Knowing Your Worth: How to Negotiate Salary

Knowing Your Worth: How to Negotiate Salary

When I started my job search as a recent college graduate, negotiating salary was intimidating. Thankfully my first job offered my goal salary with the promise of a raise upon exemplary performance. Great; everything was smooth sailing for about a year.

When I hit my one-year anniversary I began plotting how I would ask for a raise. “Ok, once the annual report is in, I’ll ask before the board meeting in January.” Well the annual report wasn’t where it needed to be for me to ask for a raise. I’d done well in sales, but we had some substantial expenses so I chickened out. I could wait.

Granted, during that time I was working hard. I worked every weekend in January and 11 weekends straight from Easter to the mid-June. I’m sure there were opportunities to ask for a raise during that first quarter but I wanted to make sure that as an institution we were profitable so my appeal wouldn’t be viewed as greedy or selfish. I asked for advice from my parents, friends, friends’ parents—anyone who had insight into the best practices of business.

Here’s what I heard: You should be formally evaluated once a year. Normally a raise is given to cover inflation so ask for 5% but expect 3%.

Because I was hired for a Director position right out of college, my company filled the position for a steal. I was green and eager to learn, plus I was cheap and desperate for someone to give me the chance to prove myself. For that reason, my dad recommended that I ask for a larger raise than is usual to help fill the disparity. “Ask for 10% and see what happens. It’s really not all that much and you are definitely worth it to them,” was his advice.  

During the 11-week work stretch leading into summer, I started feeling jipped. I was working so hard but no matter how much verbal praise my boss gave me, it didn’t feel like enough. Her kind words of praise felt muted by a frustration that I had yet to voice.  

So as any young woman would, I vented to my parents, my husband and my best friend. With their patience and encouragement to lean on, I became fortified in my resolve to actually do it—to ask my company to recognize my worth in a tangible way. My husband was so sweet to even role-play different scenarios of how my boss would react. He won’t admit it, but his enactments were a tad extreme, but it helped prepare me. (Love you, honey!)

I chose a date that my best friend was supposed to make sure I had approached my boss by. I told my husband, Robby, about it and he asked, “Why don’t you move date up a bit? You can do it.”

Well, the day finally came and I was jittery all day. My plan was to wait until 3 p.m. so it would be toward the end of the day, and it wouldn’t be a cloud hanging over the office if it went badly. Robby texted me periodically, “Good luck with the raise! Have you done it yet? DO IT!”

Occasionally I’m a total chicken. So when my boss stepped out of the office, I snuck a note on her desk. “I know you’re busy but might I borrow you when you get a minute?” Fortuitously, she walked straight into my office when she got back without stopping at her desk and started the money conversation for me. I think my exact words were, “It’s funny that you mention that, because I’ve been wanting to talk to you about a raise. You know, when I got hired, you said that you wanted to start me out at that pay rate so I could be rewarded on a job well done. I’ve crunched the numbers and I think it would be fair for an increase of [X] amount.”

“That’s all? Oh girl, I think we can do better than that. I’ll have to take it to the board, but you do such a terrific job, you deserve it. I’ll see if we can’t manage more.”

And then the angel choir began singing in my office. I DID IT! And she wanted to advocate to the board for MORE?! A-mazing.

I don't know what your raise story is going to be, but I encourage each of you to put your head down, work hard, really hard. Then every so often, pick your head up and recognize your worth. It's a beautifully empowering exercise that many women in particular are too hesitant to attempt. Don't let the seeds of doubt keep you from advancing yourself and, by doing so, encouraging others. You can do it.

[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.] 


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