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Our HR expert gives five tips to help you come out on the winning side the next time you have to negotiate a salary or raise.

Photo credit: WOC in Tech Chat

Let’s talk about negotiating.

Most people, but especially women and minorities, aren’t very good at negotiating a good starting salary. For some, negotiating a salary and asking for more money is a hand-wringing, sweaty palm, stuttering mess of a process.

It’s natural to be nervous, but I encourage you to remember that at the end of the day, it’s just  a conversation: A two-way conversation with a possible employer or your current employer to come up with terms that will work for both of you. (Emphasis on both of you.) This is about you, so you have to be willing to go to bat for yourself. If you don’t do it, who will? If you want to take the plunge and negotiate for what you’re worth, consider the following strategies.

mater mea career columnist, Janet Asante. Photo credit: Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group
mater mea career columnist, Janet Asante. Photo credit: Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group

1. Get comfortable negotiating with your family and friends

Whether you realize it or not, you negotiate on a daily basis. You negotiate with your partner on managing the household, your children’s teachers or caregivers. For example, you may spell out your child’s needs and wants with teachers and caregivers to ensure that they’re being met. In essence, you’re advocating for them.

In the same vein, you must advocate for yourself when it comes to negotiating a salary. The key here is to practice stating your expectations and needs. Practice stating exactly what you expect and want during your daily interaction with friends, family, and coworkers. This will build your confidence when faced with formal negotiations.

2. Know your market worth

If you have a friend who works in HR, ask them the current going rate for your field. If they don’t know, ask them if they have contacts you can speak to. Go online and do some research by visiting sites like Salary and Glassdoor.

Another good tip is to use social media to throw out the question. Ask your followers to send you a direct message if they know a good starting place to get the answer to your research. The last resort is to cold call recruiters you don’t know—look them up on LinkedIn and tell them you are doing some research. Most of them will be open to sharing since you could be a potential candidate whom they can call upon in the future.

3. Begin negotiating only when you have a written offer in hand

Once you have received a written offer letter from your prospective employer you can begin the negotiation process. Be patient with the process. Don’t sweat it if they don’t call you back right away with their final offer. They’re most likely talking to internal folks about changing your salary. Let the recruiter work it out without you raising the white flag too soon.

4. Say “no” only when you’re ready to walk away from the negotiating table  

When you receive a low-ball offer, your main goal is to reach a higher salary. To get there, use phrases such as, “This is a good place to start, but I think we can get closer to my expectations.”

Ask the recruiter to tell you about the company’s benefits, year-end bonus potential, work schedule, work environment, vacation package, and any other perks the company offers. Thank them profusely for walking you through the total perks. Then ask directly if we can revisit the base salary. Give them the exact number you want. For example, if you want $75k, say, “I would like to make $75k and I want to know what I can do to get there.” At that point, be quiet and listen. The recruiter may say, “Let me see what I can do” or “That is too high for us.” Graciously tell him or her that you would like the both of you to think it over and connect within 24-72 hours.  

5. Consider other benefits

While most benefits and vacation programs cannot be negotiated, you can negotiate flex time and work hours. If you’re interested in working from home or work during a specific time, this is the time to bring it up. Don’t wait until you’re on the job. Inquire if they have a flex policy and ask how you can be eligible for it. For working mothers, having a flexible work schedule is much more important than money at times. Be sure to negotiate that upfront

When you get nervous about negotiating for what you are worth, remember that they decided to extend an offer to you for reason. You most likely knocked their socks off and you have everything they need to complete their team. So why not get what you need to be financially sound and continue with your professional growth?

This article is part of our Money series, focusing on both the hard currency and our feelings of self-worth. Read more articles in the Money series.

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Janet Asante is a human resources executive with 18 years of leadership experience and a successful track record serving as trusted advisor to executive leadership team members and employees from all walks of life. She has comprehensive HR leadership experience in private, non-profit, government and information technology industries. Janet is passionate about helping people of color bring their best self to work and navigate challenges at workplaces everywhere.


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