In recognition of this year’s Equal Pay Day, held on 2 April 2019, we teamed up with our friends at Fairygodboss to talk about everything involved in negotiating your salary and getting prepped for the process.
Our CEO Kate Brodock was joined by Fairygodboss’s CEO Georgene Huang to talk shop. We’ve got a recording, as well as a transcript below (Note: the first question of the call wasn’t recorded, but we’ve added a full response from Georgene in the transcript below).
How does someone know if they’re being paid a fair salary or if a proposed salary for a new role is fair?
FGB: You can start by doing your research. Plenty of websites like LinkedIn, PayScale, and Fairygodboss offer salary information where you can research individuals with similar levels of experience in the same or a similar role as you to see what their salaries are. You can even refine these searches by a city or area to ensure that the salary is fair for where you’re working.
Also, today a lot of employees are much more open about their salaries so you can find a lot of this info out from your colleagues as well. Of course they might have different circumstances, but that’s another way you can see if you’re being paid fairly within your company.
Great. And in a current role, is their a “best” time to ask for a raise?
There’s not necessarily a best time to this. I usually say that being aware of what’s happening at that time for your boss is a better way to think about it. Don’t ask for this conversation to talk about this in the morning, or if you know that there’s a client deadline that needs to be met.
Just be conscientious of these things because they really do matter. Don’t schedule requests of people before lunch time, because they may be hungry. There’s a lot of data that shows that if you’re in a case in court before lunch, judges tend to rule against them disproportionately. Just be conscious of those micro decisions about when to talk.
On a macro level, there is no formula that’s going to work for everyone. I always think about asking for a promotion or a raise in the same way that you would take a business proposal seriously, I would put that amount of effort into asking for a raise. Asking for a raise or promotion is not just saying the words. It’s building the case for why you should be paid more, why you should have a different title, and a different set of responsibilities.
So I would put together everything you think you need. It might be a one-pager, it might be a powerpoint presentation.
How long once you get into a new role – whether you’re new to a company or you’ve had a recent promotion – should one think about waiting to ask for a raise from when they get hired and how long should you be working for a company before asking for a raise, if those time frames are not already given to you?
I’ll answer this from the perspective of where I sit now, which is running a career platform and marketplace where employers and potential job seekers meet.
I talk to a lot of HR people about this question, and the most common response is typically it makes sense to wait at least six months. I also get another answer that it makes sense to wait for the annual performance review period. Most companies have annual reviews for employees, and that’s the time that’s very logical for someone to ask for a promotion and a raise.
The six month mark is another one that some companies have in mind because some of them have very long onboarding processes for employees depending on how seriously they take onboarding. Some people have onboarding for three months, so during that time it’s probably too early to ask for a promotion and a raise.
So even though I just threw out two numbers – six months and one year, with one year being the more common answer that I hear – I still think that there’s no rule that fits everybody’s situation perfectly. You may step into a new role and your manager leaves the next week and all of a sudden you get all of those roles and responsibilities your former manager just had. Do you really need to wait a whole year at that point? Or even six months if that’s a pretty significant change from what you came into the company to do? That’s a judgment call at that point for the employee to make.
It sounds like one reason why you might ask for a raise a little earlier than the time frames you suggested could be that your role expanded for whatever reason from what you were originally hired for, whether it was a lack of clarity around the role or something happened at the company. Would that be a potential for asking for a raise beforehand?
Yes. The more objective you can make your case, the more business-like it is. This isn’t about whether your manager likes you or whether someone thinks you’re doing a good job. You’re objectively taking on X, Y and Z responsibilities and you’ve performed them to X, Y and Z level. Those are the ways you should frame a promotion and wage request in order to be most effective.
Ok, let’s get straight into the numbers. How much of a raise should one ask for? And should you always be asking for more than you actually want on the assumption that you’ll get negotiated?
The amount of a raise that you ask for, that question of what is the right salary level for what you’re doing, if you have no change in responsibilities and you’re simply performing the task that you came into the role for, there are no guidelines for what a raise should be for just sticking around. Obviously there’s inflation, and cost of living goes up every year or every month, but that’s not the most compelling reason to ask for a raise. You can ask for one, nothing stops you from making it about your costs going up.
But it’s always more compelling to say that you’re doing more, or that you’ve exceeded expectations, and use that as the anchor. Look at other job descriptions or titles that match what you’re doing. That’s the easiest way objectively come up for a number for what your wage increase should be.
If you feel you might be in that “just sticking around” category, which is certainly a possibility, do you know if there are any standard percentages that take into account cost of living and other factors. As an example, I know some industries are pretty standard. Higher Ed is pretty standard with raises around 3-4% per year, sometimes you’re often even told that when you take a role, “this is what our review schedule and promotional schedule is”….are there any benchmarks to start with at a low level, or does it depend on too many factors to make that call?
You’re right, there are benchmarks in some places. If you’re a union employee there are benchmarks for salary increases. But by and large, at-will employees who work for private companies can’t expect in this day in age and in my experience a wage increase just because of cost of living. I don’t think that’s the default behavior of most employees, fortunately or unfortunately depending on where you’re sitting.
On the second piece of that question – asking for more than I really want – how common is negotiating when you’re in the position of getting a raise, as opposed to when you’re first getting an offer for your salary? What are the times when you should be asking for more?
This is a strategic move in a negotiation, I don’t know if there’s great data about whether you should always ask for more than you want.
If I were negotiating for anything, I always try to anchor the number to a higher number than what I’m looking for, simply because I know there’s this involuntary, psychological, subconscious anchoring effect. It’s actually called that. You throw out big numbers, people think you’re ambitious. And as long as it’s not completely outrageous, it can only help, as long as you don’t think you’re number is going to offend somebody.
If we’re talking about differences between 5% and 10%, what’s the harm in asking for 10%?
Let’s get into the Hows. How should someone think about asking for a raise or negotiating for a salary increase both at the time when they’ve been at the company or when they’ve been giving an initial offer? And you could also think about within that whether you’re on a set promotional schedule or you’re asking for a surprise salary increase.
There’s a lot of asking before you ask. What I mean by that is, you want to lay up all of the facts before you get into that meeting. You want to make sure that you’re the person that’s always delivering for your manager before you ask them.
If your plan is to ask in six months for a raise, you can think about it as a six month preparation plan. When you have 1:1s with your manager, make sure you’re always highlighting what you’re doing in terms of hitting your objectives, or helping be a member of the team that upholds the company’s culture, or whatever you think the criteria is for your raise and promotion.
You can just lay out every time you speak to your manager how much you love your work, how much you love the company, how much you love working for them, and how much you’re delivering. All of those conversation add up to a psychological impression of you before you even walk in to make the ask.
You want the presentation to be in-person when possible. It’s important to see their body language, it’s important for them to your expressions to really communicate what you’re trying to communicate effectively. By then, you’ve already made your case every time you’ve met with them for the past six months! This should sort of just be a summary or a drive home.
One tactic I’ve also heard often cited and have actually used before – it does depend on your relationship with your manager because it’s a bit more of a bold move – is very directly setting yourself up and putting a little bit of a responsibility on your managers. For instance, six months beforehand, actually saying, “Hey, I’m really interested in being able to qualify for a raise in the next 6-12 months. I would love to talk with you about what I need to do to make that happen.” And you let that conversation go. It’s not always possible, I found myself in a position with a great manager that I was able to have that conversation and they really supported me on that.
That’s a great point. I love it when employees do this with myself personally. I love it because it makes it very clear that the person wants to do a great job.
When you get to the point where you’re in the raise conversation, what should people bring with them when they’re getting measured and analyzed for that promotion?
Earlier I mentioned bringing a powerpoint presentation with you. It’s not that you’re going through the slides, but you have the data ready to go. Sometimes your manager doesn’t remember when your start date was. We all forget, and the days pass by.
You want to say things in very clear and factual ways: “I have worked here for 8 months, I came into the company with this job title, with this salary….”. Some managers have many direct reports and don’t even remember how much people are paid. It’s very close to you, but you need to present all of these facts to your manager as if they’re the distracted, busy people that they are.
Then just lay out what you’ve done and how you’ve overachieved, that you’ve done the things you set out to do, and ask them for the number.
You don’t have to make it hugely elaborate, but having those objective facts laid out set you up in the best way.
Subquestion for you. In terms of those “impact numbers” that you might present – “In my time here, I’ve managed to increase our audience size by X, X and X” or whatever it is – is there a “too much” that people should think about, or is it really about making that strong case for impact in your role?
This is why I recommend having this conversation in person. It depends on how busy your manager is, what kind of person they are, how much time you have for the meeting. You can always write more things down as evidence than you actually present. Sometimes the most effective presenters are the ones who have a deck but they only point out 1 or 2 things as they’re going thru. That might be the best way to get across to a manager that might not have a lot of time or focus.
What happens if one’s raise request is denied, if there’s a “No”?
It’s important for you to decide in advance what you’ll do if you don’t get your raise. I say that because in situations where you want to stick around and you want to try again, you have to behave differently and make sure that your manager realizes that.
I have some managers at my own company that, they know they’re going to be asked for raises and they can’t give them or don’t want to give them for whatever reason. In their mind the question is whether this person is going to go or stay.
If they want the person to stay, the response usually comes with a “No, not now, but….”. There’s a list of things that make either a time bridge or a list of accomplishments bridge before it’s going to happen.
You do need to psychologically prepare for that being the answer. If you decided if you don’t get the raise that you’re leaving, it’s clear what you do. You may want time to buy time and interview, you have to be prepared to act a certain way. And it’s never a bad thing to have closure when you’re rejected.
In that scenario, if you have a request that’s denied, you do want to stay, and you’re further not given a timeline for accomplishments or any clarity around how to get a raise, any suggestions on how long you might wait to ask again?
Sometimes at smaller tech companies, the reasons why someone doesn’t get a raise may be more macro and have nothing to do with the person. There might be a fundraise happening or business operations.
Every person has to judge for themselves whether it’s really about them, or whether it’s about the business opportunity at their current employer.
If you get a “no”, should you, and if so how, do you ask why the raise didn’t happen? That can always be valuable information, sometimes manager can or cannot share it with you, or don’t want to. How can you get as much information around the why as possible?
I’ve given this some thought, because I always think people who say no to you feel worse about nos than you might realize. For the person asking for the raise, it’s a really scary thing to do. But if you flip the situation and put yourself in their shoes, it’s also really scary to say no to someone and know you’re going to disappoint them.
Sometimes the best thing to do when you’re given a no is to say, “Ok, I’m going to digest this, but I would really appreciate a conversation at some time in the future about why I didn’t get the raise.” That’s one approach depending on how tense the situation is. That’s one reason I always suggest having the meeting in person, to assess the tension in the room.
If you really want to challenge and argue for it right there, that’s also a valid response, but you have to read the person in the room and how willing and prepared they are to give that answer to you in a honest way. Even if they’re your manager, some people don’t feel comfortable in a confrontational situation.
Great. Last question before we close with a few corporate culture thoughts. In regards to salaries, what tips do you have if someone finds out that a coworker of theirs in a similar role is making more than they are?
It’s more and more common to share pretty much everything, whether it’s anonymously on a site like ours or Glassdoor, or internal surveys that employees generate.
You have to be really careful about how you frame a request. It really shouldn’t be about what other people do, it should be as much as possible about what you do.
It’s one thing if someone literally has the same job description and function and they’re making a lot more. But if it’s a small amount for the same job, it’s entirely possible that that person simply negotiated better than you. If that’s the case, you can ask for a raise, but asking it in reference to someone else, may not be the most effective way to get that raise, even if it’s true.
It’s one thing to know the facts, it’s another thing to know what to do with those facts. It’s such a fact-oriented situation. People who have similar job titles may have different scopes of responsibility. There are only certain titles that go around.
Let’s close with a few thoughts on corporate culture, a big piece of the equation when you’re in a job or taking a job. When someone’s looking for a new job and a new workplace, how do they find a workplace that aligns with their values when sometimes all you’re looking at is a job description, a website, or that type of thing.
Culture is such a big part of this equation. It’s one of the things that men and women look at differently. One of the reasons we started Fairygodboss is we realized that women typically care more about company culture and office environment than their male counterparts. For that reason, it’s so valuable to understand what other people who’ve worked there feel about it. Employee reviews are such a rich source for this kind of information.
It’s also very important to get both sides of the story. Employers do have websites, but they also have employees who have social media handles. There’s so much detective work that you can do beyond the website. What are employees saying on social? We think it really matters what employees post on their personal social handles and personal blogs. You can get a real sense of someone through those things.
All of thee clues are putting together a fuller picture for someone. There are more free tools than ever before for job seekers.
When someone is interviewing, what are some red flags they should be aware of when they want to make sure a company is the right cultural fit or if they’re going to feel included?
You have to know who you are and what you want before you can determine what a “good” culture is. I’m not sure I really believe that there’s a right culture for everyone. I’m pretty sure there are bad cultures for everyone – if something illegal is happening or there’s harassment – that’s all bad for everybody.
But what makes a place good for one person doesn’t make it a good place for another person. You have to walk in the door with some questions in mind that are about your values. If transparency is important to you, for example, or collaboration, you have to be prepared to ask questions that get at those two things in your interview, or pick up on things that indicate what those two will look like.
Last question: If you’re in an existing job or whether you’re getting a new job and you’re looking at a benefits package, what are some good ways someone can advocate for a good benefits package within that structure?
It’s always better to negotiate these things upfront when you’ve gotten the offer and before you’ve started. It’s really important that you’ve aligned with expectations before you start.
If you’ve already started and you’ve decided that you want more job flexibility, there’s a lot of power in numbers. One of the things we do is crowdsource maternity and parental leave policies. Some of the employees who’ve helped make a change internally about their own policies have done so by reference to data. They’ve shown what they’ve found, some of the existing policies. It becomes a conversation that’s not about that employee, but it’s about the number of women in X age range, and it’s something that’s good for employee retention overall.
When you can make a business case for any of your own personal interests, it becomes about the whole company as well.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: In terms of accepting a new role, in interviews with HR being asked your current salary – if we aren’t in a state that’s made that illegal – how do you gracefully dodge that question?
I would just not answer it. Honestly. Answer the question you wish you were asked instead of the one you were asked.
In this case, the question you would like to have been asked is “what do expect to be paid for this position?” You should walk into the interview with an answer to that question already, and that’s how I would respond.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: Could we discuss a new role, and what the facts and figures are around that if you were applying to a role within your company? How much should we ask for in a new role.
I would treat it like any other new job negotiation. Look up that job title at that company and see what the range is that people have reported for that role and ask for that if it’s a number you’re happy with.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: I’m in a role that’s really expanded in my company, and my managers have no idea. I’ve done research into market pays in my area, I’m grossly underpaid by $15-20K. I’m trying to understand how to ask my boss without shocking him.
If you’ve found that you’re being grossly underpaid for a role that you’ve taken on, just stating it like that is pretty powerful. You can try to have the conversation before you have the conversation. Every time you meet with them, talk about how you’re taking on new responsibilities, and how you didn’t know you’d be taking them on but that you’re excited. And state how you’ve been doing a great job doing these items you hadn’t known you were being hired for. As specific as you can.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: If someone gets an offer for a new role, how many times should people expect to go back and forth in a negotiation? I’ve heard different things.
I’m not sure there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. A lot of this is about reading the person sitting across the table from you. You also need to be confident in the number you have being the right number. If you know you’re asking for a top-of-the-market number and you know that, you may want to negotiate less. But if you know you’ve been offered something at the bottom of that range, you may want to negotiate more.
A lot of it has to do with where your real reservation price is. What’s your walk-away number and how far are you away from it. Ten times seems like a lot, without any context, but it’s hard to say that 3 or 4 is too much.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: Have you ever known of a company rescinding an offer based on a negotiation?
I haven’t really heard of a company rescinding an offer, but they will sometimes say “we can’t go above $X”.
COMMUNITY QUESTION: Are there any tactics that a woman should that are different from a man, because we can be seen as coming in too hard or being aggressive with an offer?
This is such a hard question. If you’ve read Lean In, there’s research that she mentions that highlights that we have a harder time asking for things because we’re supposed to be socially more grateful for things and ask for things in a nice way. Her advice is that if you position this less about you and what you need, and talk about how the company will benefit from you being paid the right amount. That’s tricky, but it’s one piece of advice that always stuck with me from that book.[Women 2.0] Georgene also alluded to this a couple of times in our back and forth. If you really nail in on the data and you have hard numbers and tangible things to dig into, it makes it much more real where some of the nebulous asking because more straightforward. Getting into that type of conversation might strip away any suggestion of aggressiveness because it’s based on very tangible items.
On the salary negotiations being rescinded if you’re going back and forth. It seems that there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll get into a “risky” negotiation at the end if discussions around salaries don’t happen earlier in the process. Often times people are told “don’t talk about salary in the first interview”. If you don’t know what a salary range is going into an interview, what’s the best way to find that information out earlier on in the process so you aren’t left at the end being wildly off when you get the offer?
If you through a phone screen, it’s entirely within your right to ask. You can ask in a perfectly nice way – “I noticed that the salary range wasn’t posted for this role, and I just want to make sure I’m not wasting your time. Can we talk about expectations? Mine are in this range, does that line up with you.”
Or, if you don’t want to talk about it with the hiring manager, HR departments are very used to these kinds of questions.