How to negotiate your salary without leaving money on the table

One tip: Don't talk money too soon.

Ashley Brown leading a salary negotiation workshop in Boston.
Ashley Brown leads a salary negotiation workshop in Boston. –Courtesy of the Mayor's Office of Women's Advancement

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Women working full-time in Boston are paid, on average, 76 cents to a male worker’s $1, according to data collected in 2017 by the Boston Women’s Workforce Council. Furthermore, African-American women make 52 cents and Latina women make 49 cents, respectively, to a white male worker’s $1.

“We know that women aren’t being paid the same money for the same equal work [as men],” said Tania Del Rio, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement. “So the goal of these workshops is to close the pay gap.”

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She’s talking about the City of Boston’s free salary negotiation workshops that are geared toward women (though men can also attend). Through the program, called American Association of University Women (AAUW) Work Smart in Boston, nearly 8,000 women have received training since 2015, Del Rio said.

Ashley Brown of Dorchester works in higher education and is one of several workshop facilitators. She said she felt empowered after attending the workshop herself and became a facilitator because she wanted to help other women. She’ll teach her next workshop on Sept. 19 from 6-8:30 p.m. at Workbar Back Bay, located at 399 Boylston St. It’s one of several upcoming workshops offered this fall.

Brown offered the following six tips for negotiating your next salary.

1. Document your accomplishments

Head to each job interview with a list of your successes at your current job, Brown said, and remember to keep track of those achievements on a regular basis.

“Don’t wait until your annual review to look back and try to recall your workplace ‘wins,'” she said. “Carve out that time on your calendar every month where you will kind of do a review of yourself.”

Brown said one workshop attendee told her she keeps a “brag folder” on her computer and dumps items like thank-you emails and other professional acknowledgements into it.

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“It’s a quick and easy way to capture the little things that we sometimes take for granted,” Brown said.

Then, turn your successes into value statements, Brown said. In other words, tell the company for which you are interviewing how your aforementioned wins benefited your employer.

“[It means] converting what we think is a small task or small win or accomplishment and really stretching ourselves to say, ‘OK, because of that accomplishment, I was able to provide these results or this particular positive outcome for this company,'” she said.

2. Know your rights

Per the updated Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, which went into effect on July 1, potential employers can’t ask you about your salary history, Brown said. You also shouldn’t volunteer that information, because it could you in danger of being pigeonholed into a particular salary range, she said.

A question that potential employers can still ask you, according to Brown: “What are you hoping to make?”

“Sometimes that is a tactic that we’ve seen early in a job interview or a job review process,” Brown said. “But what we teach in our workshop are deflection tips to help people avoid sharing their target salary too early.”

Which brings us to…

3. Don’t talk money too soon

You want to learn everything you can about a company before discussing salary, Brown said. Therefore, she teaches workshop attendees how to deflect if a company brings up money too early.

“You could say, ‘I’d rather learn more about the role before I set my salary expectations,'” she said.

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According to Brown, by answering in this professional way, you’re acknowledging — not ignoring — the question, but also delaying your answer. That means the company will learn more about you before negotiations, and you won’t risk turning off a company before you’ve had time to provide your full qualifications. Additionally, by postponing salary talk until a company learns more about you, it’s possible that a company will find more money in its budget to pay what you are asking because it feels you are such a great candidate, Brown said.

4. Do your research

Brown tells workshop attendees to go to salary.com and payscale.com to figure out the salary of the job they seek.

“We do have tools today to allow us to do research on what the marketplace is demanding of someone with our profile,” she said.

Once you determine the salary you want to aim for, Brown recommends presenting it in a scale instead of giving an exact number.

“It shows flexibility and it increases your likelihood of hitting at or above your target salary,” she said.

Here’s how Brown suggested figuring out your range: Once you do your research on the aforementioned websites and have a salary number, place that number at the bottom of your range, and then stretch your range upward by no more than 20 percent. For example, if you determine the salary for the position you seek is $50,000, your asking salary should be $50,000 to $60,000, because 20 percent of $50,000 is $10,000.

5. Use collaborative language

Negotiating with words such as “we” and “us” is more optimal than using one like “I,” Brown said.

“Collaborative language makes the conversation less personalized,” she said. “Sometimes these conversations dovetail on the personal side and we start to say, ‘I need this,’ or, ‘Somebody of the same level is making more than me.'”

Keep the talk strictly about the work and your value, Brown said. Avoid referring to personal financial problems such as the debts you owe, your growing family, or your spouse’s employment situation.

“I think, sometimes, the anxiety builds up when you start to talk about [salary] negotiation,” she said. “But it should not feel like a battle. Negotiation should feel like a regular conversation.”

6. Always negotiate

Should you negotiate your salary even after a company offers a salary higher than you expected? Yes, Brown said.

“If an employer has already revealed their range of what they were thinking about for that position, there’s more money to be had and there’s more money in that tree that you can shake out,” she said. “You always negotiate, even when you are offered a number that’s at or above your target salary, because employers expect you to negotiate.”

Brown said that sometimes women tend to “humbly accept what we’ve been offered and not want to rock the boat.”

She said this needs to change.

Instead, she said, women should think to themselves: “Someone who needs someone of my profile will pay for that, and they’ll pay top dollar for that.”

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