The Negotiation

I was 26 years old and working at a fashion magazine when I discovered that a colleague who did significantly less work than me, was paid significantly more. On paper, this coworker, let’s call him, Samuel - because that’s actually his name - was doing the same exact job as me but in reality, I worked circles around him.

I showed up to work earlier than he did and I stayed later too. I was managing two employees when Samuel could barely manage himself. I cared about our customers and our brand. He cared about...well I have no idea what he cared about, but I know it wasn’t the job. Our boss had recently resigned and I was the person tapped by the CEO to keep the office afloat until they replaced him, not Samuel.

I felt honored when I was asked to keep the business running. My hard work was being recognized. But one day, while creating some budget reports, I came across a file of the team’s salaries and that’s when I discovered that shiftless Sammy was getting paid more. $20,000 more to be exact. I felt a flood of emotions: anger, shock, betrayal. I wanted to quit on the spot. I called my mother because she’s usually chock full of gems and unsolicited reality checks. In her soft Bajan accent, she bluntly said, “I don’t know how crying is going to help you. Call your boss and ask her why.”

"Could I do that?” I thought to myself. “What have I got to lose?” I couldn’t come up with a good answer to that one, so I did. I called my old boss and demanded to know why this lazy and mediocre man was making $20,000 more than me. She said:

"He negotiated his offer package and you didn’t.

Wait, what? I had never negotiated a salary before and I didn’t even know how. I assumed that you apply for a job, interview and then the company makes a fair offer and that’s that. I was dead wrong and I learned a very expensive lesson that day. Here are some gems I learned about never leaving money on the table and how to negotiate a job offer:

Companies expect you to negotiate. They have a salary range budgeted for every position and their goal is to save as much money as possible. They’re going to start on the low end because they expect you to ask for more and now, they have room to go higher. This keeps both parties happy because you’re getting what you want, and the company gets to stay within budget.

Do your homework. Research salaries in your industry by checking out and LinkedIn. If you know someone at the company, don’t be afraid to ask them to share their insider compensation knowledge. I know people don’t like talking about money, but that is a disservice to us all. The more we talk about our compensation, the closer we can get to equal pay for men and women, and remove the awkwardness of negotiating.

Be aggressive from the start. Expect to go two, maybe three rounds of negotiating, but have a number in mind that would make you happy. For example, if they’re offering $100,000 but you have your heart set on $120,000, then going in at $130,000 gives you both a chance to play hardball. This is why doing your homework is vital to a successful negotiation. If you go too low, they will think you’re not experienced enough for the position. What’s wrong with aiming high? Nothing. They’re now salivating at the mouth for you to join because people associate high cost with high quality.

It's not just about the money. There are plenty of things to negotiate beyond your salary. Some things I’ve negotiated in the past are additional vacation days, a flexible work schedule (ex: working from home some days or working from 10-6pm), your job title, your annual bonus/sign-on bonus, tuition or gym reimbursement and even equity in the company. In my experience, companies are much more willing to flex in some of these areas then on money.

Always negotiate. Even if you’re happy with the offer. There’s always wiggle room and I don’t want you leaving one penny on the table.

Yay! You've secured the bag (landed an offer) and now you’re ready to implement my little gems. What’s next? How do you kick off the negotiation? First, buy yourself some time. Send an email acknowledging that you've received their offer and you would like more time to think. Here's an example: "Dear Oprah, Thank you so much for the offer! I would like to take a couple of days to review it and discuss the details with my family.”

They will say okay and now it’s time to get to work on your counteroffer. You want a paper trail here, so I always recommend starting with email and then ending with a phone or in-person conversation if necessary. You can download this free template I use for every negotiation. I tweak the language to fit the offer, company, and position for each situation. Hopefully, you're all set for the next time you get a job offer, make me proud! 

Tell me, have you ever negotiated an offer package before? Were you nervous? What will you do next time to make the process less frightening and be more prepared?