In salary negotiation, there is nothing to fear but fear itself explains Brenda Bernstein

Many people are scared that by negotiating a salary package they will lose the position completely—but that rarely happens. You might lose the negotiation, but you won’t get a worse package than what you were already offered. And more often, you’ll get what you want.

Maybe the people who are hiring are more scared of you than you are of them? They don’t want to lose you and they have already chosen you as the best person for the job. So, you are in a position of power!

Salary negotiation works

The following story, one that a friend related to me just a couple of days ago, has become all-too-familiar: Judy (fictitious name), a part-time assistant in my friend’s office, was offered a full-time position at a salary lower than she deserved, and lower than she had made in previous positions. She felt underappreciated but wanted the full-time position. So, she went home to discuss it with her husband, and came back the next day with her decision. She would accept the job. She did not negotiate, but instead accepted the low-ball offer. What she didn’t know is that the hiring manager had been prepared to give her more—if she had chosen to ask for it.

Now, not only is Judy’s salary below her worth, but all her raises in the future will be based on a low starting point.

You’re probably aware of the pay gap between men and women in the workplace. In the U.K., men are reported to make 18.4% more than women on average. Strikingly, this number varies depending on ethnicity. According to a study by the Fawcett Society, while the gap has closed significantly overall in the past 20 years, Black African women have seen almost no progress since the 1990s. Chinese women are now making more than white British men, but still less than their Chinese male counterparts. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have a huge 26.2% gap with white British men, while white Irishwomen now make 17.5% more than white British men.

So, while it does seem that the gap is due to underlying sexism and racism, which contributes to educational and other socio-economic gaps, some of it could also be due to certain women’s failure to ask for what they deserve. The Social Mobility Commission reported in January 2017 that many of these gaps persist even when controlled for educational attainment, role, and experience.

A study at Carnegie Mellon revealed that only 7% of women grad students negotiated vs. 57% of men. The average salary bump for negotiating was 7.4%, which translated to $500K over the course of a career!

If you are a woman who doesn’t negotiate for your salary, I hope you’re getting that women DO succeed in salary negotiation. And you can too. There’s neuroscience at work here: if you think you will do well, you will do better than if you think you won’t do well. One way to convince yourself that you will do well is to know that others have succeeded before you.

Women face unique challenges in salary negotiation.

Women historically have a harder time advocating for themselves than they do for other people—but they are better than men at “representational negotiation”—fighting to get something for another person.

The topic of the pay gap was discussed and addressed in a recent webinar presented by Professor Deborah Ellis for YaleWomen, “Salary Negotiation” (

Here’s a nifty trick offered by Professor Ellis: If you think you don’t deserve more for yourself, negotiate for someone else in your life, like your family, or even your dog. But ask!

There are also external barriers faced by women. The reality is that women who make demands can be seen as adversarial or confrontational.

How you ask makes a difference

Here are some techniques to work against the negative perceptions that are out there:

  • Don’t make demands in writing. Have a conversation, preferably in person or by Skype. Phone is okay too but it’s great to be able to see each other.
  • Be friendly!
  • Use “we” instead of “I”—make it about the team and working together toward a common cause.
  • Express enthusiasm about the job from the get-go.
  • Never say it’s non-negotiable.
  • Ask questions vs. making demands. Examples: “Would you consider a salary of $xxx?” “What would you think of my working from home…?”
  • Use humor.
  • Use the power of silence. Let them fill the silence.

Overall, keep in mind that the goal for both you and the employer is a continuing relationship. Both of you want to reach an amiable win-win solution.

I hope you’re feeling a bit more confident that you can go and negotiate for the compensation you want. But what about the nuts and bolts strategy of salary negotiation?

What if you’re asked about your prior salary or salary expectations?

Some employers try to get you to state a number before they do, which is dangerous territory for you. A low number sets you up to be underpaid by some organisations, and a high number sets you up to be eliminated from consideration. Knowing how to answer the salary expectation question is hugely important for women so that they get paid fairly, not based on a previously too-low salary.

Here’s how Professor Ellis recommends responding if you’re asked about your salary expectations or previous salary:

  • Say, “I’m sure that if you decide I’m the best candidate for the job, we can agree on an appropriate salary for the position.” Or ask the employer, “What is the range that you’re thinking of for the position?”
  • Show them you’ve done your research. Say, “I’ve done some research and understand that the range for this position is $X to $Y. I trust you will offer a fair salary based on industry standards.”
  • If you must state a number, state a range. Or ask for a number at the top of the range you’ve researched, and explain you’re hoping for that salary but are willing to negotiate.

Once you get an offer, here are Professor Ellis’s tips on how to negotiate effectively:

  • Do not initiate a salary negotiation conversation before you get a job offer. Wait until you’ve been offered a position before you bring up topics like salary, benefits, or working from home. Otherwise you will be seen as immature at best, and greedy at worst. You won’t get a second interview.
  • Be prepared. Before you step into a negotiation, calculate your target, your ask, and your bottom line. Gather as many objective facts as possible, including the salaries of others. There are two main ways to do your research:
  • Surf the web. Use LinkedIn’s Salary Insights,,,, and industry-specific websites.
  • Ask your networks (including LinkedIn!). If you’re a woman, ask your colleagues what a man would ask to be paid for this job. If you want to work from home, find out ahead of time whether other people in similar positions have worked from home.
  • Ask for up to 20% over your target. And don’t accept anything below your bottom line.
  • Negotiate the total package, not just salary. Keep benefits, title, scope of responsibility, travel, flexibility, and resources to accomplish your job on the table. Asking for more than one thing allows you to trade off. Keep in mind that some benefits might be non-negotiable.
  • Note: If you’re asking for multiple things, let the employer know at the beginning of the conversation—and ask them in what order they would like to address those things.
  • Understand and leverage the concept of “anchoring”. The first number spoken is the one everyone will remember. Don’t say a low number first or you’ll be stuck with it! Start high and then anything else will sound smaller.
  • If you have another offer, use it as a bargaining point. Always be conversational and pleasant when advising a potential employer of other offers!
  • Identify the employer’s interests and speak to them.
  • Ask for time to consider an offer if you need it. If a company wants you, they’ll be willing to wait—whether that’s overnight or even a week or two.
  • Practice with peers or a professional interview coach.

Then go negotiate!

Learn more about salary negotiation, and salary negotiation for women.

Roger Fisher, William Ury, & Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1991)

Babcock & Laschever, Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want (2009)

Brenda Bernstein, Owner of The Essay Expert LLC, is the author of the #1 Amazon best-seller, How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile. A sought-after speaker and award-winning resume writer, Brenda is a dedicated student of leadership and a trained life ... (Read More)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *