6 Steps Every Woman Should Take for a Successful Salary Negotiation

I’ll never forget the time I spent several months preparing for a potential promotion by role playing the conversation with a friend who was in the same industry as me. She coached me on my responses and pushed me to be specific and firm.

After all of those months of prepping, I still botched the negotiation. In the moment the offer was made, I asked for a bit more, but not nearly what I had been planning to ask for, nor what was reflective of the role.

I spent many years catching up to the salary I should have been making.

And I’m not alone: Research shows that women are less likely to negotiate.

My fear reflex had an economic cost—and it also motivated me to help myself and others moving forward. I never wanted to be in the position of making less than I deserved again. (Did I mention the time I learned that I made 50% less than a male colleague in a similar role?)

After countless books, articles, seminars and practice conversations, here is what I have learned:

1.     Know What You Deserve

Do your research.

The internet has many resources for salary information, but it’s not your only option.  Asking others for guidance often proves even more valuable.

Every time a recruiter calls, inquire about salary to get general market values for your industry. I have been fortunate to have a network of people who told me what they thought were appropriate salary ranges for the kinds of positions I was interested in.

One leader told me her actual salary figure. Even more than the number, her candor made quite the impression on me. She told me: “We all rise together as women.” In turn, I have shared this with other women I have mentored through salary negotiations to help arm them with the information they need to be successful.

2.     Practice

Most people prepare for an interview by writing down notes and considering what questions they will be asked. It is equally important to practice the negotiation!

Find a trusted friend or peer mentor to role play the conversation. A friend on the job search recently asked me to practice negotiating her salary. I pretended to be the hiring manager and challenged her to respond as if we were truly in the interview process. I was able to give her feedback about her answers, and almost more importantly, her tone, her body language and her facial expressions. (Remember, negotiations are more than the words you say.)

Our preparation paid off—literally. She got the job and successfully negotiated her salary.

3.     Hold off Until the Appropriate Time

Oftentimes salary conversations start on the very first phone interview. (Note: I always recommend deflecting at this point.)

The recruiter may ask, “What is your salary expectation?” Initially, you can say that you look forward to learning more about the position and responsibilities, so you can thoughtfully answer the question.

If they really push, saying they want to make sure you are on the same page before they go any further, you could reverse the question and ask: “What is the range you have in mind?”

If you can successfully maneuver those questions until a later stage of the process, good for you! It behooves everyone to get a better sense of the candidate’s strengths and what the position entails before there is a formal salary conversation.

Then, when you get to the right point in the dialogue, you can be more comfortable saying, “This is the amount I am thinking of based on my research and information about other similar positions at similar firms.”

Don’t be afraid to make the first offer! Which brings me to…

4.     Ask for More

When I practiced salary negotiations with a male peer mentor, he challenged me to think bigger for myself. He shared his own strategies, namely:

  • Asking for the title he wanted
  • Putting a specific salary number out that was aspirational, but realistic
  • Leveraging his value to the institution with examples of past success.

His insights (and cheering from behind the scenes) helped me to grow my confidence in asking for a competitive salary and other benefits that would align with the role’s expectations and my strengths.

Along these lines, you should always know your I’m-walking-away-if-it’s-less-than-this number. Write down the number and share it with a trusted friend or spouse, so they can help support you if you waver.

5.     Stop Worrying About Being Liked (But Be Likeable)

Women have the double bind of having to negotiate assertively without being seen as aggressive. Of course, trying to be liked during a negotiation—or any business situation—can also backfire, as you will end up losing sight of yourself and why you’re really there.

The solution is to be likeable—or, in other words, keep being your usual pleasant self.

Position your negotiation as something that will help the company, too. Say things like, “I know we both want the same outcome here” or “I look forward to figuring this out together so we can advance the organization.”

 6.     Negotiate the Whole Package

A salary negotiation is more than just a number. What else is important to you in making this move—bonus incentives, vacation, professional development funds, flexible hours or working from home, comprehensive healthcare, maternity leave, retirement matching? It is worthwhile to rank these additional items for yourself so you can stay focused on what is most important.

Be prepared to ask for everything at once. It is a lot harder to go back to ask for one more thing after the employer thinks it’s a done deal.

Remember, negotiating is about problem-solving. It doesn’t have to be negative; reframe the experience to be about getting what you need and deserve while adding value to an organization.

If you’re still feeling nervous, think about how much more you will lose by not advocating for yourself in the negotiation.

And if you’re that person who has always been more confident advocating for others, rather than yourself? Keep this in mind: It has been said that when you negotiate for yourself, you negotiate for all women.

Looking for additional references? Check out Ask for It by Linda Babcock and Getting (More of) What You Want by Margaret Neale.