You’ve been working like a madwoman—“leaning in,” as they say—but you’re starting to realize that you’re not getting paid all that well. Maybe you’re about to start a new job and want to make sure you don’t get screwed on salary like you did last time around. Maybe you’ve been offered a promotion… but not a pay increase. Or maybe you’re a freelancer who negotiates every single day. In any case, asking for more money can be terrifying. Most women don’t even attempt it. This isn’t because we’re weak. The truth is that gender stereotypes make it harder for women to negotiate on their own behalf.
But you’ll never make what you’re worth if you don’t ask for it. Here’s how.
STEP ONE: DO SOME RECON.
Your first phase is all about gathering information. How much do other people make for similar work? This could mean people in roughly equivalent positions at similar companies or organizations. It could mean people of similar seniority within your company. It could mean other freelancers who’ve contracted to do similar work. And how do you obtain highly sensitive information about how much other people have gotten paid? Use your network. If you have a professional mentor (lucky you!) or know someone who’s worked at this place before or held a job with a similar set of responsibilities, ask them if they’ll share some salary intel with you. If you don’t know such a person, ask around and try to get informally connected to someone who has. This is a great time to start building a professional network—from which you’ll reap rewards far beyond salary information.
If you really don’t know a single person, you can also use public sources like employment ads with salary ranges listed, GlassDoor, or industry-specific sites like WhoPaysWriters, but I’ve always found personal connections to be more reliable. If you’re reaching out to a total stranger or a friend-of-friend, it often helps if that person is a woman and you can appeal to her by noting that, hey, we’re all living in a post-Lily Ledbetter world and we just want to get the same salary a man would for similar work.
STEP TWO: ARRIVE AT THE NUMBER.
Taking all of this info into account, come up with a number. This is the salary level or freelance rate that, based on your research, you have objectively concluded this position warrants. This is your baseline. It’s as low as you’ll go.
Now let’s talk about you.
STEP THREE: CONVINCE YOURSELF YOU’RE WORTH MORE THAN THAT.
It doesn’t matter if this is your dream job and you would be thrilled to do it for free. It doesn’t matter if this salary is almost double what you make now and you believe no employer in their right mind would pay you this much. It doesn’t matter if you’re single and childless and have convinced yourself you can survive on near-poverty wages.
Especially if this job is in a struggling industry in “transition” or at a nonprofit, you might be telling yourself that it’s wrong to want more. After all, you didn’t choose a career in finance or corporate communications! Your heart is in it. Maybe you feel like asking for more money is taking away from your coworkers’ salaries, or detracting from the mission of the startup or organization for which you hope to work. This is bullshit.
YOU’RE WORTH IT. We’re talking about work, and you deserve to be fairly compensated. You fighting for more money does not necessarily mean there’s less available for your future coworkers or for other freelancers. Presumably you don’t have access to the overall budget, so let your boss worry about that. You? Worry about your future—both immediate and long-term.
That’s right. This negotiation is about your long-term future. Because there’s no set of criteria or checkpoints to ensure you continue getting raises—in many fields the traditional HR department has more or less evaporated and people have dozens of jobs in the course of their career. Switching jobs is your best opportunity to ensure that you continue to raise your salary.
Ok. So now you’ve got the number you think the position should pay, and you’ve banished the little voice within you that says you’re not worth it…
STEP FOUR: INCREASE THE NUMBER BY 50 PERCENT.
This is the salary or rate you’re gonna aim for. Hahahahaha, I can almost see the shocked look on your face right now. But YOU ARE WORTH IT.
I know it feels competitive out there, but finding and hiring the right people is really, really tough. If you’ve made it to the point of salary negotiation, that means you’ve already jumped through so many hoops. This employer wants you. This employer needs you. And you would be so good at this job.
STEP FIVE: BUILD YOUR CASE.
You’re going to ask for the number from Step Four, your upper limit. And you’re not going to go below the number from Step Two. Because you are a baller.
Now that you know your acceptable salary range, it’s time to get ready to negotiate for it. Remember all that research you did? Summarize it in a few paragraphs. You want to be able to concisely explain why, even without factoring in your own ample experience and glowing personality, this position should pay you what you deserve. Then you should also assemble some facts about why you’re so great for this job—try to assemble it like the Harper’s Index, chock full of numbers and percentages. Again, it should feel objective. For example, don’t say how all of your clients love you. Do give the percentage of your clients who are repeat customers.
STEP SIX: ASK FOR THE MONEY.
Lots of places will ask you what you make now as a starting point for negotiation. Don’t lie about your current salary, but if it’s much, much lower than what you’re hoping to earn in the new position, your task is to continually refocus the conversation on the fair market rate for this type of work—and why you deserve that rate, regardless of your current (probably depressed) salary.
Tell your future employer that you hope to earn that upper-limit number from Step Four.
This is why you’ve done your research. It’s not “The salary I’d like is…,” it’s “The industry-standard salary for this level of experience and responsibility is…” Sticking to your research will help you stand behind your number, even if your Step Three pep-talk is starting to fade from your memory. Practice saying this number in front of the mirror until it feels totally natural.
And remember: You’re already doing great just by negotiating. Most women—74 percent—don’t ask for more.
STEP SEVEN: LOCK IT DOWN.
They may surprise you and say sure, we’re happy to pay you that! (This is how you know even your upper number was too low, and to ask for a raise at your soonest opportunity.) Congrats!
But they might come back with something lower. Do not go lower than your Step Two lower-limit. Be polite and relentlessly upbeat, but firm.
Odds are, you’ll get what you want. Or, at the very least, more than they were offering when you began the negotiation.
Congrats on negotiating like a boss.
BUT WHAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK?
Once they say this is as high as they’ll go—and it’s still not high enough—you might still be tempted to take the job. Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m considering working for less than I know I’m worth: How does this fit into my overall career plans? Will this job be a springboard to something better in one year? Two years? Five years? And what will I gain from this in non-monetary terms: Great training? Excellent exposure?
If you do decide to take the job anyway, communicate these non-monetary factors to the person who’s hiring you. Most hiring managers want to be able to pay you more. When they can’t, it can help to explain what you hope to gain from taking the job anyway, so your boss can make sure you get that training or exposure. Your willingness to negotiate shows how serious you are about being valued, and how committed you are to your long-term career prospects. Your bosses will be motivated to help you in those efforts—and if they’re not, they won’t be surprised when you start applying for new jobs a year later.