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Job Hunting? Dos and Don’ts for Negotiating Salary

Five tips to help women negotiate a fair wage and close the gender pay gap

If you accepted your first job (or even your second, or third) at the offered salary, you’re not alone. Especially if you’re a woman. (This writer was so eager for employment that she said yes to her first job offer on the spot.)

While many job hunters find salary negotiation daunting, women are less likely to negotiate than men. A 2016 survey of more than 2,000 American employees by the company review website Glassdoor found that only 32 percent of women will negotiate for a higher salary when offered a job, compared with 48 percent of men.

“Over time, the gap just widens and widens, so no matter what the woman does, it’s very difficult, and almost impossible, for her to ever catch up to that man because she started from a point of inequity,” says Felicia Jadczak (Questrom’11), cofounder of the networking and education company She+ Geeks Out.

If the prospect of asking for more money makes you tongue-tied and sweaty, you’re not alone in that, either. “Salary negotiation for many people can be scary,” says Jesse Ohrenberger, associate director of career education at BU’s Center for Career Development. “What I hear a lot from students is: ‘The hiring manager will think I’m ungrateful’ or ‘It’s awkward.’ Negotiating is a high-stress endeavor.”

Ohrenberger tells students that not only is it possible to negotiate with employers, but it’s an expected part of the process. “It can have a really positive impact on your salary,” she says. “If you’re offered a salary, and that’s what you accept, then you miss out on any increases from there. If your company gives you a 2 percent increase next year, that’s a 2 percent raise on a lower salary, when you could have gotten a few more thousand dollars. By not negotiating, you’re leaving money on the table.”

Even if you end up negotiating only $1,000 or $2,000, it’s better to have that money in your pocket than in your employer’s. And $2,000 over five years is suddenly $10,000. And it widens that gender wage gap. Across the United States, reports show that women in a variety of industries make on average 49 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

This is not news. Plenty of politicians and employers have promised to do whatever they can to eliminate that wage gap. And yet it’s still here. Boston Women’s Workforce Council (BWWC), a public-private partnership between the city of Boston and Boston University, is doing something about it.

Centered at BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, BWWC promotes a level playing field for women’s pay around the region; its latest initiative is 100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact, which BU signed in 2018. As one of approximately 240 organizations that have signed the compact, BU pledged to eliminate any wage gap and submit its payroll data as part of a citywide analysis made possible through open-source technology that the Hariri Institute’s computer science team developed. The program allows employers to securely and anonymously submit their demographic and wage data every two years so that BWWC can measure the wage gap across Boston employers.

It’s one thing to collect and measure this data; it’s another to act on it. “We shouldn’t have to sit by and wait while executives or lawmakers decide for us how much we get paid and if we get paid fairly,” says Alexandra Howley, program manager of AAUW Work Smart in Boston, who runs free salary negotiation workshops. “Women need to have the skills and the resources to feel confident advocating for ourselves. We’re going to be a part of the solution.”

Here are five tips for negotiating a higher salary:

Photo of a miniature man and woman standing the same pile of change, symbolizing gender wage equality.

[1] Don’t reveal your current salary

“If you’re starting at a lower pay, and then you’re asked by a potential employer for your current salary”—and you provide it—“then that wage gap perpetuates over time,” says Katharine Lusk, executive director of the BU Initiative on Cities and a member of a city of Boston task force dedicated to closing the gap. You lose the “opportunity over the course of your career to properly negotiate from a level starting field.”

Additionally, not only is it unfair of employers to ask for salary histories—it’s now illegal. In 2016, Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation that bars employers from asking job applicants for their salary histories. Instead, employers must offer a figure as a baseline for negotiation.

[2] Know your own market value

In their negotiation workshops, AAUW and She+ Geeks Out encourage women to conduct preliminary research and benchmarking to determine a job’s market value—the salary range and average pay you can expect to earn. They recommend sites like payscale.com and salary.com, where you can select your location, years of experience, level of education, and other criteria that will position you along a salary curve for a particular job.

Jadczak suggests sharing this research with the hiring manager during an interview and asking questions about other forms of compensation, like equity and stock. It’s equally important to ask about the promotion structure, she says, how and when evaluations are conducted, and whether there’s an opportunity to request a salary review after six months instead of a full year.

[3] Record your accomplishments

Don’t just know the market—know how to market yourself. That means outlining the skills and experiences you have that will be of value in your desired position. And once you’ve snagged that job, record your accomplishments so you’re prepared to advocate for yourself in future wage negotiations. In essence, track everything, not just what’s listed on your job description.

“A lot of data shows that women, especially, take on a lot of additional responsibilities in the office, like planning holiday parties,” Howley says. “So, make sure that when you’re talking about your value to your organization, you’re not excluding anything. You shouldn’t be volunteering your time at your employer.”

This ongoing list of accomplishments will be crucial when it’s time to ask for a promotion. “Take what you do day to day and draw a straight line from your task to the impact on your organization,” she says. “Quantify everything you can to remove the emotional obstacles to negotiation.”

[4] Choose your moment

When should you ask for a raise? Many companies have annual reviews, which can be an easy time to bring up the issue. Another time to ask is when you’re coming off a big win at work. Approach the meeting as a conversation about professional development, Howley says; don’t title the meeting invitation “Salary negotiation.”

And before you make the ask, Jadczak suggests saying the request out loud 10 times before you go into the meeting. “The words will come to you much more easily, and you won’t feel put on the spot,” she says. “Don’t be embarrassed to bring in a written list of things you want to go over.” Also, have a backup plan for if your boss is unwilling to compromise on your title or salary.

Frame your request as a package, one that not only includes a salary range (shooting a little higher than your ideal minimum), but also factors in continuing professional education, flex and remote work time, vacation days, stock options, medical coverage—even pet insurance.

[5] Shoot for a target salary

“In doing your market research and thinking about your position, your goals, and your responsibilities within your organization, you should have selected what your target salary would be,” says Howley, who recommends anchoring that target salary within a range—if you are hoping for $60,000 a year, for example, then ask for $60,000 to $65,000. “Maybe they’ll meet you in the middle, but they also might meet you at your lowest offer,” she says. “So, don’t come in lower than what you actually want.”

If you go into the negotiation knowing your value and prepared to state the reasons you’re asking for a raise and why you’re worth it, then you’ll have a much better chance of success than simply asking for a raise, Jadczak says. “Go in knowing what you want, what you’re willing to budge on, and what you aren’t willing to make concessions on.”

And if, even armed with all of these tips, the idea of negotiating still makes you sweat, remember that it’s not personal. It’s business. “You’re not talking about your personal value,” Howley says. The data you’ve collected into an organized, practiced pitch will “empower you with information you can leverage to pull the emotion out of the negotiation.”

Lara Ehrlich can be reached at lehrlich@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Job Hunting? Dos and Don’ts for Negotiating Salary

  • Lori on 03.25.2019 at 10:53 pm

    Why would a woman want to mention when she helps around the office? Women are not here to manage parties order pencils or do other office “housework”. That does not show that we are more valuable.

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