How to Negotiate an Optimal Pay Package

By Samantha Chang

Has this ever happened to you? You receive an offer for a job you really want, immediately accept without negotiating much, if at all, and then realize after you took the job that you could’ve—and should’ve—gotten more money.

Sadly, this is something that happens a lot to women, since we don’t negotiate the way men do and therefore settle for less money than we deserve. As a result, women still make only 77.3 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the 2006 American Community Survey.

pic1And this statistic is hardly surprising, since only 12.5% of women pushed for a better deal in compensation talks, compared to 51% of men, according to a recent study at Carnegie Mellon University. “Many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept what they are offered and don’t negotiate their salaries,” according to professor Linda C. Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.

Gender Biases at Work

So what accounts for this reticence? A key driver is that women fear that negotiating for more money would make them less likable to the hiring manager. And research indicates that this gender bias is true.

Men and women get very different responses when they negotiate, according to a joint study by Carnegie Mellon’s Lei Lai and Linda Babcock and Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles. In several different studies involving more than 990 people in total, both male and female participants were more likely to penalize women who sought more money, and the women who asked for more were perceived as “less nice,” the report indicates.

“Across all the studies, men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” according to Bowles. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.” So women carry the extra burden of having to weigh the social risk of not being liked versus getting paid what they want and deserve.

Navigating Money Talks

The consequences of quiet acceptance can be costly: Women risk throwing away up to $500,000 over the course of their careers by not negotiating, says Babcock. One thing women need to understand is that practically everything is negotiable, so don’t feel as if you’re locked into an offer as-is once it’s made. And since most offers are based on your current salary, by not negotiating you’re essentially cheating yourself over the course of a 30- or 40-year career.

These tips can help you get what you want:pic2

  • Research the salary range for your job. There are many great resources on the Internet where you can study up on salaries, such as Monster.com’s salary calculator and Salary.com, to name a few. You should review these figures before you state your pay requirements to a prospective employer. Since money does play a key factor in career satisfaction, it’s important to not shortchange yourself.

  • Decide on a compensation range. Before you start negotiating, calculate the lowest amount you’re willing to accept. There’s a happy medium between your ideal salary and the minimum you’d take. And if the offer doesn’t meet your minimum requirements and can’t be negotiated any higher, don’t be afraid to walk away.

  • Avoid stating your current salary if possible. The offer a prospective employer makes to you is often based on your current pay, and since women generally make less than men (and don’t negotiate as aggressively), this will ensure that your salary stays comparatively lower over the long haul. So if you’re asked how much you earn during your interview, try to deflect the question, but under no circumstance should you lie about your salary. Many companies nowadays ask to see pay stubs and if you get caught shading the truth, you can be sure you won’t get that offer and will earn a reputation as a liar. Remember that human resources people move around too, so you may be facing him/her again at a different company down the line.

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