Salary Negotiation; Another Story From The Trenches

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I recently had lunch with a friend of mine, comparing notes on her business and mine. A lawyer by trade, she has worked for her current company–a US MNC–for about seven years. That day she was somewhat preoccupied by the pending merge she and her team will soon make, into another division of the company. It’s actually beneficial for her, and as we talked about the requisite political jockeying, we got on to the topic of negotiating promotions with the boss.

She suddenly let loose.

“Why is it that women have such a hard time asking for a raise or a higher level job?” she started (I’ll add that she is Singaporean).

“You cannot believe how many women I know who are smart, driven and absolutely know what they want in their job. But honestly, when it comes to negotiating, they melt.”

“I’ve seen this a lot–more than you have. Here’s a good one. My new boss, who’s in the US, tried to convince me the other month to take a larger job. I told her if I did take it, they’d have to increase my package, obviously. It’s a global role, so that would make common sense, no?”

“So she tells me they had no budget, I said OK, no problem. We can talk another time when you have the budget, pretty easy to understand. But she kept at it, and said I should do it for the challenge. The challenge?? I told her thanks but no thanks. And she’s a lawyer herself, same as me.”

“I saw her not long after, and she told me SHE could take some lessons from me on how to negotiate better.”

“Good story,” I said, “and you made the right call. When they’re ready you’ll hear from them.”

“Probably so,” she replied. “But here’s the reason I feel so strongly about not giving in on package negotiation.”

“In one of my very first jobs, way back when, I was interviewing with XXX (a US MNC). At the end of all the interviewing, they said they wanted to hire me, which was great news! They asked what I thought I should be making.

Well, being young and a bit bold, I thought about it for a minute and replied “$xx per month” with confidence, which I thought was good enough. I didn’t want to be thought as being pushy. ‘Fine! It’s a deal,’ was their immediate response. And so I started with them, feeling pretty good that I’d gotten a salary I was happy with. And I really was. I liked the job and the company, they told me repeatedly I was a star, how great I was, and so forth.

“OK, so fast forward to a year later. I had a new boss who was reviewing all the salaries. He came over to me, and asked me to come into his office, I figured maybe that was it for me. He sat me down, had a puzzled face, and said, ‘I need to talk to you about your salary.’ ‘OK’, I said, figuring they were cutting everything.

‘I’m not sure how to say this, but your current salary is not only low, it’s even less than the chart everyone else is on. Did you have any idea of that? How did this happen?’

“It was like getting kicked in the stomach, and I felt sick. All the time they kept telling me I was a star and everything else, I was being paid less than half of my peers, less than half! Do you believe that?

“I was actually very lucky to have had a boss who told me, and we agreed to fix it. I had to make my own spreadsheet to justify a raise–which I should never had to do, but was necessary to get it straightened out, so spent time reworking all my numbers and achievements. I did end up getting more or less the same level as the others. I stayed with XX for a few years, but I never ever forgot that feeling and experience. So, OK, now I’m considered a tough negotiator for myself. But that’s the story.”

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A few years ago, I placed a woman into a role in Hong Kong. I knew the client’s budget, knew her current salary, and told her she could ask for a certain (and higher) amount, as it was within their budget. She hesitated, as she really wanted the job. I told her not to worry, that I’d help, but that I knew for a fact what she could negotiate. Her meeting to sign on was with HR. I asked later how it went, and she was delighted that she had formally been offered the job. I asked about the salary. “I didn’t bother,” she said, “it didn’t really matter.”

Perhaps we’re all different. But if a company wants to hire you, and you have done your due diligence, it is acceptable to inquire, nicely but firmly. That’s merely being professional in one’s approach. It is a business proposition; a company pays you to provide your time and intellectual capital, no small thing. Negotiating is merely another element in the process, so know how make use of it when needed.

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