We all remember our first time … reaching a big financial goal. The planning! The stress! The self-doubt! And then, finally, that massive sense of accomplishment (and relief). In our “My First Time …” series, LearnVest asks people who’ve reached huge money milestones how they did it — and for lessons they learned along the way.
Here, a young professional shares the four essential steps that helped her successfully negotiate her salary.
The first time I negotiated my salary, I was totally terrified. It’s one thing to bring up pay when you’re interviewing for a new job because, duh, it’s expected. But in this case, I was an hourly contract worker and wanted to negotiate a full-time position with the same company.
To a recent grad and contractor like me, the concept of a set salary seemed mythic and adult. And the thought of bringing up compensation — in other words, putting a number to how much I was “worth” — with a brand-new boss was panic-inducing, to put it mildly.
But here’s a spoiler alert: The salary negotiation itself was extremely undramatic. I got an offer I was happy with. And the reason the actual negotiation went so smoothly is because I prepared for it. I walked into that room knowing how much to ask for, how to back up my request and — scarily, but importantly — how to say “no” if I needed to. Here’s how.
1. I set a meeting with my boss
My first step was making it known that I wanted to negotiate salary in the first place. I had been contracting with the company for a few months, and I was ready to take on more responsibility with the appropriate title for it. I emailed my boss that I was ready to tackle more, and I wanted to talk about the salary that came with that.
Then, my focus for the next few weeks was to prepare for our meeting like my life depended on it.
2. I made a comprehensive list of everything I did at work
I tried to be realistic, not fall prey to imposter syndrome (thinking my success was a fluke instead of the result of my skills), and think about why I was an asset to the company. What did I bring to the table that was unique? What sort of work did I help on that wasn’t included in my job description? Writing down how awesome I was at my job helped me believe that I could and should aim high for my salary goals.
3. I did my research and gathered lots of data
Once I really saw all that I was doing, it was time to crunch the numbers on how much it was worth. I asked my friends who worked in the field what they made when they had a job similar to mine. I also checked resources like this salary calculator from Glassdoor. I settled on an exact number after seeing research that suggests you’re better off negotiating with a specific figure rather than a range.
At this point, I had a list of my tasks, recent achievements and the precise number I wanted to be making. These together became a sort of vision board for myself — something to look forward to, not dread. This helped to alleviate the anxiety I felt about the conversation itself.
If, after all this, the number they offered wasn’t what I wanted to be making, I planned to politely (but firmly) advocate for why I should be making more and the value I bring to the company. I knew at that point if they still didn’t meet my salary expectations, it was time to walk away from a company that didn’t value my skills.
4. I gave myself time
My last piece of advice came from my father, a lawyer who would disown me if I didn’t read everything I ever signed. He made sure I understood that nothing is official until you get it in writing. Entering the meeting with this in mind helped me to be patient and take the time I needed to think about the offer.
During the meeting, I let my boss name the salary number first because she had come prepared with an offer (reinforcing the importance of Step 1!), and I didn’t want to inadvertently ask for less than they were offering. Letting my boss make the first move also gave me the upper hand to counter for more if I needed to with my supporting facts to back me up.
When we finally got to the number — which ended up being above what I had in mind — my initial instinct was to accept immediately. Because hey, it was my first real salary! Instead, I pushed those feelings aside, kept a level head and asked for a few days to think it over and see the offer in writing. Three days later, I happily accepted.
Of course, not all salary negotiations go this smoothly. A lot can depend on your role, your company or even your industry as a whole. That said, it speaks volumes to kick off the salary conversation yourself. Discussing my strengths with my boss set a positive mood, showed that I meant business, and that I had come prepared to prove myself.
Now that I’ve done it, I’m confident I’ll use these steps to prepare for future salary talks. These exercises helped me understand — and advocate for — my worth. They gave me both the confidence and the numbers-backed leverage to get the salary I deserved.