The first time I asked someone on a date, I had a mini panic attack. To this day I honestly don’t know if he said yes, I couldn’t hear him on the other end of the phone. As soon as I uttered those words “Wanna go out?” the adrenaline kicked in and all I could hear was the blood rushing through my ears and the voice inside my own head screaming “Get off the phone, get off the phone, get off the phone. RUN!”
That feeling took me by complete surprise—I was utterly terrified. As soon as my hands stopped shaking and I could think clearly again, I determined I would never feel that way again.
Starting the very next day I began my new routine: I would daily go to some kind of social event, select the most interesting men there, ask for their numbers and make phone calls the following day asking each of them on a date.
For a couple months, I had quite the dating funnel:
Asked for 40 numbers/week
Turned into 6 dates/week.
I was a busy bee, but I tell you what, I’ve never since been nervous about asking someone on a date.
The one weird trick to getting over something that scares you is just doing it.
That lesson has stuck with me through the years and when I felt myself getting nervous about salary negotiations in my recent interview cycle, I committed to fully investing in getting past the discomfort and negotiating to the utmost.
By golly, I was going to get a little better and more comfortable at this if it killed me.
Monday, 3 days after my final onsite at Yammer, and my recruiter emailed asking for a time to “talk about an offer” that afternoon.
Elation. I was so excited to join the team.
Nerves. I had two hours to prep for that call.
Research. I double checked my research on compensation for the role.
Advice. I reached out to 4 trusted friends to walk through what I was planning to say.
Practice. I rehearsed versions of responses for every reasonable scenario.
Tick, tick, tock. The clock struck 3 and I struck a power pose. He called and the dance started.
The team really liked you. I really liked them. You really impressed them. They really impressed me. They’re super excited to extend an offer. That’s wonderful news.
Then he popped the question: “In order for us to put together a competitive offer, can you share what you’re looking to make?”
I responded with a measured, honest, and extremely well-rehearsed:
“Salary is not the number one motivating factor for me in this decision. I’m really excited about the challenges and opportunities at Yammer, and I’m sure the team will put together a package that we’re all happy with.”
I was very intentional about not naming a price. There’s a lot of negotiating advice about being the “Second Speaker.” The first person to name terms will anchor the conversation at that point. If we’re negotiating over a box of Thin Mints and you say we should split them evenly, you’ve established a low bar from which I can negotiate up.
By not naming a price or a range, I was forcing my recruiter to set the low bar and giving myself limitless room to pull that up. My recruiter of course was interested in getting me to speak first and put an upper limit on the conversation.
He didn’t directly ask again, but for the next 5 minutes-that-felt-more-like-30 he tried to get me to name something.
Disarming: “Microsoft doesn’t low ball. I hope you’re not concerned about that.”
Helpful: “Some employees have unvested stock from current roles that we can take into account and make whole.”
Compatriot: “You know, there’s always some levers we can move, but it’s easiest if we can get some more information on where you stand.”
At every turn, I was calm and warm, giving subtle assurances that I didn’t see us as competitors, but staying firm in my decision to not name numbers.
The tension was sky high and I was so uncomfortable. I vented excess energy throughout the conversation by continually walking up and down a flight of stairs, only pausing when I needed to control my breathing. The whole conversation was excruciating.
But I did it.
The conversation ended well and without either of us naming a single number. He went to discuss potential packages with the team and we made plans to talk the next day more concretely.
Tuesday. My recruiter called from his cell phone in the late afternoon. They had a package approved, but he was out of the office for the rest of the day and wouldn’t be able to get the information to me until the next day.
That was fine with me. I had managed to line up a number of final interviews within the same time frame—one of the few pleasures afforded to unemployed job seekers—and was looking to make decisions by the end of the week. I shared this information and we agreed to talk the following morning.
That night I had drinks with my sister and we discussed how I would respond to specific compensation packages.
If it was on the lower end, I would ask for a big increase, but above a certain number on base, I would probably ask for a slight bump and accept whatever the counter was.
But wasn’t the whole point of Monday’s dance so that I could ask for more if they offered toward the upper bound of my expectations? My sister reminded me of my commitment to this process and encouraged me to hold strong.
“If they offer that high end, ask for $15,000 more. Do it for the practice of doing it. Do it for the women who don’t ask. Do it for yourself. And if you don’t feel comfortable making that much more, donate it with Microsoft’s fantastic donation matching!”
Wednesday. He called right on schedule and after a short greeting we got into it pretty quickly.
He started listing out all the details of the package and I quietly listened as every second passed by like molasses. It’s remarkable how long the pauses feel when everything in you is straining to maintain composure.
After naming the base salary, he paused, expectant.
It was on the upper bound of my expectations.
Many thoughts were thrashing in my head, but I let the silence hang as long as I could and then gently voiced a noncommittal “hmmm….” He moved on to other factors and kept quiet till the end.
When he had finished, I asked a couple of clarifying questions and then responded:
“Again, I’m really excited about the team, and parts A, B, and C seem on par with what I’d look for here, but … I was looking for $15,000 more in base.”
Woosh. There was the blood rushing in my ears, just like that moment years ago. But I knew to expect it and managed to focus past it. I waited and listened as my heart pounded on.
My recruited didn’t miss a beat. He said he could check on it with the team. However, he needed to know that the extra $15K would make me sign on the spot, that I would stop my conversations with the other companies and commit to Yammer. I said yes, I had no reservations and would love to accept the offer if he could match that request.
“I’ll call you back soon….” He hung up and went to work on my behalf.
A couple hours later he called back with a revised package that effectively met my requests. Sure, some pieces moved around a bit, aligning more with long-term incentives, but that was just fine with me.
I successfully practiced a challenging and scary thing; I ended in a good place, both in terms of employer relationships and compensation package; and I learned a number of things I can share with other women (and men!) anxiously walking into salary negotiations.
- Silence is your friend.
The pressure to speak is overwhelming. But the ability to say nothing is more powerful than most of the words you could possibly say.
- Find honest ways to defer commitment.
Try to put the pressure back on your employer to find the best package for you, this will help keep you from leaving money on the table. But remember, you have to speak from a genuine place. It will keep you grounded in the tide of this conversation.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more.
If they care enough to make you an offer in the first place, they aren’t going to rescind it just because you asked for more. If there’s budget there, they’ll try to offer that. If there isn’t, they may get creative with other incentives (mentoring, access to c-suite, educational bonus). At worst, they will just say they’ve offered you the best they can.
- Know your BATNA and use your leverage.
The BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) is a beautiful concept developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their 1981 classic: Getting to Yes.
Simply put, the better your best alternative is, the more leverage you have in a conversation. And don’t be afraid to bring it up! By being in talks with other companies, I was positioned to walk away if need be. With that leverage, I was able to trade those conversations for the financial edge I wanted. Find your BATNA and share it openly when the time is right. Oh, and go read that book!
Thanks for reading my story here—I hope it helps you find a way forward in your next negotiation. If you enjoyed the read, please give it a recommend so others can find it as well.
Until next time, keep learning and stay uncomfortable,
P.S. We’re hiring more Product Managers (in SF, Seattle and London). More info on the job posting here!