Not too long ago, I was on the job hunt.
After months and months of submitting resumes, I received a call from the CEO of one of the companies I had interviewed at in Seattle: They wanted to offer me the full-time marketing manager position, with a base salary of $60,000. That was when the negotiation process began.
(There wasn't a conversation about salary during the early stages of the interview. According to career expert Alison Green, this isn't unusual. Some companies feel it can be misleading to discuss a position's salary early in the hiring process, "especially if the they're hiring for a role that could potentially be filled by people with vastly different experience levels," Green explains.)
At my previous job, I was earning $66,000 — a 20% increase from the $55,000 starting salary. There was no way I was going to accept the $60,000 offer and take a pay cut three years into my career.
Fortunately, this wasn't my first experience negotiating a job offer. I've walked the "negotiation tightrope" several times, and have managed to increase my salary by at least 10% in every new job I've held.
After the negotiation conversation, followed by a week of waiting, I was able to get $10,000 more than the initial offer. Here's how I did it:
Prior to the interview, I did diligent research to understand what the industry averages were based on my role, skills, experience, education and location.
It's important to enter the negotiation fully prepared with data and reasons to back up why you're qualified for your target salary. Some helpful resources include Glassdoor, Payscale and 81cents (which uses data that's usually only available to employers to help women and minorities negotiate salaries).
You can also go to friends or colleagues in similar industries and simply ask: "What would you expect someone to be paid in a position like X, with necessary skills like Y?" Facebook groups like Tech Ladies are great virtual spaces to pose these questions, too.
Your target number should always be more than the salary range you found in your research. Let's say the offer is $50,000. Based on your research, you know you should be making $60,000 to $65,000. So the target range you present in the negotiation process should be something like $68,000 to $72,000.
Why? Because most companies expect you to negotiate, so they tend to offer you a much lower number. My advice is to always ask for more, with the assumption that you'll both meet in the middle. In the example above, asking for a salary range of $68,000 to $72,000 offers more wiggle room. Ideally, the outcome will be a compromise somewhere between $60,000 to $65,000, which is your fair market rate.
Delivery is important, especially at the start of a negotiation, so you must always have a strategic plan put into place. I have an exact script for negotiations: I call it the "Gratitude Sandwich."
The script, as indicated by its name, starts with gratitude. "Wow! This is such great news — thank you. I'm so excited for this opportunity," I said over the phone when I was first given news of the offer.
"I felt right at home during my interviews and am really looking forward to being part of the team," I added. This showed that I already had one foot in the door, and that we were all very close to sealing the deal.
Then, it was time to make my case: "However, this salary is much less than my previous one, and I want to make sure I'm being compensated fairly."
I continued: "Based on my skills, experience and the market salary rate, it would make sense for me to be in a higher range — of $65,000 to $74,000. If you could increase the offer by $10,000, I'd be eager to accept." By presenting an updated range, I was showing him that I'd done my research, understood my value and was willing to be flexible.
There was a brief pause on the other end. "Hmm. I'm not sure if there's any wiggle room," he told me.
I responded by reminding him what I accomplished and the success that my work had driven. It was a way for me to back up my worth and let him know how much value I could bring to the company.
"OK," he later said, "I'll need to regroup with the team. Again, I can't promise anything and I'm not sure if there's room to go any higher. But give me some time and I'll get back to you.
I ended the script with another expression of gratitude: "Of course, I appreciate your consideration. Thank you again for this incredible opportunity. I look forward to hearing back! In the meantime, let me know if there's anything you need from my end."
It can be tempting to follow up and bug your hiring manager immediately within one or two days, but it's best to be patient and let them get back to you.
Remember: They gave you an offer and want to close the deal as soon as possible. (Of course, if it's been more than a week with no word back, the smart thing to do would be to send a follow-up email.)
It's only natural to be nervous during the waiting period. When I was negotiating for this job, I was unemployed and anxious. And there's an inherent risk that comes with negotiations: What if they just rescind the offer?
I had to wait a full week before getting a response, and I'm glad I stuck it out without caving in; most people would get nervous and just accept the initial offer, for fear of losing it.
In my case, it turned out that there was wiggle room in the offer. The CEO came back and offered $10,000 more than the original offer. I happily accepted it.
Even if you've done your research and did a brilliant job presenting your worth in the negotiation process, there's never a 100% guarantee that you'll get what you ask for.
Aside from salary, another reason it's important to negotiate is to make sure that the company's values align with your own. If they're not willing to pay what you're worth, it can be a sign that they don't value, respect or appreciate their employees — and that maybe the job wasn't a good fit after all.
As a woman, my goal isn't just about earning more money now. It's also about planning for the future: Women who consistently negotiate their salaries earn, on average, at least $1 million more over their lifetimes compared to those who don't, according to research from Linda Babcock, an economics professor and author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide."
Salary negotiations are collaborations, not conflicts. You can be gracious, polite and grateful while also being confident and persuasive. It's a compromise: the goal is to get to a number both parties have agreed upon.
Tori Dunlap is a millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, she founded Her First $100K to give women actionable resources to reach their first six-figures, too. A Plutus award winner, her work has been featured on Good Morning America, New York Magazine, MarketWatch, Business Insider and more.
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