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Ladies, we have to do better at salary negotiation: Here's how

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

According to a survey of 2,700 employees by Robert Half in 2018, only 34% of women surveyed tried to negotiate a higher salary. While it's possible some of the women didn't need to negotiate because they applied for positions which fit their salary range, that explanation would still leave a large number of women who just didn't try to negotiate a higher salary. Ladies, if we want to try and close the gender pay gap, we're going to have to do our part*.

*Note: This is not to say that fixing the gender pay gap is all on us, ladies. There are many factors beyond our control that play into women being paid less than men. However, if we can focus on the factors that are within our control - like at least trying to negotiate a higher salary - then that will bring us that much closer to closing the pay gap.

But hey, I get it. Asking for a higher salary than we're initially offered is intimidating. This can be especially true if you're a woman just re-entering the workforce after starting a family. If you had trouble even getting that job offer in the first place, it can be terrifying to then raise the potential for losing out on that job by asking for a higher amount.

The thing is, I've rarely seen an employer rescind a job offer simply because the applicant asked to be paid a higher (not outrageous) salary. Instead, what usually happens is the employer says, "No, we can only pay you $X amount. Take it or leave it." And then you decide if you're willing to work in that position for that amount.

Which means that, for the most part, the worst case scenario for trying to negotiate a higher salary is still accepting the position at the same pay rate as initially offered. And the best case scenario is that the employer accepts your counteroffer and you get paid a higher salary!

If there's little to lose by negotiating a higher amount, why aren't we doing it?

According to Joanne Lipman's book, That's What She Said, women don't negotiate a higher salary because we don't know what we're worth and/or we undervalue ourselves. (See book excerpt here)

So here are a few suggestions to help you better determine what your skills, experience, education, and accomplishments are worth in the work place.

1) Recognize that salary isn't determined by your worth as a person, but by the worth of your experience, skills, and education as related to the job

This seems obvious, but the first step to salary negotiation is recognizing that the amount offered is a reflection of how much the employer thinks your experience, skills, or education are worth in that role. The salary is NOT a reflection of your general worth as a person (assuming the hiring manager does not have any gender or racial biases.)

This means that regardless of what amount you counteroffer to negotiate a higher salary, that amount needs to be back up by solid reasons for why you deserve that higher amount.

But first, let's find a baseline for the salary average you should be shooting for.

2) Identify the national and local salary ranges for positions in that field

While it would be great if employers told us up front what the pay range is for a posted position, that happens too infrequently to be something on which to depend. Instead, you'll need to do a little sleuthing. Lucky for us, the Department of Labor has done a lot of the legwork for us! If you visit O*Net Online, you can use the search bar in the top right corner of the page to look up your general position. You'll then be presented with a list of jobs to choose from. Try to choose one that is the closest (or exact) match to your position. Once you narrow your selection down, you'll then be presented with a summary report all about that job (here is an example of a Summary Report for a Medical or Health Services Manager) .

Scroll down that summary report page until you find the Wages and Salary Trends section. You'll be able to see the national median wage in that section. If you want to see a breakdown of average salary ranges for your state, look for the Local Salary Info button (located below the national median wage info. Click that button, select your state, and you'll then be shown a page with a list of High, Median, and Low salary averages for that job.

Here is an example of the local salary average for Medical or Healthcare Service Managers in Maine.

These numbers are a great place to start when trying to find a baseline for what salary you should ask for. You can then determine whether you fall into the Low, Median, or High end of this range based on your experience in this field. If you're just starting out, you'll probably land on the lower end of that salary range. If you have a few years (at least 3) under your belt, then shoot for that median range. If you have a lot of experience in your field, then you'll want to aim for the higher end of that range.

Having at least a baseline for the salary amount you should be shooting for will help keep you from accepting low-ball offers. And if a hiring manager low-balls you, your first reason for a higher counteroffer will be: "While I'm excited about the position, I do feel that I should be starting at a higher salary, especially since the national average median for employees with less experience than I have in this field is $X."

Now that you've hit them with research, follow up with the next step.

3) Determine the top 2 reasons why you deserve to be paid more than the initial offer

The first step to convincing a hiring manager that your experience, education, and skills are worth $X amount is to first convince yourself that you're worth that amount.

To do this, you need to review your past accomplishments, experience, education, and skills as related to this job. You're going to need solid reasons with actual examples to back you up here. It's not good enough to just say, "Well, I'm really good at closing the deal, so I should get paid more. " Instead, it should be, "I feel that I'm worth $X amount a year since, in my last position, I regularly closed 20% more deals than my peers. Applying that skill to the Sales Executive role, I know I'd be able to boost your overall business-to-business sales which would make my desired salary more than worth it for your organization."

Even if you don't work in a field that lends itself to metrics or quantifiable accomplishments, you should still be able to give 2 solid reasons for why your experience, skills, education, or past accomplishments put you at a higher salary level. To identify these 2 reasons, you might ask yourself:

  • Did I regularly complete projects/tasks within timeline or under budget?

  • Was I the "Go to" person other employees asked for help?

  • Was I regularly asked by management to train new employees or take on extra projects?

  • Did I improve any processes, procedures, or policies that improved safety, increased customer retention, boosted sales, streamlined production, etc.?

Use the above questions to help identify your major accomplishments. If you're still stuck, review the job description in order to identify any duties, responsibilities, experiences, or skills that the employer listed as highly desired in the job description. Another, even better option is to think back over the interview process for that position- did you notice the hiring manager's eyes light up when you discussed any particular experiences? Or did they outright express what made you a top candidate? If so, then this is something you'll want to bring up during the salary negotiation.

See if the following fill-in-the-blank sentences help you craft a counteroffer:

"With my experience in ______________ in which I __(talk about solid accomplishment from last job)___, I'd be able to help the organization/department/team _____________ which I feel is worth $X amount a year."

Follow that up with:

"I also feel that $X amount is more in line with my __(X Years of Experience and/or X Level of Education)__."

Having these phrases handy (along with knowing your baseline salary) before you even go into the interview will not only help you feel less nervous while negotiating a salary, but will also make you feel more confident before the interview by reassuring you that you're a great fit for the job.

And while a hiring manager is unlikely to make an offer at the end of the first interview, if they do, you'll be prepared with a response!

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