Are You Negotiating the Pay You Deserve?
About the Author

Michelle Aikman is a military spouse and career management expert.

Congratulations, you just were offered a sweet job with an annual salary of $45,000! You were hoping for $55,000, but you are feeling pretty lucky to get the offer. You might be tempted to take the offer, but if you take it as is, you’re leaving $276,764 on the table. If the offer is $75,000, and you were hoping for $100,000, you’re leaving $691,912 when you don’t negotiate.    

This is the story of a friend who very recently transitioned from the nonprofit to the corporate private sector.   

She has a doctorate, worked in the education field, then for various nonprofits, both as a volunteer and an employee for an extended period of time. Even with her advanced professional degree, she continued to earn in the $50,000 to $65,000 salary range, which is the very low end of the national average for her profession. Even though she believes in the causes of the nonprofits she works and volunteers with, it became vital for her to focus on the needs of her family. Taking a leap of faith, she applied for a position with a Fortune 500 company. After intensive interviews, she initially was offered a position with a starting salary of $75,000.  

In our discussions, she shared with me, “At first I felt grateful to get the position and thought [the offer] was OK, because it was more than I was making in my past positions; but it didn’t feel right.” After additional thought, she realized the offered salary was inadequate based on her qualifications, subject matter expertise and experience, but knew she had employment gaps, was previously underemployed, and historically worked in noncorporate sectors. Instead of toiling with this conflict on her own, she reached out to her support network and asked if she would risk losing the position if she negotiated a higher salary. Like a good support network should, they encouraged her not to hesitate advocating for herself and her family.  They reminded her of her value and the necessary knowledge she possessed, from which the employer would benefit. They reassured her advocating for herself would be critical to attaining her goals.  She did the research, prepared a detailed explanation of her previous work, the expertise she brought to the company and the position, provided a solid list of references who could attest to the quality of her work, and asked for $100,000.  

“I was shocked, because they accepted! It was a scary experience to ask for more, but I am so glad I did because I feel valued. I have a job I love with a great company, and I feel appreciated. It made me want to do more and work harder. I was finally making what I was worth, [and] no longer underemployed. This was life changing.” She wants military spouses to know, “You are worth it, and you need to make sure that they know you are worth it,” and above all, “step one is to know your own worth both figuratively and literally — know how much you can ask from a potential employer.”  

If she had accepted the initial offer, she wouldn’t have just lost $25,000 a year, she would have given up $691,912 over the course of the next 20 years of her career (assuming a standard increase of 3 percent every year) because pay increases typically are percentages based on salary. This doesn’t account for percentage-based bonuses or raises either, so the amount forfeited could be significantly more. And to think she could have lost out on this chunk of money — a chunk big enough to buy about 140,000 $5 coffees (that is a coffee every day for 379 years) or 138 $5,000 vacations — if she had given into her fear and not negotiated.  

To help you negotiate the pay you deserve, consider these tips:  

1.        Cash now or cash that grows with time: When offered higher pay or a one-time bonus, calculate which one will give you more in the long run before making a decision.

2.        Keep the ball in your court: Avoid throwing out a firm number first whenever possible, even when asked directly, especially if pay is only one piece of the benefits and compensation package. If you are willing to negotiate pay and benefits like paid time off, vacation days, flexible work schedules, or health insurance, then postpone the pay discussion until after a hiring decision and initial offer is made to avoid premature negotiations that could jeopardize them from extending you an offer at all.

3.        Quell the employer’s concerns before the offer: If a potential employer insists you give them a number, they likely are trying to gauge whether you are within their range. Consider asking the pay range and let the employer know if the range is reasonable.

4.        Ask: If the initial offer is not what you want or what you think you deserve, be prepared to ask for more and to provide a business case.  

Negotiating is especially important for military spouses. Practice now so you can shake your fears and be prepared when the moment calls so you don’t leave precious money sitting on the table. You and your family deserve for you to be properly compensated for your contributions at work.    

 
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