How to Negotiate Salary: 15 Things You Should Actually Say

woman negotiating her salary

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How do you negotiate your salary, or a promotion? There's a lot of advice out there, so we're not going to waste your time by rehashing what you can easily find online. What we have to say focuses on two aspects of salary and promotion negotiations we think are very important for women, and don't get enough airtime.

First, we've put together a list of 15 actual things to say that might come in handy when you're feeling tongue-tied in a salary negotiation with your current or prospective employer, or trying to do sensitive but critical research to prepare for it. Let us be clear: we're not advocating that you walk into a negotiation with memorized verses that may be completely inappropriate for your situation. That would lead to strange, tone-deaf conversations. That said, sometimes the most practical advice is literal. We think it is always helps to hear what other people have said, and you can adjust these ideas to your personality and context.

Second, most advice about how to negotiate your salary tends to be generic. Meaning, it tends to treat men and women the same way even though studies repeatedly show that women (a) tend to negotiate less of the time, and (b) may have to take on a different negotiating style in order to succeed. At the risk of generalizing about half of the population, the lines we have collected below are ones we think many women would feel comfortable saying, or that may be particularly useful for women.

So without further ado, here are 15 things you can actually say when you're preparing for, or in the process of negotiation:

1. "I love what I'm doing and I believe the company has really grown/benefited/changed because of the way I've contributed to X and Y. These improvements one reason I'd like to talk to you about getting a raise/promotion."

This type of sentence is standard fare in negotiations, but that's not why we start here. We start here because this -- or something similar -- is what you need to say to yourself before you say it to anyone else.

The best way to convince someone else to give you more money is to believe you deserve it. This is quite a serious and practical piece of advice, despite sounding "touchy-feely". Studies show that women commonly suffer from a confidence gap that hurts them at work regardless of their actual competence and qualifications.

Many recruiters say that confidence is very important in salary negotiations. So what do you do if you have doubts about whether you actually should get a higher salary? First, realize that most people do (with the exception of a handful of completely narcissistic, ego-maniacs). Nobody is perfect but that shouldn't stop you from believing you deserve a raise or a higher salary.

Second, attack each doubt head-on. Make a list of every reason you think you may not deserve the raise or higher salary. Then, go through the list and provide a counter-argument for each issue. While you're doing this, you may end up creating an even better affirmative statement than the one you first started with. It may also help you to put yourself in your best supporter's shoes when you provide these counter-arguments. What would your best friend, spouse, and strongest advocate for you say?

Studies show that women tend to feel more comfortable and are judged by others more favorably when we negotiate on others' behalf rather than our own. The phenomenon has been described as the "Mama Bear" stereotype. Well, if you make a conscious effort and add some imagination, you may be able to turn that strength into something that works for yourself.

2. "I'm considering a new position. Do you know how much a [X title] typically makes at [Y kind of company]?"

Yes, doing your research means you will have to talk about money. 

Most women are very uncomfortable talking about financial matters. To make things easier, try to talk to people whose job it is to have that information. Recruiters are one good source because they have a comprehensive view of an industry and are often trying to be viewed as thought-leaders in the space. They will sometimes publish annual salary reports.

Human resources employees in your network are another source of information. You may have to ask for introductions to their connections, if they don’t know the answer or much beyond a large salary range. It may still be helpful to hear what they have to say. 

3. "Hi Mark, my friend Beverly said you might be able to help me out. She told me you're a fellow Marketing Director. I'm in the advanced stages of interviewing with a company for that role and I'm wondering whether you think a salary range of $X-$Y is competitive in the marketplace."

One way to reduce tension when asking for salary information among friends and acquaintances is to share your own information, however vaguely.

4. "What do you think a Communications Director at a mid-sized, growing tech company in the hardware space should make in Silicon Valley? I'm looking for a new job and it would be great to get some ideas."

To virtual strangers within discussion boards, you can simply ask questions about salary with reference to the size of your company, your prospective or current title, and any other information you think is pertinent, such as location. There are many specialized professional communities online (e.g. ones for doctors, hedge fund analysts, pharmaceutical salespeople, software engineers) and many provide a forum to pose questions like these. Sites like Salary.com, Payscale, and Glassdoor also provide useful salary information.

If your job role is unique, you're an executive, or you work at a smaller company where salary information is harder to come by, you will have to do a deeper investigation. For example, if you're evaluating an executive or management position, or very high profile role, consider comparing it to jobs whose salaries are reported in the public domain.

Public companies require officers and director compensation to be reported and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Even if you aren't working at a public company or in a C-suite position, you can still use these compensation figures as a benchmark since its fair to assume many of those individuals did research on their pay. Find comparable job responsibilities or similarly sized companies or divisions to the one you are joining -- especially at competitors.

5. "Hey Joe, I'm about to try to pitch my manager on a promotion and it would really help me out if you could let him know what you thought of how my recent project for Client X was received."

In other words, ask others to put in a good word for you.

While you should aspire to be your own best advocate, the reality is that sometimes someone else may be more influential than you simply because they are already are a trusted friend, colleague or acquaintance of the person with whom you're negotiating.

Say you are negotiating with your current manager for a raise. Perhaps a colleague in a different department or a close client is the right person to ask for a recommendation. You can ask someone you think your manager will respect to put in a good word for you, and you don't have to over-explain. 

6. "I'm so thrilled [about your offer]. We've discussed so much about the position and my background and I've gotten really excited about it. Since the only major thing we haven't talked about is compensation, I just wanted to make sure we're roughly on the same page."

If you think this dialogue looks strange, that's because it is. Most people wait until they are given an offer before they react, much less negotiate. Our advice is the opposite. We think you should ask for the pay you want before you receive a numerical offer. This will ensure you control the "anchor" figure in your negotiation.

Anchors are well known to be highly influential in negotiations. Studies show that one of our cognitive biases, i.e. tendencies that are beyond conscious, rational control, is to complete a negotiation around the first number put forward. It turns out that we illogically fixate on the first number and it ends up looming larger than any number that's subsequently raised during the negotiation.

Simplistically speaking, there are generally three possible "anchor" figures for any salary negotiation: (a) your most recent salary, (b) your employer's offer, and (c) what you tell your employer you want. If you control the anchor, you get to pick the number that has outsized influence in the final outcome.

This may not always be possible. But if your prospective employer calls you to say "Hi Amy, we're really excited to be able to extend an offer to you" and then pauses -- this is your chance to jump right in!

7. "The salary I'm asking for is directly based on my salary history, education, training and qualifications. So you can consider $Z a guide."

One of the reasons most job candidate don't get to put forward an anchor figure of their choosing is that they have previously answered a recruiter or hiring manager's question about their most recent salary or salary history.

So our advice is guarded about this information (assuming that the answer is not to your advantage, of course). You have no legal or moral obligation to share your salary history and though it may seem unreasonable to not provide it, here are a few different answers we think are better alternatives to answering the question directly.

8.  "My most recent salary was much higher than the one you're offering. In fact, sharing it seems unfair because the company was experiencing major growth at the time. For this role and given my skill set, I think $X is appropriate."

9. "The pay in my last role isn't very relevant here because it was for a pretty different role and set of responsibilities. I'm really focused on how important this job's deliverables are, which is why I think $Y is a reasonable salary."

This statement can also come in handy if you already gave in to persistent questions (or previously disclosed) your salary history. It allows you to explain why it may not be relevant to base your current offer on your salary history alone.

10. "I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer. I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer. I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer."

No, we don't literally think you should repeat yourself. But our (belabored) point is to practice. Very few people are good at negotiating because very few people practice. You should enlist the help of your partner, spouse, friends and family (or at a minimum, your mirror).

Rehearse some of the lines you anticipate using, and say them until you're very comfortable. Practice will make the awkward moments feel just a bit more comfortable, and we've found that saying numbers aloud really does make the real conversation feel easier.

11. "You realize you're hiring me to run our deal teams, so you want me to be good at this."

These words are taken straight out of Sheryl Sandberg's mouth from her negotiation with Facebook.  In other words, Sandberg made it a point to emphasize why it was legitimate to be negotiating in the first place. This is something that negotiation experts say is particularly important for women who can be socially penalized for asking for more. 

Studies show that women can be viewed more negatively than men for negotiating for the same things because of social perceptions and unconscious expectations that women should be "nice" and not "too demanding".

12. "This is the last time I'll be on the other side of the table."

This is the second thing Sandberg made a point to say. As a result of the social stigma women can experience when they negotiate, this statement is meant to encourage women to pursue negotiation in a collaborative manner. In other words, it may sometimes be helpful to explicitly point out that you don't generally hold a"me against you" mentality. 

13. "
Look, I don't mean to create an awkward situation but I really think I'm the best person for the job and I  hope we can get to a number that will be a good foundation for a great, long-term relationship."

Sometimes you simply need to acknowledge and diffuse a conversation that's gotten too heated for your liking. Saying something like the above can make everyone relax. It also acknowledges the fact that negotiation is typically uncomfortable for everyone involved and that it's a short-term issue for the sake of a longer-term equilibrium.

If you've reached this point, sometimes its best to simply take a break and let the message sink in. Plus, you should have already decided whether you have a "walk away" number and whether you would accept "no" for an answer.

14. [Repeat the number.] Say "Hmmmm." Or say nothing at all.

Silence can be golden. One of our favorite practical tips from salary experts is to be silent when you need more time to react, or think. Or perhaps, you simply don't know what to say.

Silence can play to your advantage. Nobody likes uncomfortable silences and you can use this type of delay tactic to buy you time to think. 

15. "Thank you very much. I need to take some time to consider this."

If you think you need more than just a to consider an offer -- or to prepare to negotiate it -- don't feel the need to respond and nod, or say "OK". Being agreeable too quickly is something that can cost you thousands of dollars, and you're not being disagreeable simply by asking for more time.

A new job is a big decision that may require some more research and thought. Most recruiters agree that employers will not think it odd for you to take some time to consider an offer so long as you express enthusiasm for the role and have provided some reasonable timeline for getting back to them, or a reason for your request.

While its never easy to ask for more, it can be well-worth the effort of practicing a few of these lines in order to minimize the difficulty of thinking on your feet during awkward moments. Regardless of the outcome, most people tend to regret not negotiating. You've taken a big step in attempting to do it -- so good luck!  

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