should people give a salary range or an exact number?
“We recommend giving a range initially, simply because there are so many other factors at play—benefits, room for growth, the plus side of working at a smaller company versus a large one, etc. The range should typically be about $5k. The low side should be a number you’re okay with and the high side should be the ideal (within reason based on your research). Once you’re negotiating, though, you’ll need to come back with a specific number to counter what the company offers you.” – Warchol
3. When is the right time to walk away from a salary negotiation?
“Walk away when the offer no longer matches the value of your work and skill set—if your current job doesn’t appreciate your worth, there is someone out there who will!” – Lawerence
4. What are some key things everyone should include/be mindful of when negotiating a salary?
a. “We always say ‘your self-worth is not your net worth.’ What we mean by that: women, in particular, tend to bring personal details into the salary negotiation phase. I’ve been guilty of this, too. You think, ‘They won’t give me the amount I asked for, they’re disappointed in me, my work must be awful, I’m a failure,’ etc. when really the real reasons are probably more like: the budget’s tight, they’d rather not give anyone a raise right now, etc. Researching in advance helps with this because it takes everything personal out of it. You go in thinking, ‘I know this is the industry standard, I know I have the same skills and work experience, I deserve this based on merit and pure cold facts.’ So if they say no, it doesn’t make you feel small — it motivates you to go out and find a better offer.”
b. “People often assume that if someone says ‘no,’ that’s the end of the discussion. It doesn’t have to be. If you don’t get the number you want but love the job (or job offer), you can say, ‘Listen, I love what we’re doing here and want to stay here long-term. I’m willing to table this for now, but could we discuss it again in six months?’ If the answer is no, you can also ask your boss to ask what you need to improve/learn/do to reach the salary you requested. Take their feedback, follow it, then bring evidence of your improvement back to them in a few months to have another conversation.”
c. “One other thing: Money isn’t everything. You can also get creative and negotiate benefits or even ask for more paid time off or a weekly work from home day.” – Warchol
5. Is there a preferred time to schedule a negotiation with your boss?
“I feel like there’s never a ‘preferred’ time. However, once you’ve paid your dues and feel as though you are excelling in your current role, then the time will be right to negotiate with your boss. If you’ve proven your worth, hard work can’t go unnoticed!” – Lawerence
6. Are there things one shouldn’t do when trying to get a higher salary?
“Do not be sullen or accusatory. Emotions have no business in a negotiation, especially anger or resentment. Rant to your friends, but go in with a professional air—seriously dress like it’s a job interview if it helps—and keep cool, even if (especially if!) you know you’re underpaid.” – Warchol.
7. How should someone answer when their potential new employer asks about your current salary?
“Fortunately, we’re based in California where interviewers are no longer allowed to ask about salary history. Those sorts of questions make it nearly impossible for women to narrow the wage gap. If you start out underpaid, and you have to share that salary, it can be very difficult to catch up. If your state doesn’t have a law against it, see if anyone’s campaigning for one and make sure you support it.”
Okay, now getting off my soapbox—if it’s legal in your state for an employer to ask, it’s better to be honest. If they call your current employer to confirm and find out you’ve lied, you’re going to lose the job offer… You can say, though, ‘I’ve done serious research, and my current salary is well below my market value. My salary requirements are based on that research, and I feel they’re fair according to my experience and skills.’” – Warchol.
8. For women, it can be hard for them to negotiate a salary because it can be uncomfortable to talk about and they don’t want to be perceived as greedy, mean, etc. What are some ways women can navigate these emotions while going through this process?
“Prepare for it just like you would prepare for any public speaking event. Rehearse in front of a mirror, rehearse in front of your friends until you’ve got the flow down. And stick to the research. You’ll feel stronger and less alone when you have a mountain of data (plus, the real salaries of 3-5 of your colleagues) behind you.” – Warchol.
9. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle when it comes to getting the salary you want and how do you overcome it?
“The biggest obstacle is a lack of confidence to ask for what you want. In our journey to becoming bosses, we had to negotiate virtually everything. It sounds simple, but what we found helps best to ease the discomfort you may feel asking for what you believe you deserve is truthfully asking yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” The answer will always be: “They could say no,” which — on a scale of worst case scenarios — is not the most horrific. Plus, it is also unlikely to happen if you’ve prepared a comprehensive and convincing list of achievements to support a higher salary.” – Williams and Williams
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