Negotiation has never been a skill of mine. Conversations about money always make me uncomfortable, and rarely have I felt in a position to ask for more money, largely because I’ve always been grateful someone was actually paying me to work.
The first time I ever asked for more money was when I was taking a position in communications for a big law firm in the city. The magazine I was working for had gone belly up, and though I was still doing digital media work, the company’s financial situation was a mess; people were getting laid off like crazy. So I started spraying my resume all over, and this position came up.
I interviewed with the firm comms team, and it went well. A couple days later I had a job offer. The pay was good; much more than I’d been making as a magazine editor.
“Ask for more,” my friend told me when I told him I was likely to accept the position.
This advice seemed crazy to me. The salary was higher than anything I’d ever made before. What if they said no? Worse, what if they got upset and pulled their offer?
“They won’t do that,” said my friend, who is a successful corporate banker. “They clearly like you. The worst thing that will happen is they’ll say no.”
I decided to give it a try. Replying to the firm’s hiring officer, I explained that I was interested in the position, but the money was a little less than I was hoping to receive, throwing out a figure $5,000 or $6,000 a year higher than the offer. Would they be able to meet me in the middle?
The hiring officer said they believed they’d made a fair offer considering my current salary and experience, but they said they’d meet my request in three months if I accepted the position and was meeting their expectations.
I said that was fine and accepted the job. Three months later, I got the raise.
Now, I won’t tell anyone to employ the strategy I did. I only relate the story to illustrate how nerve-wracking it can be to ask for more money—and to show the benefits of not selling oneself short.
But Morning Brew recently interviewed career coach and self-advocacy guru Sam DeMase, who has a bit more expertise on this issue than yours truly. She offers some good advice. Here are six tips to consider if you’re going to be talking money with your employer (or future employer).
1. Know Your Value in Your Role
The first thing DeMase says is that it’s important to know what you bring to the table. Experience matters, but only because it can help reflect a more important quality she mentions: value.
The value you bring to a company is why they pay you. You might be a really great person, but that’s not why you’ve been hired. You might be a really hard worker, but ultimately being a hard worker is not why you’re there either. Being a hard worker can enhance your value, but it should not be confused with value.
When DeMase says “know your value,” she’s echoing a point Jeffrey Tucker made in a FEE article several years ago.
“You are paid only for the value that your day-to-day work brings to the firm,” Tucker explained. “The firm has to believe that you are bringing in more value than you are being paid—not the same and certainly not less.”
2. Be Prepared
Like Scar says in The Lion King, be prepared. Talking money can make people nervous, and nervous people tend to ramble. This, needless to say, isn’t an ideal way to enter a salary negotiation. One way to avoid this is to make sure you’ve done your homework, perhaps by creating notes in advance (this depends on the situation). As DeMase points out, having a few “we” statements prepared ahead of time—whether they’re on paper or in your head—won’t just stop you from rambling; it will help you be precise in your requests and create a feeling of collaboration. It will also ensure you know important information, such as the going market rate for your position.
“Ninety percent of your success in a negotiation comes in the prep,” DeMase says.
3. Be Transparent and Direct
I once lost out on a job I really wanted because I was too squeamish to make my salary request in a simple and direct way. I hemmed-and-hawed. I beat around the bush. Pick your colloquialism.
It’s a common mistake, and DeMase said it often stems from people undervaluing themselves. She suggests “flipping the perspective” to see all the things you bring to the company that you might not have internalized.
“This job is really to have me,” she says. “I’m incredible. I’m epic. And I do a great job here and contribute to the business on a daily basis, and I make an impact.”
I’ll stress here that DeMase is talking about mindset. She’s not suggesting you tell your boss you’re “epic” and demand more money. What she’s saying is that you should have the proper mindset when you enter a negotiation. As Tucker explained, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed, ashamed, or squeamish when you sit down with your boss to discuss compensation.
“You know what everyone wants? More money,” he writes. “There is no shame in that. You should feel absolutely no guilt about it. It is a given. A fact of the world. If your employer is outraged that you would dare ask for more, there is really a problem.”
4. Know When to Ask for a Raise
We all want more money, but it’s not always the perfect time to ask for more money. Some times are more optimal than others.
“You’re going to want to ask when you have an increase in the scope of your responsibilities or scope of role,” Demase explains, “or when you’re working outside of your job description.”
This doesn’t mean you’re forbidden from asking for a raise in the absence of increased roles or responsibilities, but it certainly helps. Why? Because it’s a reflection of the value you bring to the organization (see item #1).
If you’re fulfilling your job description and working beyond it, positively impacting the company and hitting your goals, it might not be a bad time to have a conversation on comp.
5. Don’t Bring Your Problems to the Table
Most of us, at one time or another, have been hurting for cash. But as DeMase stresses in her video, the key to negotiating a higher salary is showing the value you bring to the company. Saying you need more money because your mom is sick or your dog needs knee replacement surgery doesn’t speak to the value you bring, and could actually come off as unprofessional or desperate. Tucker offers sound advice when he says people should resist the urge to share personal details when asking for more compensation.
“Everyone has problems. Everyone wants more money. What you are bringing to the table are skills, drive, and value to the firm,” he writes. “That, and not personal need, is what you are seeking to demonstrate.”
6. Be Prepared for the No
Both DeMase and Tucker agree on this point: you should be prepared to not get the raise you’re requesting.
“You need to prepare your mind for the no,” DeMase explains.
How one chooses to respond to “no” is up to them. DeMase says this is where the negotiation really begins, and suggests pressing on with a request (cordially) and restating your value proposition. Tucker suggests shaking hands, thanking your employer, and getting back to work.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. The reality is some employees will offer enough value to get the raise they’re seeking, while others may not.
My advice is to take no for an answer, but lay the groundwork for a future raise. Find out what you need to do to get to the salary you want. If your employer declines, it may indicate it’s time to seek alternative employment opportunities.