Your comfort with asking for more money as you negotiate your salary for a job or a freelancing gig will depend heavily on how, when, and where you grew up. If you grew up in America as a white man, you likely learned never to take the first salary offer. As a woman or person of color, you were likely taught to take the first offer because there might not be another one. However, there are big confidence differences among women depending on which generation you grew up in.
Discrimination and negotiation bias (the backlash of behaving outside of antiquated stereotype norms) continue to play a large role in who is successful when asking for more money during salary negotiation. In fact, there’s a myth that women don’t ask for more money during negotiations as much as men. They do! The truth is women negotiate just as often as men but are less successful. In addition to possible discrimination and bias, the two main reasons for women’s lack of success is due to not being taught to clearly articulate their professional value and not learning how to accurately benchmark their target salary.
According to Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, “…by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career…”…[women] are leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime.”
If you don’t know how to ask for more money as you negotiate your salary, I am going to teach you how. As someone who has studied the art of negotiation and been successful in negotiating throughout my career, I can attest that strategic negotiation skills will literally compound your earnings over your career.
In 2017, I was certified as an AAUW Start Smart Facilitator. Start Smart is a salary negotiation curriculum designed to teach you how to negotiate your salary for a new job. The curriculum was first created by Evelyn Murphy, Former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and founder of The Wage Project. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Evelyn Murphy personally and she’s a gender equality role model of mine for her relentless pursuit of equitable pay policies.
The reason I’m talking about AAUW Start Smart is because I think everyone needs to do their free 2-hour online workshop. I’ll give you the quick version of their four basics on how to ask for more money in this article. The four basics are:
- Know Your Worth
- Benchmark Your Target Salary
- Stick to Your Strategy
Below, You’ll Find The Practical Guidance For How To Ask For More Money As You Negotiate Your Salary.
#1 Know Your Worth
Knowing your worth is an inside job. It starts with you and the thoughts you have inside your head. If your brain – or – inner critic tells you things like “You’re not worth that much.” or “You’re not good enough.” and you believe it, that’s where you need to start.
- Begin by tracking the negative thoughts you have throughout the day. Jot down when they occur, when they are the loudest, and whether anyone else is involved.
- After a few days of thought tracking, what patterns do you see?
- Now look at each thought and ask yourself: “What is the truth?” If you say it’s true, what evidence do you have that it is?
You want to find out how these negative thoughts about your worth started. It could be an emotionally immature parent who never paid much attention to your achievements. Or it could be the culture you grew up in that taught you modesty above all else. Only you can trace the roots of your feelings of unworthiness. Then, you can begin to ask for more so you can start to transform these thoughts into ones that positively support your career goals.
The second part of knowing your worth is learning what your professional reputation (or brand) is. Ask your manager, colleagues, and anyone else who is important to your career goals to describe you in three words or phrases. Do those words match up with what you’d like them to use? If not, this gap becomes your new homework. How can you become more like the professional reputation you want to have?
#2 Start With The End In Mind By Benchmarking Your Target Salary
I’m going to assume you already have a career goal outlined. It may be a certain job title, level in the company or industry, specific job perks like a sabbatical or access to an exclusive network, or to quit your job and start your own business. I’m also going to assume you have a certain amount of money in mind for the salary, perhaps from a quick Google search, insider knowledge, or maybe even a job posting. But, let me ask you: is this the wisest way to determine your target salary? I daresay it’s not.
Your target salary is the starting point for the amount of money you want to walk away from the negotiation with. It’s the base pay amount you will be earning, but doesn’t include benefits like health insurance, paid time off, retirement, and other job benefits.
The difference between the salary the company is offering and your target salary is why negotiation exists. It is safe to assume that an employer is not giving you their best salary offer because they expect you will negotiate with them to increase their salary offer. That means when you don’t ask for more money, you are literally leaving money on the table.
The best resource for benchmarking your target salary for a given job opportunity is to talk to people who currently work with the company or have worked with the company. “But Lindsey – you can’t just ask people what salary they make!” You’re right – that would be rude, especially if they’re strangers. But you can try your best to get any information you can about the salary range.
How to ask how much a job pays – AKA “What is the salary range for this position?”
In the U.S. it is completely normal to ask for a salary range for a position. By doing so, you’re reducing the risk of wasting your time if the salary doesn’t meet your expectations.
If the job posting does not list a range, here are 5 ways to determine how much a job pays so you can benchmark your target salary.
1. Ask the recruiter/hiring manager after an initial interview if you’re still interested.
2. Ask your network. Do you know someone who works or worked for the company that you can ask for a quick conversation? You can often frame it as a “conversation about company culture.” Then, when you get them on the phone and you’ve established rapport, let them know about the job opportunity and ask “do you have any idea of what I should expect in terms of a salary range?”
3. Ask in online groups. Affinity Slack groups like Ladies Get Paid can be great resources for salary information as women there often talk openly about pay. You can Google “[your industry] + online group” and see what comes up. If you don’t feel comfortable asking about salary in a public forum, ask if anyone has worked or works with the company and if they’d be open to a quick conversation.
4. Keep in mind where your work will be happening and the geographic audience of the company. With more and more teams being virtual and hybrid, companies are scrambling to figure out how remote work plays into employees’ compensation. When it comes to your target salary, think beyond where you live. Think about where your company’s clients/customers live.
5. Head to the big 5 salary research sites: GlassDoor.com, PayScale.com, Salary.com, LinkedIn.com, and Indeed.com. If the job title you’re searching for is not a common one, do your search based on your top three job responsibilities. Are you a woman working in tech? Consider industry-specific sites like Elpha.com.
While you’re doing salary research, you’ll most likely find reviews from current and former employees. Read them! See what people have to say about leadership, culture, advancement opportunities, employee benefits, professional development, and anything else that is important to you. A valuable website for workplace reviews for and by women is InHerSight.com. There you can find 50 Best Companies to Work For based on their active reviewers, including what makes them so great!
#3 Stick To Your Strategy As You Explore If They’re Open To Negotiations
During your company research, you may have stumbled across anecdotes or heard from employees about a company’s willingness to negotiate. Sometimes the job listing will say “Salary negotiable.” Even if you don’t see an indication of being open to negotiations, my rule of thumb is to assume they are. You can do so by simply asking “Is the salary negotiable?” or “What do you have budgeted for this position? Followed by, “Is there any flexibility in your budget?” This shows that you take your value seriously and have the skills to pitch your strengths in a persuasive way – a skillset that is very much needed in any profession.
How to ask for a higher starting salary
The best time to negotiate is when you are initially hired at a company. It is much more difficult to negotiate raises after you’ve been hired. Which is why you want to ask for the highest starting salary that you can at the beginning.
You may have noticed I have been using the phrase “salary range” and that is completely intentional. Research shows that there is a greater chance of being successful in a negotiation if you ask for money using a range versus a single salary number. For example: instead of “I’m asking for $65k,” you’d say “I’m asking for $65k-$70k.” Providing a salary range shows you are open to negotiation and considerate of the company’s needs.
Since you already know what your target salary is, put that at the bottom of your salary range and then increase it for the number that is at the top of your range. There is no “one size fits all” model here. It is an art to determine this upper number. It is part research (what’s the upper end of your salary research tell you?) and part gut intuition (what do you think you can get away with?). Generally speaking, the higher the starting number, the wider the range can be. Example: $135k – $160k is fine. $45k – $70k is too wide even though it’s still a $25k difference.
Should you “give away” your target salary range if they haven’t told you what the salary is yet? It depends. If you know what skills are worth and you have a specific salary range in mind, it makes sense to be upfront about your salary terms.
What happens if they ask you “What are your salary expectations?” You deflect their question by saying “I expect to be fairly compensated based on my skills and what you have budgeted for the position.” If you are asked about your salary history, you can politely decline to answer this question. Many states have made this practice illegal because it has created large gender and racial pay gaps.
Regardless of the details you speak about in your negotiation, the goal is to stick to your strategy.
Should you ever do a salary counter offer in email?
Your negotiation anxiety may cause you to consider a salary counter offer in email. Do not do this. You are at a disadvantage when you negotiate over email because you do not have verbal and nonverbal cues to guide you. When you are in-person or over Zoom, you get to hear the person’s tone of voice, and see their body posture and facial expressions. You can use these to your advantage to inform whether your negotiation is heading in the right direction (or not).
Once you are through negotiations and have a verbal compensation agreement, ask for the full compensation package in writing. This is crucial. Look through all of the language to make sure it matches with the end result of your negotiation conversation.
What to do when the offer is already on the table.
When you have an offer already on the table, your brain will tell you that this is their best (and final) offer. It is not. One of the best negotiation tactics is to be silent. Ask your question about the budget or state your salary range and be quiet. Give the other person time to consider. Silence does not mean they don’t like you as a person. It means they are considering the case you have made for the additional money. The person you are negotiating with has a budget to consider. They are also trying to figure out how to approach the negotiation, which means it’s completely normal to have moments of silence.
At the beginning, I mentioned that salary is your base pay. A total compensation package is made up of salary and benefits. Once you have agreed upon your salary, you can negotiate for benefits beyond pay. Things like additional paid (or unpaid) time off, specific healthcare, family leave, work environment, etc. You can get more ideas in my article – Beyond Pay: 32 Benefits to Negotiate for as an Employee.
#4 Practice negotiating.
Whether you realize it or not, you negotiate several times a day. This is good news because you have many opportunities to practice. The next time someone asks you for your time, don’t automatically say yes. Tell them you’ll get back to them and propose it in a way that benefits you. “I can’t do it tomorrow, but I can give you 15 minutes on Thursday at 3pm.”
By practicing your negotiation tactics when the stakes are low, you will increase your chances of being successful when the stakes are high – like for a job you really want.
Does negotiation still feel a little uncomfortable for you? Don’t worry – you’re not alone! I have a free webinar for you to continue building your negotiation skills.