Here’s what I used to say about negotiating in my early 20s:
“If you have a good job, you don’t need to negotiate. My boss just gives me raises!”
Man, I was naïve. At first glance, it seems like a pretty good deal, right? You never even have to ask, your boss just automatically bumps your salary every few months. Especially if you hate negotiating, this seems like a great scenario. That’s what I thought, at least. After a while, I learned my lesson: if your employer keeps giving you a raise every three months, you’re probably underpaid. And I learned this the hard way.
After a year on the job, I was browsing Monster when I found a similar gig that paid almost double: $50,000 a year. I didn’t think I could ever make that much money just two years out of college, but I had to try. So I applied. They called me for an interview. Then they offered me the job. Of course, I told my original employer I had to quit. After all, I couldn’t pass up the same gig for double the pay. And then they offered to match the salary.
I was hurt. They could afford to pay me that much this whole time and they’ve been teasing me with these raises? I could’ve paid off my student loan! I could’ve lived in a nicer apartment! Here’s the thing, though: why would they? They’re a business, and a business has to make money. You don’t make money handing out $20,000 to an employee who doesn’t ask. I was severely underpaid and that was 100% on me.
Sure, my industry might be different. Surely there are some industries and jobs in which negotiating just isn’t a thing. For most of us, however, I think the lesson applies: if you never have to negotiate a raise, you’re probably underpaid.
Negotiating can be scary, though. You can read all the tips and hacks out there on how to negotiate: who should throw out the first offer, the best time to bring it up, what kind of body language to use, and so on. The advice is solid. But for shy, introverted, agreeable people like me, the single hardest thing about negotiating is just getting up the nerve to do it.
I’ve been better at negotiating in recent years, but it’s still not easy for me (here’s an anxiety-ridden video I made right after I negotiated with a client last week). There are, however, a few things I keep in mind to help me get over the fear:
1. Employers expect you to ask. Aside from minimum wage, it’s not like most salaries are regulated. They’re not exactly arbitrary, either, but the point is, salaries usually vary. Employers know this and they expect you to inquire about that gray area. According to Clark University, most companies can afford to pay you about 15-20 percent more than they initially offer.
2. The worst they can say is NO. I’ve said it before, but one of the most liberating moments in my career was asking a big client for more money only to have them say “I’m so sorry, but that’s not in our budget right now. Hopefully we can make it happen in the future.” I got rejected! It was great! Why? Because rejection was my biggest negotiating fear and it wasn’t even bad. Plus, it was gratifying to know that, even though I didn’t get what I asked for, I successfully pushed the boundaries of my earning potential.
3. It’s not just about the money. When you negotiate, you’re not just asking for more money, you’re also making a statement. Negotiating shows your employer you’re confident about your value. It shows them you’re business-savvy enough to speak up. Those qualities might be more important in some industries than others, but most employers would probably prefer a confident, shrewd employee over an unsure, naïve one.
That last point probably motivates me more than anything. In my early 20s, a bit of naiveté was understandable, maybe even expected. I was just out of college, I had no idea how the business world worked. At 33, however, I should know better, and most clients should expect me to know better and bring more to the table. With that in mind, I force myself to ask.
Still, it’s not always easy. Readers, I want to know: how did you get over your own fear of negotiating? What are your additional tips for anyone who might grapple with it?