I remember the first time I negotiated a salary. After the initial base offer was made, I submitted a counter offer that was 50 percent more than the initial offer given to me. I knew that I was slightly overqualified for the work and that what they’d offered was simply their base. It was a large company and they weren’t in the progressive habit of paying their employees more than they had to. Though confident in my counteroffer and my worthiness, I was terrified. Given my level of experience I knew it was at least what I deserved, but I was certain I was going to be shot down - laughed out of the office in fact. And then, something absurd and miraculous happened. They said, “Yeah, that sounds fair. We can do that.” And that was that.
Early last year, I was sitting on the opposite side of the table. I was getting ready to hire a part-time contractor for a marketing position at Cora. She was in her early twenties and a recent graduate with about 9 months of work experience. Because I’d never hired for that role before, I put the ball in her court. “Tell me what you think is fair compensation for this position,” I said.
I assumed she’d bring me a single figure and we’d go from there. Instead she submitted a detailed analysis of comps for the role based on our industry, the position, our company’s age and size, her degree, her years of experience, and the job’s location in San Francisco. She gave me a high, medium, and low scenario and made a case for where she felt she fell on that spectrum.
As an employer, I was impressed; I’m not sure I would have been so bold at her age.
And in truth, her figures were a bit more than what I wanted to pay. When you’re a startup there is a constant tension between attracting and keeping the best talent and being conservative with your capital.
But, in the end, I was willing to pay her what she asked for because it was in the realm of what was reasonable per the evidence given, and also because in this first assignment, before she’d even officially been hired, she had already exceeded my expectations and displayed her thoughtfulness and initiative, not to mention her confidence to ask for what she was worth.
It was hard to argue with the facts.
A few practical takeaways as you are interviewing:
1. Preparation is Key
Know that your first project in any new job starts before you’ve gotten the offer. That is, if you want to put yourself in the best position possible as a candidate, you must know ahead of time what the market rate salary or hourly is for the position and how your specific degree, level of experience, and location might alter that figure. Showing that you know what you should be paid goes means your prospective employer lowers the likelihood that they’ll try to pay you less than you should get. And again, because most candidates don’t do their homework you will impress any prospective employer with this level of knowledge and initiative.
2. Advocate for Yourself
Don’t assume your employer is doing any legwork on your behalf. For all you know they are basing your salary off of an outdated market rate or on the salary of a former employee who held the position--whose experience or background might bear no resemblance to yours.
3. Be patient
Don’t commit to an offer in person or at the first interview. You have a right to take 24 hours to consider it. If you’ve followed step 1, you’ll know right away if they’re in the range you’re after or not. Take a day and come back to them either with a yes or a well-articulated counter.
4. Focus on your ROI
Never ask for a certain salary level because “you need this much to afford to pay your bills”. Employers don’t care how you cobble together the money to pay your bills--they care about fairly compensating you for your contributions, and seeing positive returns from their investment in you. How you manage your life and expenses is your responsibility, not theirs.
5. Take stock and know your worth - then ask for it
Ask for what is reasonable and also what you feel you deserve--not what you think will make your employer feel like they’re getting a deal. Compensation is both art and science. This is a moment to really take stock of what you bring to the table, what you have yet to learn, and how hard you know you will work in this new role. Don’t worry--they will look out for their own interests, so you should look out for yours.
Be fearless throughout this process. I know, it can feel daunting. But you are smart and qualified, so what’s the worst that can happen? It’s this: they say no to your salary proposal or you don’t get the position. If you’re honest with yourself through this process, do your homework, and they really want to work with you, you should be able to get to a place you’re both happy with. And if they aren’t willing to give you anything near what you believe to be fair, ask yourself, do you want to work in a place that undervalues you from the start?
In case you’re wondering, the answer is always no, no you don’t.