How to Negotiate a Killer Pay Day

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I graduated from law school in 2008. For those of you who might remember, this wasn’t a great year to be entering the workforce. The Great Recession was in full swing and jobs were few and far between. After 9 months of temporary work, I finally landed what I thought was my dream job at a small firm. The work was challenging, my bosses were wonderful mentors, and the hours were great. But the pay? That wasn’t so fabulous. Given the state of things, however, I considered myself lucky to be gainfully employed and never negotiated the offer or asked for a raise.

Four years into my time there, things weren’t much better in the pay department. Although I was clearly more valuable to the firm with four years of experience under my belt, I had only received one small raise somewhere around year 2 or 3. I ended up leaving for a whole host of reasons, but one big reason was the fact that I needed more money. I was too scared to ask for what I thought I was worth at the time, and I’m writing this post today because I don’t want other women (or men for that matter) to be too afraid to ask for what they deserve. So, let’s get to it!

The secret to negotiating a pay raise or starting offer is to be prepared. Start by doing some benchmarking, i.e., researching what the market is paying for comparable work. Consider your title, experience, and job responsibilities when making your assessment. Using sites like Payscale or Glassdoor can help with this research. You can also speak to recruiters, read industry reports or speak with people who already work in that field by asking for an informational interview.

Next, figure out your bargaining power. For example, do you have specialized knowledge that makes you better suited for the job than the average candidate? Have you consistently demonstrated value in the projects you’ve completed? Do you have other job offers? These are strong bargaining chips in a salary negotiation. Make sure that you are able to list your specific accomplishments. If you’ve taken on extra responsibility, increased revenue for your company, or made processes more efficient, this is the time to bring it up. On the other hand, if you have few successful projects under your belt or little experience, these might be forces working against you. It’s good to write down your weaker items, as well as your stronger ones, so that you can anticipate and respond to any objections.

Know what you’re asking for. Have an ideal number in your mind. You don’t have to give that number away – in fact, there are schools of thought that suggest you should never give the number first. But, have a figure in mind and be prepared to to discuss it. If you don’t want to give the exact number, offer up a range or percentage.

When the time is right (timing is everything!), schedule time to meet with your boss. Despite what you might think, you don’t have to wait for your annual performance review. In fact, waiting could cause you to miss out on valuable opportunities to get a “yes.” Consider asking right after a big win or after a change to your job description.

Once you’ve made your case for why you’re worth more than your current pay, wait. Don’t be intimidated by silence or non-reaction. This is usually where people get into trouble, trying to fill the silence with apologies, backtracking or things they don’t mean. Stay silent. Stay strong.

Hopefully, your research, polished pitch and proven qualifications will get you that raise or perfect offer. But, you might get a big, fat no. It happens. In that case, remember to look at the big picture. Salary is but one component to compensation. Keep other negotiable items in your back pocket should your employer be unwilling to dish out more cash (think benefits, perks, flexible work schedule, car payments, vacation days, etc.). You should also ask when you can revisit the conversation and ask for specific metrics or milestones you need to meet in order to be eligible for a raise. Then be sure to keep detailed records of how and when you meet that criteria so you can be prepared to ask again.

Negotiating is scary, especially when it’s about money, but it’s important that you always remember your worth and that you always advocate for yourself. What are some of your negotiation tips?


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