Know Your Worth: Negotiating Your Salary 101

Did you know that when you get an offer from an employer, they typically anticipate that you will come back and negotiate for a slightly higher salary? Most employers are pretty honest if they aren’t willing to negotiate, at least in my experience.

Let me first start by saying that you need to be realistic to ensure you set yourself up for success.

I am going to share some tips and tricks on how to advance your career and get a higher salary.

What I’m not telling you to do is ask for a salary that is unthinkable for the position you are applying for or demanding benefits that your potential employer just can’t provide. I have heard countless horror stories of friends that have gone back during the negotiation and asked for way too much and because they were uninformed and honestly a little greedy, their offer was pulled back on the spot. They lost their dream job because they pushed too hard.

What I am telling you is that you need to approach your career negotiation like a conversation to get the maximum benefits possible.

If you do nothing else, my three biggest pieces of advice are:

  1. Let them talk first (you aren’t obligated to give them a salary number – let them tell you what you are worth)
  2. Get it in writing – ask for a contract to review and make sure all changes get updated in the contract
  3. Don’t verbally accept anything (this gives you some leverage to take your time and plot on where you are going to ask for more)

When I got my first job, I was thrilled that I was going to have a consistent source of income. I went into my salary negotiations like a true novice. They called and offered me a number and I excitedly agreed on the spot and let them know that I was “delighted” to start as soon as possible. I didn’t even ask about benefits.

I felt like I didn’t have any real experience, or at least I thought I didn’t. I was wrong. While I was young and a straight-up newbie, I had worked incredibly hard in college and what I thought was invaluable experience was the exact experience I needed to do this specific role. I had waitressed since I was 14, I had been a member of a sorority and held a leadership position, I had an internship at a radio station, and I was the senior editor for our college newspaper. None of that felt like it mattered because I was getting my first big girl job but, it did.

No one told me that I could ask for a higher salary and the worst thing that could happen is they say no. Most employers anticipate that you will respond and request a higher salary and they make room for that when they provide you with the first number.

Let me make sure I’m clear about this – there are right ways and wrong ways to approach salary negotiations. You don’t just automatically deserve more money.

Let’s break it down from the beginning of the interview process.

When asked how much money you want to make you are not required to give an answer. My response to this question is always “I’m willing to negotiate because I am passionate about the position and would hate for a salary to dictate my career path. I would like to make something comparable to the market value.” Most employers will push you on this and it’s so damn uncomfortable. What you need to do is research and a lot of it. You need to find out what “market” value is. There are a lot of resources online where you can find this kind of information. What are other men and women in the role you are looking to be placed in making? Know the high end and low end of the spectrum. If they continue to force you on this, you can say something like “based on my research a {enter job title here} with {enter number here} years of experience makes {enter low-end salary} to {enter high-end salary}”. Then wait to see what they come back with.

If you are happy with the number that they give you and you want to accept that’s awesome but it’s fairly common when an offer is presented for the potential employee to say something along the lines of “I appreciate the offer and need some time to think it over. When do you need my final answer?” This gives you some time to sit down with the salary and the benefits and make sure they are truly aligned with your expectations. It gives you time to ask questions. Personally, it always makes me nervous when someone accepts an offer on the spot because it worries me that they don’t take time to digest the material and make might make rash decisions – but then again, it might be their dream job and they don’t care what they get paid.

When accepting a job, I recommend that you never accept on the spot. Always ask to see the paperwork. This is another big opportunity for negotiation. When reviewing a benefits package, you should look for the following items, if they aren’t included, I would recommend asking if it’s possible for them to get added to your contract. Again, the worst thing that they can happen is you get a big NO.

When I receive the benefits package in my email, I always respond with something positive like “Thanks for sending this over. I am excited about the opportunity and will get back to you with my questions by {enter date here}.” This creates a dialog and turns what could seem like a list of demands into a conversation.

Benefits to Look For:

  • 401k/Retirement Plan
  • Stock Options
  • Travel
  • Medical Insurance
  • Dental Insurance
  • Optical Insurance
  • Healthcare Savings Account
  • Cell Phone
  • Company Car (also look into parking and travel)
  • Bonus Packages

When I go back to the company with my questions, I always try to get to them a day or two before their deadline and I avoid sending my email on a Friday. I had a previous employer tell me once that HR was closed for the weekend and it was the last day for me to accept and that there was no time for HR to make a counter-offer. They had to fill the position by a certain date to keep work moving along and I waited until the last second. Lesson learned.

I like to list out all my questions in a very friendly email. I make sure it looks like I am just inquisitive about the policies. Then I approach salary. I let them know that it would be great if they could do a little better (again, I never give a number and I am very polite about it). I then list out a few of my biggest accomplishments that I didn’t share in my interview that help to make me the perfect candidate and strengthen the reason why I feel like I am the exact person that they need in this role.

Then, you wait. Waiting is the hardest part. You don’t know if they will email or call you back and its pure torture. PURE TORTURE.

If they email you that’s the easiest. If they call you then you should be prepared to discuss all of this over the phone. Practice your speech for why you think they can pay you a little more out loud a few times and have someone ask you why after every reason.

If it’s not possible then it’s not possible but the worst thing you can do in this situation is sound like you are unsure and nervous about asking for more money. Before you send off your email, decide if you are willing to accept the compensation and benefits that they provided so that if they do call to discuss your questions you are prepared to accept, decline or let them know that you need to process the updates they provide and will get back to them.

Never accept a job because they push you. It’s your career. If you need time to think after you talk to them it’s always okay to ask for time to think it through. Just remember you have a deadline.

Before you accept, be sure you have all revisions in writing. Your final contract should always reflect all updates. If they aren’t willing to update it then print it out, write in the updates you discussed and sign that copy. I had a friend that accepted a position without getting the bonus structure included in his contract. After a few short months at the company, they revamped the program and he lost all the bonuses that previously had doubled his salary. A simple mistake that could have easily been avoided.

Once you have secured your position in the company, the next piece of the puzzle is your career growth. Ensure that you understand the review process and schedule. At the beginning of each year put your reviews on the calendar (or a reminder that triggers your boss or HR).

Throughout the year, maintain a folder with all the positive feedback and negative feedback as well (my outlook folders are called “Good Work” and “Better Luck Next Time”). If something comes up in your review and it wasn’t addressed in real-time, I always recommend asking your boss to ensure that feedback is provided in a timely manner vs. quarterly/yearly as you can’t improve upon things that aren’t addressed and you lose the opportunity to grow.

Maintain a list of what you have done well, could improve and the goals you have achieved. Prepare yourself for success. This will make it easier for you to discuss your personal growth without having to go back through a thousand emails.

I have found that it’s good to be somewhat transparent with your supervisor and let them know what your long-term career goals are. Most of the time they are your biggest advocate and can help you grow within your company. If an opportunity comes up for a promotion or a new position, they can make or break your chance.

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