“Wish, want, walk,” I reminded myself waiting outside the HR office one cloudy afternoon. “Wish. Want. Walk.”
I’d learned this mantra some years before in a graduate school course taught by prominent entertainment attorney Michael Donaldson. In Michael’s book, Fearless Negotiating, he simplifies negotiating into three boundaries: your ultimate wish, what you’d still want, and what you’d walk away from. We practiced by conducting mock negotiations in class. For instance, Student A is selling a lamp. You love the lamp, and you wish the lamp costs $30. You'd still want the lamp if it cost $40, but you'd walk away from the lamp if it costs $50. It sounds so simple, but this practice has been effective in every negotiation I’ve encountered for the last decade.
Before this meeting, I’d worked out the terms of my three W’s, and felt really confident going into the conversation with HR and Compensation. I’d also done my homework and came prepared with a few benchmarks to share, including my knowledge of the current pay scale for my new position. They weren’t exactly thrilled about my knowledge, but it did set a precedent – I was informed, I knew my terms and was able to share exactly what I wanted. That was the first time I walked out with $10,000 more than the original offer. I imagined high-fiving Michael, as his tried and true advice had served me once again.
In my 2016 research study on millennial women, compensation was reported as the number one challenge amongst women ages 22-35 with 43% percent of the respondents listing it as their largest career hurdle. Women who were starting their careers, and women who were more than a decade in, all shared stories and frustration around their access to equal and appropriate compensation in their fields. I’ll never forget the story from one woman who worked at a giant media company. She’d been promoted (without a pay increase) and was to manage a group of incoming summer interns. Her boss copied her on the communications about what they were going to pay one young man, a student, for his internship and she realized they were paying him significantly more than they were paying her despite the fact that she’d been there four years and was going to be this young man’s manager. Smartly, she used that information to [carefully] negotiate a pay increase. In her situation, and in a few of my own, access to this kind of information was vital. For most women, having access to this kind of transparent compensation information is very rare and hard to come by, which is why tools like PayScale and The Salary Project are so important in the fight for equal pay.
A few years later in my corporate career, it was time to negotiate a promotion that would come with a significant salary increase. The process for internal advancement is different than negotiating that first offer at the beginning of a job; it’s more story-driven, more focused on the promotion and responsibility of the role, and less on compensation. In fact, I hardly discussed compensation this time around. There were advantages and disadvantages to be had; on one hand, I had perfect performance reviews and a very supportive and savvy functional manager, on the other, I had a workplace culture and mindset that didn’t embrace female leadership under 35. The process went on for almost a year and half — which I know sounds ridiculously long, and it was — but in the end I walked away with a 37% salary increase and moved up two levels on the food chain. It was worth the patience and persistence to make it happen, even when I was advised to give up. Here are some of my best lessons from that experience.
Know What You Want
Again, take time to think through your wish, your want, and your walk. You are more likely to get exactly what you want if you put it out there and ask for it. This is true about most things but especially important for compensation whether you’re working at a company or running your own business. Take the time to learn what your position or services are worth so you can push the boundaries. No one is ever going to offer you more than you’re willing to ask for. Being clear about your desires and expectations in the negotiating process shows the other person that you mean business and came ready to make a deal. Let your three W’s act as pillars and a framework for that conversation and you’re more likely to get what you want and deserve.
Build A Narrative
You absolutely have to be out in front of your story, or others will write it for you. As obnoxious as it is, perception becomes reality. You have to do your part in crafting the narrative you want others to know and talk about. During the advancement or negotiating process, building up goodwill towards your perceived value is absolutely necessary. You might need several people to all agree on your worth, and you won’t achieve that consensus based on your work performance alone. Build up your case by keeping track of your accomplishments, praise from superiors, and any contributions you’ve made outside your role for the good of the organization. Memorize them and have them on hand as talking points. Share what you can via social media (choose the appropriate channels) to make an impression. You have to be able to succinctly speak to why you deserve a raise, promotion, project, etc. and back it up with evidence. Having a positive narrative out there about how valuable you are is icing on the cake.
Engage Your Champions
There’s a difference between a mentor and a champion. A mentor is someone who can advise and guide you in your career, a champion is engaged in opportunity advocacy – they have the power to help you advance. Sometimes, a person can be both, but when it comes to earning more you will often need a champion in your corner. Support the person who will go to bat for you by giving them all the relevant information they need (share your narrative) and be clear and specific about your wants and goals. Heed their guidance through the process – they likely have access to more information than you do. If you’re running your own business, engage your favorite clients as your champions. Good references and word of mouth will help you justify your fees and raise them over time.
Stay Persistent & Consistent
Once you start this process, don’t give up. There will be bumps along the road and unexpected curve balls thrown your way. Take them in stride. Make patience your friend rather than your foe. Find ways to strengthen your story and position at every turn and do not look back. Giving up after the first “no” is a surefire way to never get what you deserve. Keep your asks and talking points consistent. You are your own best advocate in this fight, and you’re worth every dollar. Let’s get you paid.
Laura Youngkin is a producer, creative strategist, writer, and the creator of The Brave Millennial, a platform and movement dedicated to the advancement of millennial women.