Before COVID caused a tidal wave of change in the way we work, salary negotiation happened only at specific times – when you got hired and when you had a performance review. But now with so many people rethinking their jobs and the pressure of rising inflation, employees are looking to have these conversations out of cycle more often.
As a conversation coach, I’ve also seen an uptick in clients requesting help with preparing for salary negotiation. The first question they ask me is, ‘Is now a good time?’ and my answer is an unwavering ‘Yes!’ Particularly now, if employers want to stay competitive and retain talent, they have no choice but to respond.
It’s important to prepare for salary negotiation. Some people don’t. They assume they will get the standard incremental raise, or they assume their dedication and hard work are self-evident. Neither are solid, strategic positions.
So how do you prepare for a successful salary negotiation? Here are my five tips:
1. Quantify your performance and value. People usually talk about the impact of their work using qualitative language. For example, ‘We really pushed hard and got this done ahead of schedule.’ But what did that mean for the business? Did that mean the business had five more days to sell 200 more shirts than projected? If so, say that. If you are in sales, you probably have plenty of reports at your disposal. But what if you’re on a team that doesn’t keep such clear data? You have to create it. For example, if you are in communications, how many media interviews did you secure, how many press releases did you write, how many articles for the intraweb did you produce? Putting a number – especially a dollar value – on your contributions to your team and the company helps to make your performance and value very clear.
2. Research competitive salaries. You’ve probably heard this before, but that’s because it really helps in providing a sort of reality check for you and your employer. Sometimes people don’t realize that salaries have changed. So make sure you go to your employer armed with information about competitive salaries for your industry, company size, job title and description – and location. Even in the WFH era, many companies are still determining salary, at least in part, by location. Have three to five examples ready to go to prove what you deserve.
3. Ask your coworkers how much they make. Yes, you read that right. I encourage you to break the taboo and ask your colleagues how much your employer is paying them. Not having these conversations only plays into the hand of the employer. Employers benefit from salary secrecy. They can hide biases and favoritism. But having these conversations can provide leverage for salary negotiation. It’s time that workers – non-union workers – have some solidarity and help each other out by creating this transparency, if the employer doesn’t do it already.
4. Have a specific request. Now that you’ve quantified your performance, researched competitive salaries and learned what your coworkers make, it’s time to refine your specific request. What exactly do you want? Think about a range that’s acceptable to you. Start with what you want – essentially your goal for this negotiation – and decide what you would accept. For example: I want $95K, but I’ll accept $90K. I won’t accept anything less than $88K, without any other additional benefits. Remember, your research should support your request.
5. Be ready to walk away. Salary negotiation can result in getting what you want or not getting what you want. You need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the latter, especially if you are in a situation where you already feel undervalued. There’s a chance your employer will simply say, ‘No.’ And if that’s the case, you might consider leaving your job for new opportunities. To evoke Country music icon Kenny Rogers, ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.’
Once you’re ready for salary negotiation, you can introduce the topic during your next one-on-one with your supervisor. If you don’t have that regularly scheduled time, you can send your supervisor an email requesting a meeting. You don’t have to mention salary negotiation – and I recommend you wait – until you are face-to-face with your boss. Go armed with your numbers, research and fact-based request and remember that no matter how it goes, you have options, especially in this market and new way of working.