Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Salary negotiations

In honor of Equal Pay Day (the day to which women would have to work to make the same amount that men made in 2010), I thought I'd share my negotiating experiences. Dr Becca wrote an interesting post on the topic, and I think it's worthwhile to share our experiences.

My first experience negotiating wasn't really for a starting salary. I had been working at now-defunct museum. The situation was messy, because the woman who had hired me was long gone. When I was hired, I had agreed to shit hourly wage for a 90 day training period, with the promise of a shiny salary after that.

It was a pretty good deal until she left; then, simply raising the 90 day issue was sticky. However, I was in the best possible position to negotiate: I had nothing to lose. I was living with my mother and tearing through my savings as I tried to pay the bills with my $10/hr, 28 hour/week job. There was no way I could continue there, essentially running the museum, without a substantial raise.

With that in mind, I decided that my finances required about $35,000/yr. When I suggested this, I was told flat out that it wasn't possible. Considering that the museum closed barely a year later, I believe it. They offered me $24,000 instead. Honestly, that would have paid my loans but there's no way I could afford rent on it.

So I wrote a letter outlining the many things I had done for the museum and the many plans I had for the future. I told them that, given my financial commitments, I simply could not accept their offer. I could compromise to $29,500.

If they couldn't give me that, then please consider this my letter of resignation.

Needless to say, they agreed to my terms.

But for a full week, I felt sick every time I thought about my negotiation. Dozens of times, I had nearly decided to take the $24,000 - even though it wasn't really an option. But my need to be "nice" and agreeable was at such odds with my demands that it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Surprisingly, it was much easier to negotiate the second time around - for my current job in academic administration. I had been doing the job as a temp before Scientist Boss decided he wanted me permanently. I had an informal meeting with my supervisor (we didn't even close the door), wherein he examined the salaries of everyone else in the department, calculated the importance of my job vs theirs, and announced that he could offer me the very nice sum of $xx,xxx/yr. (you'll forgive me for not waving my salary all over the internet)

My first temptation was to accept and run; I'd been living on what amounted to half that, without benefits, and here was literally double my salary with benefits up the wazoo.

Fortunately, I'd done my homework: I knew what the salary range was, and where my starting salary should fall. However, I'd also spoken with HR, and they'd quietly informed me that I could expect the very lowest value in the range - probably because they actually saw my disturbingly empty resume, which Scientist Boss and my supervisor never did.*

Anyway, I was sorely tempted to accept immediately. Instead, I said, "I was going to suggest Offer+$1,000." There was a moment of silence; then Supervisor nodded and said "We can do that. I'll tell HR to offer you New Offer."

So that was that. I figured HR would lowball me and we'd negotiate a little, so I was ready to play hardball when they called. Instead, they offered me New Offer and asked if I would like to accept, deny, or think about it. "I'll think about it," I told HR-man cheerfully - simply because I was taught never to accept immediately. Let them sweat a little. Unfortunately, it was poor HR-man who did the sweating. "Oh. Um. Ok. Is there any reason... why?" he asked. I think he honestly feared for his job - probably because this was supposed to be a done deal, and I was being hired at the behest of Scientist Boss, who is kind of a big deal. "Oh, I was just thinking more like New Offer+$1,000," I told him. I'm still not sure why I did, except that... I could. There was no "lose" in the situation.

So HR-man spoke with Supervisor (who probably wondered at my strange negotiating strategy); Supervisor approved the New New Offer; and I accepted (to the almost laughably intense relief of HR-man).

And that's how I negotiated a $2,000 increase in my starting salary. And I've got to tell you - if I could do it, as a temp who completely lucked into the position in the first place, without experience, a safety net, competing offers or even a reason why, you can too.

Of course, I had Scientist Boss behind me - I probably could have successfully negotiated for even more, given that he wanted me and he's the top scientist at NEMU - but I never had to play that card. All I did was keep a calm, neutral attitude, and say that I expected/wanted more. I could have given a lecture about the reasons why I deserved that extra $2,000, but all I actually had to do was ask - and then wait for a response.

Knowing that it's all right to ask, and knowing when to keep your mouth shut, are damn useful life skills.

*For the record, though my resume is shockingly bad, my academic CV is pretty kickass. Also, Supervisor did eventually see my resume, but all he had to say about it was "Seriously? You have a degree in Medieval Studies? That's kind of... cool."

1 comment:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

This is so neat. I need to think about being a better negotiator if and when these things come up.