Long gone are the days in which we were handed an offer letter for a job and quietly accepted the terms without any questions. In today’s time, understanding the conditions and negotiating if needed is key. Women tend to struggle more with negotiating job offers than men do. This is because historically, we were taught that asking too many questions makes us come across as difficult. Or that asking for more is embarrassing. But why should we be embarrassed to try and understand the terms of a contract better? And why should we settle for less than what we are worth?
The issue with the term negotiation is that it often has a negative connotation. I used to think that negotiating implied conflict or dissatisfaction, when in fact it’s just a discussion. Making this mindset shift was key when I received my first offer letter for an internship. After reading the contract, I had multiple questions from travel stipends to the flexibility of changing my start-date. But I was so scared to even ask such trivial questions. When I finally forced myself to schedule a call with the HR representative, I was surprised by how patiently they responded to my queries.
Today, anytime I receive an offer letter, I share it with my mentors and ask around in my community to understand whether the terms are at par with the market. Even if the terms are a par, I schedule a call with the HR team to get some information about other benefits and wiggle room (which almost certainly exists for management roles).
Here are some steps for negotiating that I found helpful.
Ask around to compare the terms of your offer. You can and should ask colleagues or people in similar roles about the salary and benefits offered to them. Usually in starting positions and standard programs (e.g., Analyst roles in large banks or consulting companies), offer letters will be identical. But terms might differ when you are offered a new position or a raise.
Schedule a call to understand terms. Even if you are satisfied with the offer, schedule a meeting to clarify doubts or ask any questions you may have. These conversations are better in person so try to schedule an in-person or video call instead of communicating over email. Before heading into the meeting thoroughly read the contract and make a list of your own negotiable and non-negotiable terms; be prepared.
Look beyond the salary. Many people view salary increase as the main objective of negotiating, but it is only part of the puzzle. The goal of a negotiation meeting should be to understand the terms of the offer and to learn about elements in the offer that are flexible vs. not. Any information you learn is key. One of my friends asked the HR about metrics he needed to hit for a promotion and was able to focus on those things to get promoted within a year. Had he not received that information, he wouldn’t have known what to focus on.
Negotiate non-salary terms. There are many non-salary terms that can be negotiated and may add more value to your life. Some examples include increasing vacation days, shortening review cycles to be considered for early promotion, increasing year-end bonus, receiving funding to attend seminars, etc. These factors can accelerate your career growth.
Never share a number first. If a recruiter or employer asks you about the salary you are looking for, never share a number. Instead flip the question back to them and ask them what people in similar positions as you are offered. By sharing a number first, you set a ceiling for yourself. However, if they keep pressing for a number, then provide a range.
The most important thing though is to be respectful. It is one thing to have a “walk-away” point but another to be rude and threaten to accept a competitor’s offer. Go in with a positive mindset and remember that negotiating is just a discussion after all.