Art-a-Month September
The One Hundred

Salary Negotiation

Negotiating can come in handy when your shoes come untied, too. Thanks Chris!

In graduate school I earned a master's degree in environmental science but I think that one of the most useful classes I took was called, simply, Negotiations. It was offered through the Yale School of Management (I attended the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies). In the class we learned about using negotiation appropriately and successfully in lots of different scenarios but the skills I learned have been especially helpful for salary negotiation.

Something that we learned during class that I found very interesting is that women and men typically approach negotiations, such as for salary, differently. Men tend to view a salary negotiation as being purely business and might enjoy the back-and-forth of trying to secure the highest salary. Women, on the other hand, might worry more about the emotions of those involved in the negotiation and if they will come across as ungrateful or aggressive if they counter-offer a salary. Our teacher stressed that negotiating a salary is expected by employers. When a job and starting salary are offered the employer isn't going to retract the offer if you respond with a counter-offer to the salary. Apparently this is a common fear that women have that can prevent them from negotiating a salary.

Since graduating I've gone through two salary negotiations and one raise negotiation at the two different jobs I've had. For my first job I was able to negotiate a salary higher than their initial offer as well as a $3,000 signing bonus. When I was offered my second job (the job I currently have) I was offered $52,000 and there was no flexibility or potential for a signing bonus. However, I did receive a promotion and $2,000 raise six months later. Although I was very happy to get a promotion and raise the amount of the raise was for less than I had been hoping. Based on some salary research, including statistics put out by the Yale School of Forestry, I felt that $58,000 was appropriate for my position. Remembering my lessons from the negotiations class I decided to have a discussion with my director.

It took me a few days to work up to it but finally I had the confidence to go to my director. I went to her office (I was so nervous!) and said that while I was very happy about the promotion and taking on more responsibility that I felt, based on my performance, that I deserved to be making more money. She was quiet for a moment and then said, "I am so impressed that you came to talk to me. I know that took a lot of courage". Whew!

After that we had a conversation about my salary and she explained the reasoning behind the raise that I was given. The ending to that negotiation is bittersweet in that my director was unwilling to increase the amount of my raise. However, I do feel proud that I asked for what I felt I deserved and took an opportunity to make an impression on my director.

Even though negotiating a salary can be intimidating I am convinced that it's important - even though it can be nerve racking! Being prepared always makes me less nervous so while I'm certainly not an expert I'd love to share some tips and lessons that I learned in my class and from my own experience:

  • Research! Whether the negotiation is for a salary at a new job or to discuss a raise at your current job, you should arm yourself with as much information as possible about what others in your position make. Try to find out what the salary range is for someone with similar education and professional experience. It's most helpful if you can find state or city specific data since cost of living factors into what employers are willing to offer. And don't sell yourself short: "Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks" from Women Don't Ask.
  • Consider the value of the "whole employment package" and not salary alone, especially when negotiating a new job offer. Some companies may not have any flexibility on salary but they may have room to negotiation other benefits such vacation time, conference and professional development funds, health and 401(k) benefits, a company car or mileage reimbursement, work schedule (such as working from home or working a flex schedule), relocation costs if you have to move, or even getting a desk/office with a view
  • Ask about career advancement for someone holding your position. This is not only a way to show initiative but gives you an idea about what kind of timeline is typical for taking on more responsibility and the possibility of promotions and raises. 
  • If you are unable to negotiate the salary you want, ask about a timeline for re-evaluation and the specific skills or responsibilities necessary to get a raise. This gives an opportunity for a follow-up discussion as well as specific achievements to work towards.

If you'd like to read more about negotiation technique and salaries, there's great information here, including resources for salary research.

All of this is not to say that a job is only about money. What really matters is how engaging, challenging, and rewarding a job is - no matter what the pay. At the same time, receiving fair compensation, and being able to discuss what is fair, is an important part of any job.