What I Learned From My Salary Negotiations That Worked (And Those That Didn’t)

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What I Learned From My Salary Negotiations That Worked (And Those That Didn’t)

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Meet Shannyn, a 35-year-old social media specialist based in San Antonio, Texas. Now more than a decade into her career, Shannyn has been through the salary negotiation process many times. We sat down to talk about the differences between her negotiations that were successful and those that weren’t. And the ways in which those different outcomes often had nothing to do with her. Here's our conversation edited for length and clarity.

I consider myself to be an ambitious person.

Though growing up, a lot of young women are trained to be ambitious, we’re told to be ambitious, we’re encouraged to – you get out into the real world and you really aren’t embraced for that a lot.

And figuring out how to advocate for yourself – to figure out how to balance ambition with ‘being a team player’, ‘earning your due’, ‘paying your dues’. And then also saying, “No, I actually deserve more than what I’ve been given,” can be kind of overwhelming.

I took a couple of jobs out of grad school and really struggled to advocate for myself. As a new grad you are trying to get your foot in the door. You’re trying to build a name for yourself. You really want to find a good company and work your way towards something a little bit more substantial.

I took less than I deserved thinking, “Oh, well, I’ll get my foot in the door, pay my dues. They’ll see what I’m worth and then they’ll pay me what I’m worth. I’ll just really prove myself.” And that did not work out for me very well.

I had two jobs that I took either on the promise that I would get more work later, meaning, “Hey, we’ll have you work part-time. We’ll evaluate you after six months, we’ll give you a full-time gig. It will be awesome.” That did not pan out.

I took a second job for less than I wanted, advocated for more salary, went back and forth and they’re like, “Sorry, we just can’t afford that right now. But in six months we absolutely will be able to afford that. We’ll evaluate your performance and pay you what you’ve asked for now.” Against my better judgment, I took that job offer and regretted it later.

About three to four months in you start to see from the people you work with that they’re miserable. That they’re not able to pay their bills. That they’re not getting the advancement that they were promised too. Because if they’d made this promise to you, you know they’ve made it to other people too. Like, “Oh, just take less hours, take less pay. We don’t want to give you this much vacation time, but you know, after X amount of time, if you really work hard, you’ll get it.”

But you start to see it across the company that nobody is getting the promises that were made.

So after about three to four months it became abundantly apparent, looking down the pipeline to my six month evaluation, that if they weren’t honoring other people’s promises, they weren’t going to honor mine.

I gave them a chance and was like, “Okay, so are we looking at me getting the raise for the starting salary I wanted?” And they’re like, “Yeah, sorry. We just can’t afford it right now. Things just aren’t good.” And it wasn’t even a bad time in the economy. So I had my evaluation and then about a week later I was like, “Yeah, you didn’t honor it. I got to go.”

It’s easier to identify the red flags now that I’ve been through it.

I think you can tell just in the way that they talk to you and deal with you:

Do you feel respected when you’re negotiating? Do you feel that they’re invested? Or do they sound like they’re doing you a favor?

If you were getting any hint that they are – “Oh well, you know what, you’re new to the industry. You’re young. You’re fresh out of college. You just got your degree” – If they use a kind of condescending tone, even in a big brother, big sister kind of way like, “Don’t worry we’re here to help you.” No, they are not here to help you.

They’re not doing you any favors. They’re employing you for a paycheck so you can pay your bills and have a family, live your life, pay off your student loans.

It is a win-win beneficial two-sided relationship. If you’re starting to get even a whiff of any sort of condescension.

If you start to get that feeling that they don’t respect you. They truly don’t respect you.

I think there are certain words that they’ll use where they’re like, “Oh well, we’ll circle back. Things will be better in the future.” If they’re starting to make you promises. And unless you have those promises in writing like, “At six months you will for sure receive this raise. At six months, you will receive this bonus” or whatever. And not leaving it up to a performance evaluation, because that is a giant loophole. So that would be one red flag. If they’re making you promises that aren’t in writing.

And then generally, if you have the opportunity to talk to other people that are in the industry, do that.

Would you feel good giving someone else this advice? If you were telling, “Hey, I got this job, at this offer, in this environment, the commute is X amount of hours, the hours are really weird, I don’t have work remote options.” If your best friend, your sister, a girlfriend, whoever came to you with this type of offer, would you want her to take it? If the answer is no. Don’t take the job offer.

Because if you feel like you’re settling now, I can tell you it never gets more beneficial, it only gets more toxic as time goes on.

I think the fact that we don’t have transparency with our coworkers, or other people on our team, allows for that to happen. Whether it’s people talking down to you to say, “You know? Oh, well, just times are so hard right now.” Or, “You’re just so lucky to get your foot in the door here.” Or, “You know, this is just the way the workplace is.”

They don’t want to fix the culture. They don’t want to fix your salary. They don’t wanna fix your benefits. So they find really ‘nice’ ways to make you feel like, “Well, you’re not going to do any better anywhere else”. Or, ” You’d be lucky that we have two work remote days a month.” Like you should be praising God for that.

The gaslighting is pretty rampant. And the fact that we lack transparency with many of our peers, either at our workplace or in the industry in general really contributes to the problem.

If they say, “We’re like a family here.” Run.

You don’t get paid to be with your family. Your family is your family. Your workplace is not your family. Like maybe they’ll send you a bouquet of flowers if you get sick and you’re in the hospital, but that’s about as far as that goes.

I find that the sweeter their verbiage is on their website of just like, “Wow, interconnectivity and workplace and growth and personal growth and having a team…” The more that they put that on their website, the less of it usually there is at your actual workplace.

My current employer that I work for now has been really positive. It started off on a good note and it’s continued to stay a positive experience. And I think what’s different about that is, number one, when I negotiated for the salary and the benefits package I have now, they seemed to consider it and they contemplated it.

And even if they couldn’t meet all of my asks, they came to the table and said, “Let’s talk internally about this and see what we can do.” As opposed to an immediate, “Ah, I don’t know.” The tone was very different upon negotiation.

I would say that having a healthier workplace environment has entailed having clear expectations.

There have been times where I’m doing things beyond the scope of my job role, things that were not described on the job posting. There are times where the team has changed or my position has changed or the needs of the business have changed. But I was always very clear on how I was going to be evaluated and how I was going to be given feedback and when I would be given that feedback. And that has given me so much peace at the employer I have now.

“Okay, so when do I get raises? How am I getting those raises?” And truly down to the nitty gritty, “How am I actually evaluated for my performance?”

And then finally, holding your employer accountable.

I’ve luckily had that where I’m at now, where I know where I’m headed. And even if on some teams that I’ve been at, there wasn’t a clear ladder at the time, I made it very clear to my employer – I want to move my way up. I’m not going to stay at this position forever. “Can you please tell me how I could work my way up in the business? If it’s switching teams? If it’s growing a team, getting people beneath me?”

But being very clear, and feeling comfortable to be clear that I may start here, but some people like to stay where they’re at. I do not. I want to move my way up. I want more pay. I want more benefits.

Having them respect that and feeling safe to be able to advocate for myself. It’s a much different experience.

I think most employers, much like mine, will have their yearly evaluations, sometimes quarterly or bi-annually. And we definitely did that. But at the same time, there were times when I didn’t feel clear. Where I felt like we were adrift for two, three months, four months, where I was starting to have anxiety of like, “Am I performing where I need to be? Am I growing within this opportunity?”

I was able to go to my employer, number one, during my evaluation and give them feedback. But I have had to come to them before and just say, “Hey, you promised me that I would have a team to lead. It got delayed twice. What’s going on?” And holding them accountable too. Because if I don’t meet their expectations, they expect to tell me.

I’ve had to come to them once or twice and just say, “Hey, you know, we were looking at a roadmap for my progression in the company. We’re not there. Why aren’t we there? And what can we do to rectify that because I’m ready.”

I would definitely say that going into it feeling empowered and not entitled is a really big lesson I had to learn.

Just because you’ve sat in the chair for six months doesn’t mean that you deserve a raise. You don’t deserve a raise. You don’t deserve a promotion. You have earned it and coming to the table, showing how you’ve earned it is really important.

So number one, when you get feedback from your employer, if they don’t give you a printout saying how you did on the last evaluation, take notes and figure out what they had feedback on, and how you responded to it.

“Hey, six months ago you told me X, Y, or Z. This is what I did to correct or build on that or expand on that because I heard what you said and I took it and here’s exactly what I did.” Or, “Here’s how many more sales I generated.” Take notes because you won’t remember.

Make sure that you advocate for yourself as a win-win.

Instead of, “Well you told me this, I deserve this, living is expensive.” An employer won’t really sympathize with the fact that your rent went up or the fact that you’ve worked there for 15 years. But advocate for yourself, number one, with your track history. But also demonstrating the types of things that you’ve done and brought to the table.

If you have the opportunity to talk to some of your coworkers that you trust, run it by them.

When I’ve had to advocate for myself in the past with a friend or even a coworker, I’ve had practice conversations with them because it can be intimidating to talk to your boss about, “Here’s why I think I should get promoted. Here’s how I’ve added value.”

Practicing with someone you trust, especially somebody who maybe has a little bit more experience than you do, has been really key for me. There’ve been times I’ve had to advocate for myself with a shaky voice, but I still did it, and it’s worked for me.

So practice and find somebody you trust in your workplace now, that you could either ask about their salary, ask about what they’ve done, what’s worked and what’s not, and make sure it’s somebody who’s going where you want to go.


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Image: Hinterhaus Productions/ DigitalVision via GettyImages

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