The Neglected Art of Negotiation

Negotiating is not my forte. When I left college in 2004, there was an economic boom. With half a dozen offers to choose from, I simply accepted the firm that seemed like the best fit. A 
few years later, I was recruited to a new practice area within my firm. I was encouraged by my husband to talk to someone in the Human Resources department about whether my salary was comparable to someone hired externally. 

I dutifully sat down in the HR office and mumbled something about equitable pay before receiving a pat line about “nothing to be done” and leaving with my tail between my legs. Negotiating — whether it is for employment or reducing my rate with the cable company — is simply not my skill.

When I made my first real job transition after 13 years, negotiating salary was an ominous cloud on the horizon. I do have skills in persistence and networking. I arranged coffee dates with every second- and third-degree LinkedIn contact I had for the company where I wanted to work. Eventually my persistence paid off. I had a whirlwind week with multiple interviews and phone calls for a position I wanted. Then came the long-anticipated call from HR; and the word “numbers” reared its ugly head.

I’ve read the articles and heard speakers about equal pay. I know that women’s reluctance to sell themselves and push for more money at the outset of their career, and every step along the way, results in an exponential financial disadvantage. But I had also spent several months and a ridiculous amount of money on coffee trying to get those people to like me. 

Enter my husband, who is a negotiator for a living. The tips: 

  • Ask for 10 percent more salary than you want to end up with.
  • Tell them you need a signing bonus of an additional 10 percent.
  • Have them match your current vacation of five weeks.

Under no circumstances was I to answer the question: “What is your current salary.” 

I protested that I was asking for the moon after chasing them for months. Yet I dutifully repeated to HR the script provided. They balked and inquired about the reasoning behind my numbers and requests. 

Given that even I didn’t believe my requests were reasonable, I was shaky when responding to her questions. When she asked for my current salary, it took every ounce of willpower to respond with, “I don’t believe that’s relevant to this conversation.” It took even more willpower not to follow up by apologizing and giving her my current salary and maybe my social security number just for good measure. 

After an eternal 10 minutes, the phone call was over. Then, silence. For more than 24 hours. 

I still have the panicked text I sent: “It was too much. I lost them. I’m going to vomit.” 

That night I took a deep breath, regrouped, and decided to try again with two major differences.

• First, I gathered research. I used Glassdoor. My husband reached out to his personal contacts in the same line of work as me and asked them what they earned — a question he felt more comfortable asking than I did. Learning those numbers helped me see the big disparity in the income his male friends in similar positions were earning. 

• Second, I realized that even though the advice about how to negotiate was sound, I had to have this conversation as “me.” I needed to believe in what I asked for. 

I called HR and tried again. I explained that I truly believed I should be paid above the mid-point because I perform above the mid-point. I requested a signing bonus because of the year-end bonus I’d be giving up at my current employer, but acknowledged it wasn’t a deal breaker. I was concerned about accruing vacation too slowly because my kids are young and the stomach flu happens. 

The next day I received the call with an offer. A good one. Better than I would have gotten without the push. Yet also an offer I wouldn’t have gotten at all without being “me.” 

[Reader chose to write anonymously so as to not reflect on her employer.]