Follow These 5 Steps for Effective Salary Negotiation

effective salary negotiation

At a recent Women Who Code event in Sofia, Bulgaria, I shared my experiences as a woman in tech and offered a few tips for effective salary negotiation and other compensation conversations. Though my advice is applicable to employees in any position and industry with varying levels of experience, it’s no accident that my audience in Sofia was primarily women.

In 2018, women made just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gap that is even larger for women of color, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Black women, for example, earn 62 cents per dollar earned by men and Latina women just 55.

The technology industry has for years struggled with diversity and inclusion(D&I), so it’s no surprise the gender wage gap exists here as well. Though smaller at 3% for all women and 10% for women of color, this pay gap still amounts to thousands of dollars in lost income, plus associated bonuses and investment growth. Admittedly, many tech organizations strive to do the right thing through periodic salary reviews and other transparency/D&I initiatives, but these corrections often come years later.

So, what can women—and anyone for that matter—do to ensure they receive a fair starting salary and appropriate raises throughout? Here are five tips for negotiating salary to keep in mind:

  1. Research Your Market Value. This is a must before negotiating a salary or asking for a raise. What is the salary range for employees with similar jobs at competitors? What are your colleagues who are doing similar work earning? Sites like LinkedIn, Salary.com and Glassdoor provide general compensation guidelines, and you may even find spreadsheets online that list specific salaries at a given company. At the same time, ask friends and coworkers in comparable positions about their compensation; yes, it can be awkward but it pays—literally—to ask. This type of average salary research quickly tells you whether you’re being lowballed or underpaid, and in doing so, arms you with the confidence to ask for more. Of course, what goes around comes around, so don’t be afraid to share first. By sharing your compensation and role, you might just help someone else too.
  2. Document, Document, Document. Help your manager or recruiter sell a salary increase to their superiors by building a strong justification behind your ask. That requires documenting accomplishments and impact, whether that’s presiding over an increase in revenue or patenting a critical piece of software. From a job seeker perspective, remind the recruiter or hiring manager of previous achievements and future potential. What’s important is ensuring your request is firmly rooted in data so that a higher salary is mutually beneficial.
  3. Avoid Sharing Salary History or Expectations. During the interview process, you want the recruiter to share their salary number first to avoid undercutting yourself by mistake. When asked directly, use humor to avoid the question (“Are you making me an offer?!”) or respond with a willingness to discuss compensation after learning more about the job. If you’re really pressed in an interview, provide your base salary plus a generous raise.
  4. Take Your Time and Compare Comprehensively. Congrats, you’ve got an offer! Now pause to jot down the details before requesting a few days to mull it over. Use that time to compare offers comprehensively, because base salary is just one part of the equation. Maybe one offer comes with equity in a fast-growing startup; the other with excellent benefits, a desirable work-life balance and the possibility of tuition reimbursement should you pursue a graduate degree. Whatever the case, make sure to value the entire package holistically and over the course of your employment, not just for year one.
  5. Just Ask! The simplest yet hardest part, and one that a majority of people—especially women—never do. In fact, a 2018 survey of U.S. workers found that 66% of women and 54% of men didn’t negotiate at all in their last job offer. As women raised in a world that frowns upon us asking for—let alone demanding—what we deserve, I understand this instinct and remember once agonizing for weeks over whether to ask for a raise. But when I finally did, I left my vice president’s office two minutes later with a 10% pay hike. The moral? If you have a strong case based on the above factors, it’s nearly always worth having that conversation. Women, especially, must remember that.

At the end of the day, successful negotiation is about confidence and market research. While I know from experience how shy software engineers in particular can be, negotiation skills are a muscle that can be developed and honed through practice. That’s especially important for those of us from non-English speaking countries who face a double barrier of culture and language.

These money conversations can seem scary and contentious but are rarely either. In fact, your best bet is showing sincerity and gratitude before explaining the ways in which your current compensation or offer falls short. Sometimes, the employer may not know the market rate and will raise your salary accordingly; other times, you may not fully understand the total compensation package. And yet other times, nothing can be done, and it’s best to simply move on. What matters most is that you ask. After all, if you won’t stand up for yourself, who will?

For more from Malini, check out “The Key to Open Source Effectiveness: We Before Me,” and stay tuned to the VMware Open Source Blog and Twitter (@vmwopensource).   


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