Mary Beth Ferrante

If you never negotiate your starting salary, you're potentially leaving a million dollars on the table throughout the course of your career.

That's a lot of money to miss out on just because you don't want to “cause any trouble.” Statistics show that women struggle with asking for what they’re worth time and time again. One study found that half of men will negotiate their salary, compared to just 12 percent of women. Adding insult to injury, women are only being paid 79 cents on the dollar compared to men (of course, the negotiation and the wage gaps are also more than a tad bit related).

When it comes to determining compensation, women are also working within a broken system. The prescribed approach until this point in history has been to base compensation off salary history rather than pay for the position's scope of work. This perpetuates wage inequality. As Laslo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google explained to the Washington Post: "By paying for the role, not the person, you start with a clean slate and mitigate any bias embedded within [the employee's] prior compensation. In other words, you correct the pay bias that exists in society."

Unfortunately, not all companies are on board to correct past pay bias like Google. So, what's a job seeker to do? Taking these three steps will ensure your negotiation talks are a success:

1. Be prepared

Expect that the recruiter and hiring manager will ask about your salary history and requirements, and come to the interview prepared. It may seem early in the interview process to be discussing salary, but you should be ready to talk money right off the bat. I can’t tell you how many times I've had clients tell me that they got flustered when they were asked about salary during an interview — so much so that they wound up revealing what they were making currently without doing their homework on the prospective employer.

When you're asked what you're making, make sure that the number you're giving includes everything in your current benefits package — not just your base salary. This number should include your base, bonus, benefits like your 401k match, paid vacation and health insurance.

You'll also want arm yourself with an understanding of reasonable salary expectations based on the going market rate for the position, experience required and cost of living in your area. Career resources like Fairygodboss, Glassdoor, Salary, and Comparably can help you figure out what the typical salary range is for the jobs you're pursuing.

2. Conquer the fear

Most of my clients aren't comfortable negotiating salary. When I ask why they're hesitant to negotiate, the responses I get are almost always tinged with fear. My female clients in particular seem to worry that the offer will be rescinded if they ask for more money — or that they'll appear ungrateful by asking for more.

Here’s the thing: As long as you're coming back with an educated ask that reflects the market rate and your specific experience level, there's no reason that a company should rescind a job offer. Most companies expect you to negotiate, so they'll throw out a lower number to leave room to meet your ask. In fact, a female recruiter once told me that she always feels a twinge of guilt when her female candidates don’t try to negotiate, because there's nothing that she can do to increase their base salary if they don't ask!

In the rare event that a company does rescind the offer, step back and ask yourself, honestly: Do you really want to work for this company? Rescinding an offer is a huge red flag. A company that is unwilling to even entertain negotiations makes clear that it does not value their employees.

Negotiating doesn't make you ungrateful. Not showing your enthusiasm, on the other hand, will make you seem unappreciative. When you're offered the role, reiterate your strong interest in the position and the company first. Then, follow your genuine excitement with an ask about your salary.

3. Don't be the first to give a number

There's a saying in business: The first person to give a number always loses. That's also true when negotiating your salary.

However, sometimes it's tough to get your interviewer to state their number first. If you've tried dodging the question a few times and your interviewer keeps insisting they need to know what you're currently making, my favorite way to address the question is to put it on the hiring manager or recruiter. For example, “I’m focused on making an impact here at your company. My research shows that the industry standard pays around $75,000 - $85,000 for roles with a similar level of responsibility. Is that pay range consistent with the budget you have for this role?" This shows the recruiter or hiring manager that you’ve done your research and that you’re aware of the “going rate.” It also establishes a baseline for the discussion that is in line with the job you will be doing versus your previous positions.

Bottom line: You'll never know whether or not you're leaving money on the table if you don't ask. When interviewing, come prepared with an educated ask, push past the fear and request the amount of money that you know you deserve. Don't be the one to say no!


Mary Beth Ferrante is the owner and founder of Live.Work.Lead., an organization dedicated to supporting women in navigating their careers and personal lives. Prior to founding Live.Work.Lead. Mary Beth was an SVP of Business Strategy for a Fortune 100 company. She regularly hosts workshops in the L.A. area and is slated to speak at As We Dwell co-working space on February 7, 2018, and at General Assembly Los Angeles’ Women in Tech Breakfast on February 15, 2018.