I’m Jordan Sale, the founder of 81cents, a startup that helps women and underrepresented minorities source compensation data from professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers so that they can navigate tough negotiations more confidently. We started 81cents in summer 2018 as a side project. Fast forward, fourteen months – we’re now a full-fledged company with hundreds of users and supporters. 

It’s been a wild, exciting first year of operations. As I reflect back, I wanted to share a few of my learnings from watching almost 200 individuals negotiate.

1: Everyone’s nervous when they negotiate. It’s human.

Regardless of how in-demand a person’s skill set is, everyone who negotiates gets nervous. They question their value and worry that they won’t be “worth” it to the company. I’ve heard of a Level 6 UX Researcher at Lyft who considered not negotiating due to nerves (she went for the negotiation and received a $30,000 signing bonus) and an L5 Product Marketer at Google who worried about asking for too much (it turns out she was being underpaid by about 20%). It’s completely normal and part of being human!

However, most recruiters have told us they usually have at least $10,000 to negotiate with before having to re-level the offer or get more senior approval (with the exception of entry-level rotational programs).

Tip – write a script! It’s the best way to feel confident ahead of a negotiation. Email us (hello@81cents.com) if you’d like a template to work off of.

2: Asking for higher pay is f*cking hard.

I spend all day every day thinking about negotiating, so you think I’d be good at it by now. However, I recently started going to a new therapist. Before we met, the therapist said she was open to giving me a discounted hourly rate since she doesn’t accept insurance, and I’m newly self-employed (working on 81cents!). I looked at my budget and calculated what I could afford.

However, during the session, when the therapist asked me what number made sense for me, I froze and blurted out $25 above what I’d calculated. I totally panicked and negotiated against myself.

Negotiating is really hard, and you won’t always get it right. However, there is no better feeling than knowing you were clear about your needs and the value you bring to the table. I’m currently working up the courage to re-negotiate with my therapist.

3: Data makes a difference.

It’s common knowledge that having accurate salary benchmarks is super helpful for negotiations (i.e. data on what others in similar roles earn). Quoting “market rates” can give managers and recruiters material to use to advocate on your behalf.

I’ve also seen the impact that realistic data can have on the confidence of the person actually making the ask. Having external data points helps you feel confident and validated in what you’re asking for.

Spend serious time (at least two hours) looking for salaries of others in similar roles. Find people in your field and ask to have candid, open conversations about pay. Glassdoor alone is not sufficient. I recommend acknowledging the awkwardness and offering to share your pay first.

Here are a few of the resources we like in addition to 81cents compensation reports:

4: Look at the whole offer, not just base salary 

I’ve seen dozens of people ask for more money just for the sake of it and because you’re “supposed” to (see tip 5 below). They ignore the less glamorous components of the offer that might actually be more meaningful to them, both financially and personally, for example, more PTO, a 401(k) match, or a great bonus structure to keep them motivated.

Two suggestions:

  • Before you get to the offer stage, try to rank all of the different components of compensation (apart from base salary) based on how much they matter to you. Make sure to consider things like healthcare coverage, retirement plans, commuter benefits, women’s health, and perks like free lunch, etc. The more you understand yourself and what you care about, the better your negotiation will go and the more clear and intentional your asks will be.
  • Build a spreadsheet to quantify every component of the offer. I’ve seen individuals take a new offer with a higher salary only to realize they’re making about the same as before in light of the new offer’s weaker healthcare or retirement benefits. For example, a year of free lunches is easily worth $1,300 ($5 / lunch) and the difference between a 5% and 6% 401(k) match can be significant.

5: You should always ask.

Many companies actually set offers about 5 – 10% below what they have the budget for, expecting the candidate to negotiate. In one extreme case, I even heard of someone who got reprimanded for not negotiating. It was for a sales role and the logic was if they couldn’t negotiate for themselves, then how could they be expected to negotiate for the company.

Out of the 190+ negotiations 81cents has supported, we’ve only seen one offer get rescinded. As with most offers being rescinded, it had nothing to do with asking for more pay. In fact, the person had negotiated successfully with the recruiter and received a $5,000 signing bonus. Their offer was taken off the table because they didn’t respond to the recruiter’s email thanking them for the increase. It sounds silly, but as you go through your negotiation, make sure to be gracious, appreciative, and empathetic to the recruiter and hiring manager you’re working with.

6: You can do it. I swear.

Just because you’re not great at haggling at a car dealership or street market doesn’t mean you can’t be a great negotiator in a professional setting. In fact, the best negotiators are understanding, flexible, respectful, and collaborative.

Here are a couple of success stories to show that YOU can do it:

Self-taught Software Engineer in Massachusetts – L was offered a Junior SWE role after a successful internship as the only woman on a team of 18. She was offered a salary of $64K and a small amount of equity. L negotiated and made a case around her previous (non-SWE) work experience as well as her success during her internship. She received a $10,000 increase in salary as well as a promise to revisit her pay in 3-6 months.

Product Manager in New York City – A had been a PM at an education-focused non-profit for the past two years when she received an offer to join an education startup. The offer was $145,000 and $52,000 of equity which our reviewers deemed about average. A wrote a detailed script and made a case around market rates and her relevant experience in education. Within an hour of her call, the recruiter called to bring her base up by $5,000 and grant her more equity. All she had to do was ask…

7: Make a brag sheet.

If you only take one piece of advice from this whole article it should be this – keep an ongoing brag sheet. An incredibly successful (and cynical) person once told me: you can’t always do the work, do it well, and get recognized. At a certain point, it’s not going to be enough.

As uncomfortable as it can be to talk openly about the great work we do and the value we bring to our organizations, it’s essential. Make sure you’re always ready to authentically promote yourself and, if you’re a manager, your team, as well.

You’ve got this.