The Secret to Getting the Salary or Raise You Deserve

Dana White, author of “Leader Designed,” was offered a fellowship at the Wall Street Journal — an impressive accomplishment and coveted position by any measure. But, she turned it down. She was working for the Department of Defense at the time, and says she was well past the fellowship stage of her career. 

“My position was, I have a job, I am an adult with a home,” White recalls. “So, I said no, and guess what? They gave me a [paying] job.”

White took a risk by standing her ground with the Wall Street Journal. After all, the high-profile paper could have rescinded the offer altogether. But, if women hope to close the gender pay gap (we’re still earning 79 cents to men’s dollar), White says we need to be more willing to say no. 

“That is biggest problem women have, we’re afraid to walk away,” White says. “Employers won’t give you one cent more than you say you are worth.”

Are you ready to take control of your career and get the salary, raise or promotion you deserve? White says the first step is getting very clear on what it is you want.

“A lot of times women walk into negotiation thinking, ‘What can I get?’” she says. “But, you should think, ‘What do I want?’”

Do you want to telecommute? Would you love another week of vacation? A company car? Or maybe you simply need more cold, hard cash. People have different priorities, so White says there are many ways to get what you want. In her case, when a job took her to Paris, she wanted a fabulous apartment, even if that meant she wasn’t being paid the highest salary.

“Someone made more than me, but her apartment wasn’t as nice as mine,” White says. “I didn’t feel robbed because I got what I wanted.”

When it comes to negotiating a starting salary, White says you should ask for at least $20,000 more than you currently earn. That might seem like a big increase, but White says there’s always a cost associated with changing jobs — an upgraded wardrobe or a longer commute, for instance. At a minimum, finding a new job takes time and energy, and it requires you to leave a familiar routine.

“There is a cost to leaving your comfort zone and you should charge your next employer for it,” White says. “When you make the move, make sure it is worthwhile to you.”

So, what it the best way to ask for a higher salary and what pitfalls should you avoid? Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, says the biggest mistake women make is simply not asking.

“Managers don’t tend to tap you on the back and say, ‘Here’s $10,000,’ or ‘Why don’t you apply for this promotion?’” Donovan says. “You can negotiate and do it wrong, and you’ll still be better off than not doing it at all.”

In fact, Donovan says 75 percent of the time, when people ask for more compensation, they get it. Keep that in mind the next time you’re feeling anxious about negotiating. Maybe you deserve $10,000, and you only get $3,000, but that is $3,000 more than you would have gotten if you didn’t ask.

That said, Donovan recommends aiming high in salary negotiations. You may feel hesitant, but you better believe that your male colleagues are driving hard bargains — and getting higher paychecks.

“For example, for financial planners in the U.S., the average salary is $62,000, but if you look at the average salary for just men, it’s $81,000,” Donovan says.

Donovan challenges women to embrace this simple truth: You work to earn money. When she says that to men, they laugh because it’s so obvious to them. But, for many women, it’s actually a revelation. When you look at how women migrated out of the house and into the workforce, it’s easy to see why many of us have a hard time believing we deserve to be paid fairly for our work.

“When women first entered the workforce, it was to support the war. Then in the 1950s, it was about getting out of house to do something,” Donovan explains. “So historically it hasn’t been about money. But now most households can’t survive without two incomes — and regardless, if you are good enough to get the job, you are good enough to be paid fairly for it.”

But, what about changing the world, being intellectually stimulated and making friends at the office? Those are all great benefits that come along with many jobs, Donovan says, but if you don’t care about what you’re being paid, then what you have is a hobby or a volunteer position. And, unless you have enough money to last through your retirement, you need a job.

“I’ve had that argument with many working women,” Donovan says. “Until we change our perspective, we’re allowing things that are systemically wrong to continue.”

Before you begin negotiating a salary or raise, arm yourself with plenty of information about the going rate for your job. While some salary information is available online, Donovan says to use headhunters and trade and professional associations as resources.

Lee Miller, co-author of “A Woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating,” says to periodically put yourself on the job market, even if you don’t necessarily want to leave your current position. That will give you information about your market value and, frankly, make you more attractive to your employer.

“Threatening to leave is counterproductive, but letting an employer know people are banging on your door will change their perception of how important it is to keep you happy,” Miller says.

Don’t wait until your annual review to start vying for more money. By that point in the year, Miller says budgets have already been finalized and salaries approved. Start laying the groundwork three to six months before your review by making your supervisor aware of your accomplishments and subtly and respectfully letting her or him know that other companies are interested in hiring you.

Miller says it’s important to note that the strategies that usually work for men in negotiations tend to backfire on women. While men are often rewarded for being blunt and direct, women who do the same thing are viewed negatively. Infuriating as that may be, Miller says negotiating is all about using our natural attributes to get what we want. Fortunately, Miller says studies show that people tend to believe what women say more than men. So, if a female employee hints that she is courting other offers, higher-ups may be more motivated to sweeten the deal.

“A man needs to take a tough tone or he is not believed,” Miller says. “Women, it is the exact opposite — if they speak in a firm, quiet and confident voice and stay with their position and don’t back down, people believe it, accept it and generally give in to it.”

 

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