The top workplace question I get asked about from young women is, "How do I negotiate the salary for a new job?"
Sorry, that's not quite right. What they usually ask me, all too apologetically, is "Is it okay to ask for more money?"
In other words, will their would-be boss be put off by their demands? Will it sour the relationship before it has a chance to develop? Could the offer even be withdrawn? These women are more concerned about what their future employer will think of them than their own self-interest.
These questions make me crazy, but unfortunately, the research that's been done in recent years shows how screwed up salary negotiations are for women.
A study reported in the Harvard Business Review that found just 7 percent of newly graduated female MBAs from Carnegie Mellon had attempted to negotiate their job offer, compared to 57 percent of their male counterparts. The authors of the book Women Don't Ask found that the failure of women to negotiate can cost a woman more than half a million dollars over the course of her career.
So yes, by all means, you need to negotiate. And you need to pay attention to the latest research from social scientists, which in some cases, refutes the conventional wisdom. The advice below will also help men, but it's more important for women to follow it because they are so much less likely to negotiate in the first place.
1. ALWAYS negotiate. Just decide right now that you will always negotiate for what you're worth, end of story. Many women feel they shouldn't have to ask for what they want-- their fantasy is: I should get what I'm worth without having to fight for it. Just stop looking at negotiation as a bad thing -- it's your chance to use all those great business skills to help yourself.
Hiring managers expect you to negotiate and some will think less of you if you don't. The chances of you being seen as overly aggressive are much less than you imagine. I have hired more than a hundred people and in all that time, there was only one person who was so obnoxious during negotiations that I nearly withdrew the offer.
On the other hand, I have had many men and women accept my first offer when I fully intended to give them at least five or even ten percent more. I would always feel kind of bad, but I never came back and said, "Here's another $10,000 that we were planning to give you." I just saved the money for the next person who wasn't afraid to ask for it.
2. Negotiate at the right time. Companies always try to "pre-negotiate." They ask you for your current salary on the application, the recruiter asks you about salary range on the first phone call, and sometimes the hiring manager will bring it up in the interview. These days, online applications make it hard to make your current salary a secret, but don't fall in the trap of negotiating before you're given an offer.
Throughout the entire job application process, the company is looking for ways to exclude you from the position, right until you get the offer. Then there's a psychological shift. A hiring manager typically doesn't think, "I'm sure any of these three candidates will do." She decides you're the one she really loves and she'll be disappointed if she has to go to her second choice. This puts you in the power position. You want to avoid talking about money before this happens. If it comes up, simply say, "I'm really excited about this opportunity and I'm sure we can work out compensation later if you decide to extend me an offer."
3. Take a power pose before you negotiate (or during if you're on the phone.) Social psychologist Amy Cuddy's research on body language demonstrates how "power posing" can affect your testosterone and cortisol levels. Posing for a couple of minutes in a position of confidence just before the negotiation can help you be more successful.
Business Insider shows examples of two important poses you can use. Before your interview, try "The Performer." Throw your hands in the air and widen your stance, as if you're a singer soaking in the applause after a performance. Think Lady Gaga. If it's a face-to-face or video conference negotiation, you can also try a slight squint during your conversation. Pull up your lower eye lid slightly. Go for '90s Renee Zellwinger. It will eliminate a "deer in headlights" type of wide gaze that suggests vulnerability.
4. Throw out the biggest number you can reasonably argue for. The conventional thinking used to be to let your interviewer come up with a salary number first. The idea was to avoid coming in too low. But anchoring is the new mantra, as described in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The first number you give will anchor the thoughts of your interviewer. So you want to set the bar as high as possible. You don't even have to say, "I want $150K." or whatever you think it's a fair salary based on your research. You can instead say, "My research shows that $150 thousand would be a fair salary for this position."
Your employer's strategy might have been to throw out $100K with the willingness to go up to $120, but by anchoring the conversation at $150, you have a much better chance of getting, say, $140. The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation advises that it's fine to throw out an extreme first offer, as long as it's flexible.
You can also use this advice when negotiating for an annual raise or even a retirement/severance package. (One woman I know recently doubled the size of her package simply by asking for a better deal.), But you'll never have as much power as when a company makes you an offer to bring you on board. Don't be afraid to use it!