The Truth Behind My Own Salary Negotiation Experiences

The Truth Behind My Own Salary Negotiation Experiences

No one teaches you salary negotiation in college or business school.  It is one of those things you just have to figure out on your own.  But, what you negotiate at your first job will affect the salary of all of your future jobs.  I wish I knew that.

My first real professional job was when I was still in my junior year of college.  I felt very lucky to even have a job not to mention the fact that they were paying part of my tuition in exchange for my 105-20 hours per work each week. Score!  So when the salary of $26,000 annually was offered to me, I thought great! That was more than I ever made before and I was really not working full time there anyways so it didn’t really matter. Any money was better than no money, right.  So there was absolutely no negotiating at all.  I just said sounds good, took the job and I was happy.  Looking back I just shake my head, I mean what was I thinking. I was truly unprepared for my first professional job. Why hadn’t ANYONE told me anything about negotiating and how important that first salary was.  Not my professors, not my parents and surely not my friends because salary was ALWAYS a taboo subject.  (None of my friends had jobs anyways so it didn’t really matter).  I just had no idea what the right salary was that I was supposed to ask for and so naive to trust that the employer was treating me fairly.  So that was my first experience in salary negotiating. It involved no salary negotiation.

A few years later, I decided to stay with the government after graduation and worked my way up to a better salary.  (Still at no point in time did I ever ask for a raise, I just took what they gave me every year.  What was I thinking!!) After working with the government for 3 years, I started looking at other options and was particularly interested in consulting.  Little did I know that the experience I gained working with the government was exactly the experience that this consulting firm needed and wanted.

Now I know a little more than I did then.

Having worked for this company for many years and hiring others, I know I was an obvious hire. I was a needle in a haystack because of the experience I had.  The problem was, I didn’t do my research so I didn’t know even how insanely awesome I was to this company. Because I was so infatuated with the company and the type of consulting work I would be doing, I didn’t care what they paid me. I was just so excited because it was the perfect job for me.

So I did a lot of research on the company but not the real behind the scenes research. In hindsight, I knew someone who worked at the company from my church, so I should have talked to him about it.  Why didn’t I get the details of what exactly they did so I could know how well I fit this opportunity? I am not sure why I didn’t but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes.  When the dreaded question came up from the senior manager  “What are your salary requirements?”  Keep in mind that this is the same senior manager who had just intimidated me by asking me how many dentists there are in the US.  I was flustered and had been great in the interview until that question.  So I was already a bit perplexed with her questions and then she asked me what salary I wanted.  Well, at that point I thought I might be losing the interview because I didn’t know how many dentists were in the US, I mean who does?  (I later learned that this interview question is just to see how someone handles the question. No one actually expected me to get the right answer.  They just wanted to see my thought process, duh!)

So the background of my salary history, I had done a great job at my government job and had steadily received promotions from $24,000 to $40,000 in the couple years I worked there. I was proud of my promotions and I thought I was paid fairly. I mean none of my friends or co-workers talked about what they earn so I really had nothing to compare it to. (Which is exactly why I am sharing numbers with you! I am breaking the taboo!) So ready for my answer to this question?  I told them, “Well….right now I make $40,000 so I would like to make at least $42,000.”  Yes, that is only a 5% raise in my salary I asked for and I didn’t even give them a range! Looking back, I know that when you move from company to company that is your negotiating time. I had lots of things they wanted and honestly, I think they would have hired me at a much higher salary because of what I brought to the table. I think they would have pulled money out their budget to make sure I was on their team because of what I had to offer.  Fortunately, I think they felt bad for little old unexperienced salary negotiater me because they actually ended up starting me at $46,000.  They knew I was valuable to them so they gave me more than I even wanted.  Smart company because they made me a really happy employee who has now worked for them for 7 years!

But when you think of my seven years at that company, all annual salary negotiations have been based on that initial starting salary.  I always wonder what salary I would be at now if I had asked for $50,000-$60,000 instead in the beginnning.  Who knows! I didn’t ask so I will never know.  What I have learned is that it is very uncommon to get those huge jumps in salary. Most annual raises are in the 2-5% unless you are a superstar or change companies and bring a lot of experience and knowledge with you that the new company needs.

Fast Forward To Promotion Time

Fast forward a few years down the road and I was up for a raise and promotion, or at least I thought I was.  I was shocked to find out that my manager (who hadn’t really seen all the awesome stuff I was doing) wasn’t in agreement with me when I told him I deserved a promotion.  So I decided to prove him wrong.  During that assessment cycle, I spent hours and hours completing my self-assessment form and highlighting all of the amazing stuff I had been doing over the last year. I asked all my coworkers to also provide feedback on how well I was doing.  I provided so much detail that my boss told me that he had no other choice but to give me that raise and promotion because of how much information he received that proved my point.  It was then that I realized that you have to be in charge of your own success because no one is going to do it for you.  You have to show everyone how awesome you are and the amazing things you have been doing. I often see young professional women at my company who are scared to brag about themselves and tell their managers how awesome they are really doing.  You have to get used to that confidence and start believing it for yourself first.  Then others will see it too.

I have also worked really hard for my company.  I think when you show your managers and co-workers that you work really hard, you will be rewarded in the long run.  I remember one time where I had really gone out of my way to make my clients happy, but I didn’t think my manager so I was just expecting a small raise. Was I surprised to get a 17% raise for how hard I had worked over the last year.  Sometimes when you aren’t expecting it and you are just working really hard for yourself and your own success, those awesome rewards come when you aren’t even looking.

What do you wish you would have known about salary negotiation before your first job?

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About Anna Runyan

Hi! I’m known as the leading authority on getting women unstuck out of careers they hate. For the last 5 years I’ve been helping clients transition into careers they love. I have worked behind the scenes helping hundreds of professional women find fulfilling, challenging and purposeful careers. Make sure you sign up for my FREE leadership course and weekly career report here. Also, grab my Free ‘CHEAT SHEET’
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Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    Anna- this is so true. I have had a similar experience to you and wish I had known to really sell my qualifications early on to set myself up better moving forward. Great article on breaking the taboo!

  2. KE says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I, too have never really negotiated so I really appreciate your advice!

  3. TB says:

    I would like to share something about this topic, but I will probably get a lot of flak for it. For the beginning of my career, I similar to Anna, but I would always put great things about myself during review time. I would only get raises between 3-5% which pretty much covers only inflation, but something changed when I read an article. The article is no longer posted, but you will get the gist of it by reading this page: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/on-lying-about-your-salary-in-job-interviews/
    I did some research, and when the opportunity came, I decided to try what the lady did in the article. What made me do it was really the gender gap in salary. Was it risky? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Why? I managed to negotiate and get a salary that I believed I deserved. Is it ethical? That is up to you to decide.

    • I don’t think your past salary should have anything to do with what a job pays. Are you capable of doing the job. Does your experience, education, and reference prove it? Then a company should base their salary offer on what they learned instead of the common shortcut of “just add 10% -20% of the old salary.” You mentioned the gender salary gap. This requirement of asking previous salary magnifies the gender salary gap as women’s careers progress. This is why I have started a petition (http://bit.ly/salinclusion) to prevent companies from asking past salaries and desired salaries and require companies to include a salary range or minimum salary when publicly advertising a job. Let’s eliminate the need to go through ethical hoops when applying for a job.

      • KE says:

        Wouldn’t it be SO NICE if employers posted a salary range or minimum salary on a job listing? That would be wonderful, imagine how much back and forth would be eliminated right off the bat! Half the time you don’t get a real feel for the salary until you’re in a second interview – if it’s way below your needs think of how much of your time, and the hiring managers time has been wasted. Great idea.

  4. Kate says:

    Do you feel like this translates into non-profit work? I’ve only worked in non-profits and have always accepted what they’ve offerred, assuming this is the bottom line–thoughts?

    • Amanda says:

      Kate – I have to share my experience with you. I took a job at a non-profit thinking exactly the same as you did. I took exactly the salary they offered, which was in the salary range they had posted. The company hired two of us, we did exactly the same job with very similar experience. On our first day they switched our HR files. I saw that this woman was making $20,000 MORE a year than I was. I will never again accept what I am offered.

    • Anna says:

      Kate, I don’t see why it wouldn’t translate into non-profit work. Just do you research so you aren’t being crazy with what you are asking and go for it! Definitely ask for more. It doesn’t hurt to ask! I think people expect you to negotiate so where they start you at is probably the lowest and they have more budget above. Not always the case but you have to ask to find out or you will never know!

    • Kate says:

      Thanks for the feedback ladies! Any ideas on where to start researching non profit salaries? I know what I’ve recieved, but I’ve worked a very mixed bag–pregnancy center, church, mental health facility–and the positions I’m currently considering are all very different too.

      • Kate, you can start with salary research sites such as Salary.com, Payscale.com, and Glassdoor.com. Even though the organizations are different they all fall under the industry of non-profit. Select the non-profit industry in the drop down menu and search for each job title you are considering or previously held. Another thing to consider is that the salaries you discover do not truly represent your target salary since the lower women’s salaries bring down the salaries at each point on the graph results. For example, the 50% salary might be $30,000 and the 75% salary might be $40,000 but men will be making more than $30K and $40K at those points. I recommend the target salary really should be what men are making at the 50% point, 75% point, etc. Here’s a doc that will show you how to do this for 135 jobs based on data from the Dept of Labor http://bit.ly/Yaj5jH. Good luck. Katie

        • Rick Gillis says:

          May I step in here ladies…? This is a GREAT discussion. Kate, ‘non-profit’ is an IRS designation. A non-profit is nothing more than a for-profit entity that is not required to pay tax on income. If you bring value you are entitled to be paid for it. Your value allows them to increase theirs. And since non-profits are publicly registered they are required to state income, expenses, management salaries, etc. Do a little research on the one you are thinking of. This information should be available on their site if they are more than a year old. Katie’s advice above is also spot on re: Salary.com (full disclosure: I write for them), Payscale, etc. I would also like to recommend the mind-numbingly detailed BLS.gov (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

  5. Kristen Nelson says:

    Hi Anna,
    You recently visited UC Merced where I attend college. I greatly enjoyed your seminar. Wow, what a great post. As a college student, just embarking into the professional world, this information is really valuable. I will defenitely do my research and make sure i think twice about my starting salary for my first professional position. Thank you!

  6. Lisa Fredin says:

    So my question is what happens when you have a job that they really can’t pay you more than the amount they offer. Right now I am working at a University and they have a grant that pays my salary and it is for a very specific amount. My boss doesn’t really have control over how much it is for. Before this, I had a job where everyone at the same level (about 200 of us) made exactly the same amount and there was no negotiating for salary or benefits. What should I do to make sure the next job I get doesn’t have a low salary based on these last two jobs where I didn’t have any negotiating power?

    • Unfortunately, Lisa, most job applications (online and hardcopy) do have the fields requesting your salary history but that doesn’t mean we need to complete those fields. I recommend entering zero if you are applying online and that field is a required field. It allows your application to be submitted without giving away any information. Keep the field blank if not a required field in online applications and on all hardcopy applications. If/when asked about your salary history you should respond with a question such as “I assume this job has been approved with a specific salary range. I’m just not sure how my previous pay affects that budget. Can you tell me what the approved salary for this job is?” As an FYI, there is a legal decision (Glenn v. General Motors Corp, 1988) that “prior salary alone cannot justify pay disparity.” Hopefully this gives you enough ammunition for your future job searches. But why must we jump through hoops not to share past pay history? I’m working toward eliminating that (http://bit.ly/salinclusion). Please share if you agree.

  7. Beth says:

    Great post, Anna. I have a related question. I was at my company for a year, and one day my boss walked into my office and gave me a promotion. I was surprised and thrilled. She said that my promotion came with a small raise and bonus. I was so surprised at the time that I did not negotiate. In retrospect, I should have. Now that I have done my self-review this year, I realize that I saved the company over $100,000 this year. Is there a tactful way to go back and ask for more without seeming ungrateful for my promotion? My review will be coming up in a few months (about six months after the actual promotion). Do I ask for it then? Thanks!

    • Anna Runyan says:

      Beth-That is awesome that you have done the self-assessment yourself to realize how much you saved the company! There is nothing wrong with representing yourself again and asking for a raise. As long as you are very prepared and ready to present how awesome you have been performing! I would just send an email to your boss and ask him/her for the meeting. In the email I would prepare them for what you want to talk about and in the email include all the awesome stuff you have been doing like saving $100K!! Then you and he/she will be prepared for the meeting and hopefully it will go better than putting anyone on the spot. During review time is probably best unless you want to give them a heads up before the review, then maybe it sets you up for a raise at the review time? Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask and tell them how awesome you are doing!

  8. Nat says:

    I recently interviewed for what will hopefully be my first professional job in the legal world(!) I’m currently a paid intern, but not making nearly as much as I would hope to in an attorney position. How do I begin negotiating:
    1) for my first job, without having a current/previous job to use as a base
    2) for an international job (ie not in the US)
    Any ideas?
    Thanks!

    • Nat, Let’s see if I can help with the negotiation one point at a time.
      1) start the market research now about the value of the job for a person with 0-3 years experience. The salary research sites have that kind of experience level option so select the lowest. You mention legal profession but I’m not sure if it is as a lawyer.. If it is a lawyer than the Bar Association for your state would be the perfect place for salary research.
      2) The good news is the any full-time job will pay more than a paid intern. Run don’t walk if that is not the case at this firm or company.
      3) You don’t start the negotiation until they offer you the job. Then simply say “I am very interested in the job but the salary does not meet my expectations based on market research.”
      4) Your internship provides proof of capability. Highlight accomplishments at the internship and any awards, really anything in your educational background that stands out helps you make your case. Companies will pay the 4.0 grad better than than the 2.0 grad.
      5) International jobs depend on the location. The underlying need to create a business argument based on the market value of the job and then your specific extras is the same. Salary.com has US and Canadian versions. PayScale.com has many country options for the research. The way one goes about negotiating changes based on customs in each country. I would recommend contacting a career counselor or salary coach in the country where you wish to work to find out more about their norms.

      I wish you the best of luck getting the first professional job.

      • Anna Runyan says:

        Thanks for your response Kate! I couldn’t have said it better myself!:)

      • Nat says:

        Hi and thanks to Kat, indeed! That’s great information! Unfortunately, neither of those websites has any information on the country to which I’m going, and the people from there with whom I have spoken can’t give me an idea of what a fair salary would be.
        I am going to try to see if I can negotiate airfare to/from, as well as retirement and language classes.
        Wish me luck!

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