Earn More Money by Demanding It
The hardest part of negotiating a work contract is the pay. I despise having to demand a certain amount of money, even though I am well aware that I deserve a certain amount of money. That's why I love working with job recruiters - they set the rates, and they usually do their best to get you the most money, because, let's face it, they're taking quite a bit more off the top of it.
But for freelance work, or if negotiating your own salary, you're on your own. And that is one of the most terrifying things for me.
It's odd, really. When I go through the interview process, I'll get questions like, "So, you think you can learn C++ in a week?" and I can say "Sure, no sweat" without batting an eye. But when the hiring manager finally gets around to "Alright, let's talk money", my heart leaps into my throat and I feel like I am going to hyperventilate.
History - They Told Me to Aim Low
This attitude is a product of my experience. I've had many interviews where the salary was discussed only at the very end. Terrified that I will knock myself out of the running by demanding too much, I would always aim low. Sometimes, that would mean that I got paid very little to do a lot or work. Other times, I would be told that $10 an hour is a LOT of money for someone with only 6 years of working experience. And sometimes, I believe that I have knocked myself out of the running by undervaluing my work.
This is a problem for most women. Thus, this article is written from a female perspective, but it can apply to men, too.
The fact that I am so bad at expecting to make money is odd. I'm a feminist, and I was raised by feminists. I went to a women's college, where being a feminist is more or less standard, unless you are one of the "conservative" women who believes that places like Smith and Barnard are actually finishing schools and not modern colleges. My college, strangely enough for all of their talk about empowering women, didn't do much to help us learn to negotiate salaries. At all.
When I graduated with my degree and headed to New York City to find work, the first bit of job advice I got was "Don't aim to high. Pretend that you really just want a stable job with a stable salary. You get your foot in the door, then you advanced after a few years. Don't show ANY ambition."
Another method for negotiating pay that I was taught to use was to find out what the pay range is before stating your rate or desired salary. Sometimes this works, and the manager will happily tell you; other times, you can go back and forth with one of those "What do you want to be paid?" - "Well, what's the pay range?" - "It varies. What do you want to make per hour?" - "How about you tell me how much the position can pay me, and I'll tell you if it's acceptable?" - "Well, what's acceptable to you?" kind of bullshit loops that gets you nothing in the end.
This, and a need not to appear greedy, has me in a panic when it comes time for me to explain what my time and skills are worth, in hard dollars. I know I'm not alone in this behavior, because it's a common and well-studied phenomenon among women. There are some jobs in which women are paid more than men, but mostly, we lag behind.
There are lots of theories as to why this is. Some people would like you to believe that maternity leave reduces our productivity and thus, we get paid less over all. Some people believe it's part of the inherent sexism that we still deal with in our society (more on this in another blog post).
I'm not in the mood to crunch the numbers, but I will say this: part of the reason we don't get paid as much as men is because we don't expect to get paid as much as men.
Here's a startling fact: By not negotiating their salaries, many women sacrifice more than half a million dollars by the end of their professional lives. "That is pretty scary," says Linda Babcock, the Carnegie Mellon University economics professor who researched that figure. Babcock surveyed M.B.A. students who graduated in 2002 and 2003 and found that those who negotiated received 7% to 8% more than what they were initially offered. And of those two graduating classes, 52% of the men negotiated, compared to only 12% of women. Over time, that adds up, since percentage raises are based on a person's current salary. "Women leave a lot of money on the table," says Babcock, who also co-authored the book, Women Don't Ask.
Put Your Monetary Past Behind You
Now, I think that employers should always state the pay range for any position. I don't like reading things like "Competitive" or "Commensurate with experience" in the Pay section of a job posting. I'm sure this is done to weed out people who just look for high-paying jobs, but still, it makes it very difficult. "Competitive" is a very subjective term. But since this is the game that we all must partake in, I have to say this:
It doesn't matter how much money you make right now. It matters how much you are worth, and how much you want to make.
I'd probably still be making a crap salary if I didn't have a hiring manager take pity on me and double my pay in one fell swoop. During a bad point in Seattle's economy, I was working my butt off at a company in which the writers made 30K per year while the web designers made something like 75K. What can I say? I was desperate for work, so I took a salary that I knew didn't reflect half of what I was worth.
When a manager at a local tech firm interviewed me for a new job, he asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I stammered a bit, and said something like, "Well, I guess $22 an hour or maybe... yeah. Like, $22." He stared at me for a few seconds, and then said, "I'm going to put you in at $35 an hour." That's what my skill level typically brought in, and it's what I should have been making all that time. But I didn't know enough to demand that much, so frightened was I of being unemployed.
Stick to Your Guns
I have an annoying habit of being wishy washy about pay. The truth is, for freelance work, I do have a wide range of rates. If I'm doing copy writing for a web site about bunny rabbits, then I charge much less than I would for highly technical documentation. So, I've found it necessary to view the work before stating my rates, but I do like to give an estimate beforehand. I've finally just typed up a Word doc that states my hourly rate in a very matter-of-fact manner.
I have noticed, however, that it can be very easy to be manipulated into taking less than you are worth. For instance, a couple of months ago, I began an assignment writing some simple documents for a software company. I had stated my lowest acceptable hourly rate via email. The employer agreed to this readily.
When speaking to the manager on the phone, however, I was asked again to state my desired rate. I reminded him that his had been discussed already via email, and I sensed some hesitation on his end of the line. My heart fluttered around in my chest and I thought to myself, I'm asking too much. I asked if this was still fine, and he suggested that I accept $5 less per hour, because the company was small. I felt my stomach falling into my feet as I agreed.
A few minutes later, I decided to grow a spine. I wrote the manager back and told him that we had agreed upon a base rate, and that was the rate, regardless of the size of his company. I explained that I understood if he needed to find someone who would work for less, but that I simply wasn't going to be able to do the work for less than I had stated.
And he accepted it. I was pretty sure he wouldn't, but he did.
I'm aware that it's only $5 an hour difference, but over the course of the contract, that was an extra $1200 in my pocket (or in this case, towards a loan that I need to pay off).
Negotiate Without Fear
We all need to be aware how much our time and skills are worth (Bob Bly writes extensively about this on his web site, and he has an argument about time versus money that I will pick apart in a few days), but this is particularly important for women. We have not yet reached the point where we feel like we can demand high wages. Part of this is a lack of information - it's hard to know what a job should pay. But this is research that should be performed beforehand, so do that work before you talk to the hiring manager about pay.
The aforementioned Forbes article has some tips on how to negotiate salary.
Here are some of my personal tips for negotiating a good wage:
- Practice maintaining eye contact when you talk about money. Don't look away or down. If you are discussing it on the phone, be sure not to sound particularly nervous. It's OK to pause when you are speaking, but don't fill gaps with ums and ahs.
- Practice stating your desired wage in the mirror. Don't let your face get all weird on you. Ask a friend to guide you through it, too, so you can say it to a live person.
- State your hourly rate or desired income without shame. For example: "I expect to make $25 per hour."
- Don't let your voice get all high and squeaky. In fact, make certain that you speak in a low but clear voice. It's probably a male thing, but a deeper voice implies authority.
- If the manager winces at you, don't say anything. Maintain eye contact and keep silent. It's their job now to ask if you will take less.
- If they do ask if you can take less, ask if your requested wage is above the expected range for the position. If you are feeling ballsy, ask what other people who work in the same position are being paid. They can't tell you about individual employees' pay, but they can tell you the range.
- Is the highest end of the pay range pretty close to what you want to make? Is it way too low? Also, never never accept anything below the highest pay rate of the range. Pretend it's not a range at all. Take the highest number, and assume that that is the least amount of money that you can possibly take.
- If they give you a range in which the highest pay is close to what you want to make, you have some choices:
- Saying that you'll go ahead and take the lower rate of pay might make you look like a chump. My favorite way to handle this is to say something like, "Well, I'd like you to consider raising the rate. My skills and experience make me worth every penny. If you can't consider a higher rate for me, perhaps we can discuss bonus schedules or expected pay raises over time."
- Let them know that you'll think about it. "I'd like to take some time to consider this. Can I get back to you in a couple of hours?". In a way, this is a face-saving move. You can then really think about if you want the job at that pay rate, and if you do, you can write an email expressing your excitement about the firm, and accepting the highest end of the pay range.