My first job out of college was as a reporter’s assistant for a mid-sized metro newspaper. When they hired me full-time, I was thrilled at the idea of having my first grown-up job. For the first time in my adult life, I was offered health insurance, a 401K, and a cubicle to call my own.
It never once occurred to me to negotiate my salary or to ask for more than they offered. I was simply under the impression that everyone was offered the same amount. After my salary was determined, I felt that I should have been offered more, and I was sorry that I had failed to negotiate. This was a costly mistake that I unfortunately repeated with my next two jobs before I finally got smart.
When I interviewed for my fourth job after college, I was determined to negotiate my salary. When I was asked what I expected my salary to be during the interview, I asked for $8,000 more than what I was making at the job I had.
The man interviewing me scoffed and cited the poor economy at the time, offering me $2,000 less than what I was making—a $10,000 difference from my proposed salary.
Truthfully, I never expected to get an $8,000 raise, but I had to leave some wiggle room for negotiation. I also knew that as a salaried employee, I would be expected to work many nights and weekends, and I wanted the increase in salary to reflect the extra work that would be expected of me.
As small as the hiring manager made me feel for asking for a higher salary, I stood my ground, because I knew what I was worth. I thanked him for his offer and told him that while I understood his position, that I wasn’t an entry-level PR professional anymore. I had experience and was well-connected in the industry.
After a few more exchanges, we settled on a salary that was $5,000 more than what I was making at the time. I attributed our final salary agreement to my persistence, and refusal to accept anything less. When he had tried to offer me $10,000 less than my starting offer, I flat out told him I wouldn’t accept anything under the amount we finally agreed to.
Had I been younger and not as wise by this time, I probably would have accepted his original offer and just been thankful that he offered me the job. As an experienced employee with bargaining potential, though, that was not an option for me.
Successfully negotiating this salary did wonders for my confidence, but it also made me wonder how much money I had lost in previous years because of my fear of negotiating, and subsequent failure to do it. How much money did I miss out on simply due to fear of the word “no”?
Women: Why are we selling ourselves short?
We’ve heard it over and over again: Women make only 77 cents to every dollar paid to our male counterparts (National Women’s Law Center). While there are a variety of factors that contribute to this discrepancy, how much of it can be attributed to our lack of strong negotiating skills?
Sheryl Sandberg says in her TED Talk, that 57 percent of men entering the workforce from college negotiate their first salaries, compared to only seven percent of women. And the people who do end up negotiating generally receive an average increase in salary of seven percent more than non-negotiators.
You may think seven percent isn’t that much to be missing out on, but the reality is that your salary is a base rate. Every time you’re considered for a promotion or a raise at that position, it will be based off of your initial salary. If your initial annual salary is $100,000, your three percent raise will be worth $3,000, compared to $2,700 if you started at $90,000.
Why are women less likely to negotiate?
In my case, I was too young and inexperienced to realize that negotiation was even a possibility, and no one told me, either, for that matter. There’s no “Negotiating 101” college course to give you the tools necessary to successfully negotiate your salary. And even when I started to wise up, I was afraid to ask for what I was worth for fear that I would be shut down.
But the worst your negotiator can possible say is “No.”
Not negotiating my salary from the beginning is a costly mistake that I will never repeat. As much as I wish I could go back and redo this from the beginning of my career, I obviously can’t.
So my best advice to women starting out in their careers is do not be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. You deserve it.
This post is part of BlogHer’s Women@Work editorial series, made possible by AFL-CIO.