Negotiating Job Salary: You Mean You Have to Ask?

One of the hardest things for many working people to get a handle on – especially women – is how to negotiate for what they want and deserve. Like in job interviews. Or when asking for raises. Or truth be told, most things in life. Turns out…you have to ask for it.

I was just listening to an interview with Linda Babcock on American Public Media’s MarketPlace Money and she told it loud and clear: employers expect you to negotiate. And more often than not, men in the business world have been socialized in a way that makes it a little more natural for them to jump in and play the game. Now I’m not saying this is true of all men…but as a rule, women often find it harder to ask. They see it as making waves. Or they feel they should be offered a fair amount in the first place. Or they are just too shy to try – and also afraid to be turned down.

Linda Babcock says we need to be more open to failing at things like this. So what if we don’t get it? At least we tried. Nothing to stop us from coming back and trying again. In fact, the more often you do it, the more you learn the skills of asking.

In most cases, employers and potential employers are not going to tell you how high they can go. I’ve been there and done that. Believe me…it’s true! We often have a bit more than we let on. While that may sound unfair, the truth is budgets are tight and if we can hire someone or keep them for a few less dollars and they seem happy with what they have, it means we have more for other things.

So at the end of the interview process, if they want to hire you, they’ll usually make an offer that’s somewhere in the ballpark – and it’s up to you to try to get the most you can. It’s expected for you to at least TRY for a little more. In some cases, it could make a pretty big difference. In others, with set salaries, there really is no give – or at least very little. But it’s sure worth making an effort to get as much as you can – especially when you first start.

Babcock estimates we can lose a million or more over a lifetime of paychecks by starting out lower than others in the same job and not asking enough as we go along. You may have been taught to be a good little girl (or boy) but maybe it’s time to be baaaad! (And of course, it’s really not bad to value yourself. In fact, it’s important to our self-image and well-being. And salary is part of the whole picture.)

So, while I don’t expect all of you to stampede en masse to your various bosses’s offices and scream “I’m mad and I’m not taking it any more!”, it’s good to at least start thinking about how willing you are to negotiate – and whether you might want to brush up your negotiating skills. Babcock even suggests role play (one of my favorite devices) to practice asking for what you deserve. And let me add that this applies to things like promotions, new projects, training, transfers, travel to conferences, and even respect, as well as to actual dollars.


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I am a women and I Love my job, have had tremendous success, I am the VP of my organization, very involved in campus life, work load greater than all in my department due to the multi-seasonal nature of my job, can’t get a raise and I know I am paid amongst the lowest in my department. This is my third year of negotiation. I do not know what I am doing wrong.

  2. Hi Coach!

    While, as my policy above states, I no longer give individual advice 🙂 , I feel your frustration. May I ask if you’ve actually sat down with your boss, said all you stated here with firmness and a belief that you truly deserve more, and then just looked your boss in the eyes and said “What can we do about this?”

    If so…what was his or her reason for not giving you your fair share? Do you really and truly believe you deserve the money deep down???? And are you willing to look elsewhere to get what you deserve or do they know you’ll never leave? Just some things to think about.

    Best of luck making your case and getting a raise at last! I know this year the economy makes raises less likely, but yours is long overdue and many colleges and universities are actually doing ok because people are using this time to return to school and improve their credentials. (Some of my consulting work is with academia.) But if not this year, then get a firm commitment for the next time raises are available.

    And now I return to my…ahem…firm policy of not offering individual advice. 😉

    Ronnie Ann

  3. I really appreciate this post. I didn’t negotiate – at all – for my previous position (I was laid off for lack of work in July) and always regretted it, especially when salaries were frozen at the end of 2008 after I’d been there a year. I did learn from other now-former employees (there are a lot of us) that their attempts to negotiate were completely futile, even though the firm made lower than average offers in a private consulting field where negotiating is normally common practice. So at least I know that I didn’t lose out on any actual money!

    I have an interview coming up and was required to give a salary requirement with my application, so I gave a broad ($10,ooo wide) range that would be appropriate based on job requirements.

    My question now for fellow readers (or Ronnie Ann if she feels like breaking her rule again, though I understand if she doesn’t 🙂 ) is this, and not to put too fine a point on it, but how do I ACTUALLY ask for more money, as in, what are some suggested phrases for having that conversation?

    Having never had this conversation, I try to imagine it in my head – (them) We’d like to offer you X. (me) would you be able to go up to XX? Is that appropriate or is there a better way to ask? Thanks!

  4. Hi Amy!

    You made me smile by understanding my dilemma of wanting to help everyone and still leaving myself enough time to have my own life!

    Giving a range was a nice solution to a difficult question for most of us. I can’t give you the exact words to use, of course, but this is kind of what I might say once they made a specific offer:

    Employer-to-be: We really wish we could offer you more, but with the tight economy, we can only offer you $xx,xxx.

    Me: I just have to tell you how excited I am about working for you. It’s a great opportunity. I understand the economy is tight, but I’d feel a lot better about $yy,yyy.

    And then I’d shut up, look the person in the eye confidently, maybe with a slight smile depending on what feels right…and then just wait. Let him or her talk next.

    If s/he comes back to you with the same number, try once more by saying something like “Well…I really understand where you’re coming from, but I’d still be a lot more comfortable with $yy,yyy.”

    If you want to try for only the full amount, add something like “Is there anything you can do to try to get that for me?” But if you are willing to take a little less (and it might be a good way to go depending on the exact situation – gives them a feeling you both got something out of the negotiation), add “Could you at least try to get it closer to my number? It would make me really happy.” Smile and firm eye contact again useful here.

    Now those would be my words, Amy, based on who I am. They might not be exactly right for you. But I hope it gives you the idea. Be firm and pleasant and know in your heart you deserve it. And don’t say too much. Let them come back to you.

    But if there’s really no give, they’ll still most likely admire you for trying and you will have given it your best.

    Hope that helps! I wish you all the best. Please let us know what happens or at least how you’re doing. 😉

    Ronnie Ann

Speak Your Mind