8 Practical Tips for Your Next Pay Negotiation

Entitled.

That’s what I was called the very first time I negotiated my salary. Not from my boss, but from my boss’s boss.

I was fresh out of grad school and had just been offered a job at the hospital where I completed a 6-month administrative residency, and he was my Preceptor. In school, we were told what to expect as far as salary ranges, and the offer was very low compared to what we were told.

I wasn’t successful in negotiating that offer, but I was determined to get what I was worth. I applied to another job and got an offer from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Now, I had leverage. I told my boss about the Hopkins offer, and he asked “what will it take to get you to stay?” So I said, “A manager title and $10k more than this offer.” I was prepared, I did my homework, I had options, and I was confident in my ask. I got exactly what I asked for.

Now, I know I’m lucky here – many bosses will let a talented woman go if she presented another offer as leverage. And, we don’t always have another offer, especially when we’re negotiating for things like raises or paid time off.

But, I do know one thing: women who negotiate make more money than women who don’t. I’ve negotiated every offer since that first one. I’ve won the negotiation, and I’ve lost. And I’ve learned every step of the way. That’s why I’m confident in sharing my mistakes, failures, triumphs and strategies with you today.

Here are 8 Practical Tips for Your Next Pay Negotiation:

1. Understand the Benefits

According to LeanIn.org, women who consistently negotiate earn more than those who don’t over their lifetimes. In addition, 80% of recruiters report that candidates who negotiate make a much better impression than those who don’t negotiate.

These are two major strategies to help to close the gender pay gap, but despite these benefits, women are still hesitant to negotiate. And when they do, they often ask for less. Why? We anticipate pushback, resistance and an unfavorable outcome.

In many cases, women experience more pushback than men because of workplace stereotypes. Men are often associated with agentic stereotypes: when they negotiate or advocate for themselves, they are seen as confident, assertive and independent.

On the other hand, women are more often associated with communal stereotypes: in the workplace, they’re seen as warm, nurturing, relationship-oriented and sensitive. So, when women negotiate or advocate for themselves, they are more likely to be seen as pushy and unlikeable.

And because we know this, or maybe, like me, you’ve experienced this yourself, it makes future negotiation attempts scary and awkward.

Keep the benefits of pay negotiation in mind before and during your conversation. Think about how you will personally benefit from the conversation. Why are you negotiating in the first place? What about that is important to you? What do you hope to gain or achieve?

By understanding the benefits and your personal goals, you can set the foundation for a successful negotiation.

 

2. Understand What You Can Negotiate

In many organizations, salaries are set and non-negotiable. In other organizations, especially non-profits, budgets may be tight or dependent on grants or donors. Fortunately, there are many things aside from salary that are up for negotiation.

A few of these include:

  • Sign-On Bonus

  • Vacation Time

  • Flexible work schedule

  • Remote work schedule

  • Certification / education stipend

  • Stock in the company

  • Childcare benefits

  • Relocation expenses

  • Conference or workshop attendance

  • Health / wellness stipend

What else could you negotiate for? Get creative here. If salary is not an option, think about the other ways you could be fairly compensated at work. Would working from home save you time and money? Would having stock in the company help you in long-term investing? Keep these in mind as you prepare for your negotiation conversation.

 

3. Make the First Offer

Empirical evidence shows a relationship between the first offer amount and the economic outcome. Said another way, when women suggest the initial offer, the resulting amount is 30% higher than if women allow the other party to throw out the first offer.

When sitting down for your negotiation conversation, be sure to say something like, “I’d like a 10% increase in my base salary,” or “I’d like an additional 5 vacation days,” instead of, “what do you think would be a fair increase in my salary?”

Making the first offer puts you in the driver’s seat and allows the other person to understand your specific needs, rather than coming up with a generic offer. But, as we learned before, many times, we are hesitant to make the first offer. We’re afraid of pushback, resistance and ruining our relationship with the other person (who is usually our direct supervisor).

By anticipating the potentially negative outcomes, we can prepare for a successful negotiation. If you anticipate pushback or resistance, then make sure you have all your facts straight. Make a list of how you contributed to real results for the department or organization, then assign value to these contributions. And a side note: by making the first offer, you’re not ruining a relationship; you’re strengthening it. You’re inviting the other person to help you in meeting your specific needs.

 

4. Aim High

When making the first offer, it’s important to aim high. Men often ask for more money in a negotiation, and it’s time that we match that ask, dollar for dollar.

This is a textbook negotiation strategy that goes hand in hand with making the first offer. It allows you to set the tone for the rest of the conversation. It also shows that you’ve put time and thought into the negotiation and you’re not throwing out any random number out of nervousness.

Aiming high tells the other person that you’re confident in your skills and in what you bring to the table. It shows them that you are serious about your work and serious about working for that organization. If you didn’t care, or you were apathetic to the organization, you wouldn’t be having the conversation in the first place.

Ask for an amount that’s higher than your ideal pay. Think about it: you can always come down from a high number, but you can’t come up from a low one. Then, let silence do the heavy lifting. Say nothing, pause, allow space for the other person to consider your offer and a reasonable alternative.

Pay negotiation is a two-way conversation. It’s unlikely that you’ll get the first offer you put on the table, so it’s important to leave space for the other person to acknowledge your ask and counter with something else.

And note that this might not happen in a single conversation. Sometimes the hiring manager or supervisor has to check with their supervisor or human resources before coming back with the counter offer. Sometimes they need to go back and check their budgets or the salary range for the specific role. Give them time and space and realize it’s not personal, it’s the process.

 

5. Do Your Homework

Prepare for a pay negotiation conversation just like you would for a job interview. Knowledge is a weapon; arm yourself. Do your homework. Anticipate the pushback and prepare your responses.

Start with taking an inventory of what you bring to the table. Think about your past experiences in the organization, specific projects that made a difference, any dollars earned or saved for the company.

Then, assign value to those accomplishments. Think about the amount of time you spent on each meaningful project and if the project resulted in significant revenue or savings. Use those figures to your advantage when preparing for the conversation.

Your supervisor might not be aware of the specific contributions you made in each project or assignment. This is your opportunity to educate them and advocate for yourself. It’s not about bragging or selling yourself. This is an honest, up front account of how the company benefits by having you on the team.

As we learned earlier, we often avoid these conversations because we fear pushback and resistance. But confidence comes from taking action, so it’s important to anticipate the pushback and prepare your responses in advance.

Think about how you would respond if your supervisor says:

  • “It’s not in our budget this quarter.”

  • “This is the standard salary for someone in your position or with your years of experience.”

  • “You’re already at the maximum hours of paid time off.”

  • “We’re a really high-touch team. I’m not sure how it would look to have you work from home.”

Just like you would write down your responses to interview questions, write down your responses to the above reactions and move on to the next step.

 

6. Practice, Practice, Practice

I can’t stress this one enough! We often avoid negotiation because it makes us nervous or scared, and the good news is we can reduce anxiety by practicing.

Start by practicing in a low-stakes situation. You could practice with a trusted friend or advisor by having them serve as the other negotiating party. Have your prepared responses ready, then begin the conversation.

You could also practice these skills by negotiating for things outside of the workplace. Try asking for a discount the next time you book a hotel room or get your hair done. Ask about any added bonuses when you sign up for a gym package or certification course.

There’s a great story in Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles where he talks about a conference he attended where everyone was given a colored notebook. The one he was given was yellow, but he wished he had a blue one instead. Then, the speaker announced that if anyone in the audience disliked the color notebook they were given, they were free to switch with someone next to them so they could get exactly what they wanted. Jack turned to the woman next to him and said, “excuse me, would you mind trading your blue notebook for my yellow one?” To which the woman replied, “not at all! I actually prefer yellow. I like the brightness of the color.” Imagine how your life might look if you always asked for exactly what you wanted.

It doesn’t matter what you ask for. The point of practicing in a low-stakes situation is simply to get comfortable with asking for exactly what you want.

 

7. Use Your Strengths in the Negotiation

Remember when we talked about Communal Stereotypes? At work, women are expected to be warm and communal, nurturing and sensitive. And not just by men – women hold the same stereotypes about other women.

Many women make the mistake of playing up the Agentic Stereotypes. We think that we’ll get what we want if we play up our assertiveness, confidence and independence. However, this often backfires and leaves the other person on the defense. Think about it from your own perspective: if someone came to you and said, “get me that report by noon.” How would you react? How does it feel to be put in that position – by a woman or a man?

So what if instead of fighting the stereotype, we played into it? What if we played to our strengths?

Start by using positive emotions. We’re often taught to take emotion out of negotiation. But we literally cannot make decisions without our emotions. Studies show that people with traumatic brain injury to their limbic system (the area of our brain responsible for regulating emotions) are incapable of making even simple decisions like which color shirt to wear or what to order at a restaurant.

Further, when you approach this conversation without emotion, it can put the negotiating party on the defense. It makes you, and them, less likely to think of a creative solution that can work for both of you.

Instead of beginning your conversation with demands, start by saying, “thank you for taking the time to meet with me.” That simple phrase immediately disarms the other person and makes them feel good about helping you. You can also show your sensitive side with a phrase like, “here’s how we’ll both benefit…”

Next, frame it as a cooperative effort. Use language like, “let’s work together to find the best outcome.” And watch your body language – it can also convey positive or negative emotions. Uncross your arms, nod your head, make soft eye contact – convey that you want to work together.

Positive emotions promote creative thinking. Present multiple options, ask for input and problem solve together.

 

8. Advocate for Organizational Change

While the first seven tips helped you navigate the complex pay negotiation conversation, I would be remiss if I left out organizational factors that hold women back and promote gender inequality.

While previous research pointed to women to take ownership to change the gender pay gap, new insights reveal that the onus should be on organizations.

Yes, women say they need more confidence. Yes, we’re afraid. We’re afraid that we will be turned down, or that we’ll ruin our relationship with our managers. We also experience self-doubt and impostor syndrome. And these are all things we can work on, improve and transform in ourselves.

But it’s not the only solution to pay equity. There are things we can do organizationally to improve women’s experience with pay at work.

Let’s start with wage transparency. This could look like presenting salary ranges in the initial interview or on posted job descriptions, or it could look like publishing the salaries of top leaders in your company. Wage transparency helps close the gender pay gap because it allows everyone in the organization to identify disparities within teams and departments. It also allows women to have better negotiation conversations because it gives us a more realistic idea of salary ranges and other benefits.

Next, promote women and promote women. Yes, I’m talking about actually promoting women to higher ranks within an organization. And, I’m talking about advocating for women at the same time. Women need to know we have more options in the workplace. We need to see other women being promoted into leadership roles. And, it’s important to demystify pay inequity instead of pretending it’s a non-issue. Organizations who do well in this area set solid goals for achieving parity at the highest levels and ensure that every manager works to meet those goals.

Third, organizations must emphasize learning on diversity and inclusion. This goes beyond knowing that women make, on average, 77 cents for every male dollar. In reality, it’s more complex than that. Women of color make even less, and they face additional workplace stereotypes that white women don’t. Women of color are often not afforded the same opportunities as white women; opportunities for higher education or mentorship or leadership roles. And this is often ignored because many organizations don’t realize it’s not just a white issue. It’s time to change that mentality and include all women and those who identify as women.

Finally, if there’s no room at the table, bring your own chair. If your organization is not transparent about wages or does not promote women or refuses to address workplace diversity and inclusion. It’s time to step up or step out. Consider how you could advocate for women’s rights by promoting women on your team, encouraging women to make the big ask for an increase in pay, mentoring women in your field, or empowering women by showing them a better way or another option. If all else fails, it may be time to consider a new organization altogether.

 

The Takeaway

Pay negotiation is a complex topic and a conversation that often elicits fear and self-doubt. But it doesn’t have to be. Remember: women who consistently negotiate earn more than those who don’t. By practicing these 8 strategies, you can be prepared to bring your strengths to the negotiation, confidently advocate for yourself, make room for creative solutions, and ask for exactly what you want.

Which of these tips will make a difference in your next negotiation conversation? Let me know in the comments!

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