Mistakes are great teachers, but very costly in salary negotiations. Let me share with you my biggest mistakes so you can avoid them.
Six years ago, I started a new job in a new field and totally bungled my salary negotiation. I knew next to nothing about this new field or how to effectively negotiate for myself. If someone told me then that I would one day be leading “Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess,” I would have responded with a blank and befuddled look.
In 2008, three months before the Lehman Brothers went kaput and the stock market had a heart attack, I was offered a position with “unlimited growth potential”, a junior analyst position with a boutique hedge fund. After two rounds of interviews, I was enticed by this “unlimited growth potential” and the image I had of rich and well-heeled finance professionals. I had no idea how the stock market or a hedge fund worked. I was young and naive.
At that time I was just a few years out of college and working as a buyer at a small beauty company. I made just enough to pay my share of the rent at a fourth-floor walkup apartment in the gritty part of Brooklyn.
When the hedge fund manager asked me for my current salary, I told him the exact figure without hesitation or questioning. I had this vague notion that this hedge fund manager — a complete stranger just two weeks prior — who picked me out of thousands of potential candidates, would see my unproven value, care about my career, and compensate me appropriately. I had confused his intentions with those of the many kind and thoughtful teachers I encountered in the sixteen years of my schooling. His only intention was to hire for cheap.
Then he asked for my minimum salary requirement. With little thought and no research into the matter, I blurted a figure that was just a hair more than what I was making at the beauty company. I lowballed myself.
Immediately, my minimum salary requirement became my starting salary. Only then, did I ask whether it was possible to negotiate. Asking a yes/no question at this point certainly didn’t help my cause. I got a prompt no. I was given a deadline to respond to the job offer, and I didn’t press. I failed to see and assume the power I had in this negotiation. Plus I was eager and impatient to leave my buyer job and start a new one in finance. My misplaced confidence had me thinking I would unravel the mystery of hedge funds once I got there.
So I took the low salary with a vague promise of annual bonus and started the job. Before I even had the chance to resent the long hours, the stock market crashed and I thought the world was coming to an end. For a couple of weeks, every day felt like a horror show. I was afraid to lose my job, so I kept my head down and barely spoke up. I continued to work with little sense of ownership and fulfillment. Gradually the stock market stabilized.
The silver lining in this story is that I managed to keep a finance job throughout the Financial Crisis. I stayed for two years and quit to pursue a new career with tech startups.
A recap of my mistakes for you to avoid:
1. My biggest mistake was failing do my homework. I was ill-prepared. I did little research into the field, the fund, and appropriate salary range before taking the offer. If I could go back in time, I would ask people I know or in my alumnae network for advice. Those who work in specific industries are generally open to sharing industry insights to newcomers and young professionals. I would also ask both men and women for salary advice, to avoid falling victim to gender pay gap. Do yourself a favor, at least know the going rate for your position in your specific industry and in your geographic area.
2. When asked for my current salary and minimum salary requirement, I gave the wrong answers. Only in hindsight did I realize that the best answer was to not answer. If I could go back in time, I would dig deeper to try to see if this was really a good mutual fit (it wasn’t). I would try to establish my value based on the new job description (in an ideal world, I would help write it, too, based on my research), not a previous and unrelated one. The value I delivered at the beauty company as a buyer doesn’t compare to the value I delivered as a hedge fund analyst. It’s like comparing a banana to turkey dinner, completely two different things. Do yourself a favor, don’t let your past limit your future earnings potential — especially if you’re entering a new field. If you can, avoid answering the minimum salary question, because your minimum will become your starting salary.
3. I hadn’t yet shaken my honor-roll student mindset. I thought that the manager would “take care” of me and reward me for my hard work. All I had to do was keep my head and voice down. I was wrong. Have you seen Scorsese’s latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street? Okay, so the hedge fund I worked at wasn’t that bad, but it had the similar ethos of a “wolf pit.” Every man and woman for him/herself. The hedge fund experience gave me the rich lesson that I am ultimately responsible for my own career. It’s up to me to assume power I already have, speak up, and articulate my value. No one will do it for me. So do yourself a favor, don’t pass up the opportunity to take charge of your career and negotiate for yourself.
If switching careers is something in the works for you in 2014, I wish you good luck. I wish that you avoid the mistakes I’ve made.
In the spirit of MLK Day, I challenge you to dream big. Go bold. Take action. Ask for it.
P.S. Gwen Taylor and I are working on an e-book on salary negotiation, full of useful insights and practical guidance to help you achieve negotiation success. So please stay tuned!
I have thirteen days remaining in my thirty-first year. A purely coincidental palindrome that makes me wonder, what kind of person did I want to be at thirty-one when I was thirteen? I had no idea. Honestly, thirty-two, thirty-three, and beyond are all mysteries to me. What do I want to accomplish in thirteen days to make thirty-one something to be proud of? These are my last thirteen chances.
I wanted to write more than I actually did. I wanted to be more honest and vulnerable than I allowed myself to be. I wanted to travel more than I did. I take note that when I look back, I realize I never wanted to worry more about my pant size, about my bank account, or about the contents of my fridge. So I can worry less in the future about these things.
In the last thirteen days of being thirty-one in two thousand thirteen, I will meditate. Take time to be quiet, to be still, and to tap into the instinctual ocean inside me. In two thousand fourteen, when I am thirty-two, I want to trust myself more, be more reliable to my word, and continue to choose action over fear.
I woke up this morning dreaming of palm trees and a Miami sunrise along my jogging path. Had I dreamed it all?
This weekend I spent a delightful 24 hours in Miami, where I led the seventh iteration of Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess at the inaugural Get Bullish Conference, produced by the impressive Jennifer Dziura. #BullCon blogger Emily Brown covered the event here.
Here’s a short video of yours truly, explaining what Negotiation Prowess means.
When we hear the word negotiation, the most common knee-jerk reaction is to think of money. And money is a sensitive issue, because we associate it with personal worth. Every time I speak on the topic of negotiation, I try to widen the scope of thinking around negotiation. In reality, we negotiate nearly every facet of our lives. Every day, we set and reset boundaries by negotiating conflicting desires and interests that we encounter in ourselves as well as in other people.
On the flight to Miami on Friday, I was reading “A is for A$$hole: The Grownup’s ABCs of Conflict Resolution” by one of my negotiation mentors, Victoria Pynchon. She defines negotiation as a
resolution of a problem by way of communication, and communication is not simply the language of words, but also of feelings, hunches and intuition…[and the] constant enemy of clear communication is fear.
I bookmarked this page, because it encapsulates the heart of my message in Negotiation Prowess. The message being, of course, that we need not let fear talk us out of taking action on asking for the things we desire.
Fear blinds us into thinking we are more limited than we actually are. The intent of mock-negotiation sessions in Negotiation Prowess is to overcome fear through action, by practicing the ask in a safe space and being open to feedback for improvements. At #BullCon yesterday, the attendees and I had the great pleasure of engaging in mock negotiations at the pool-side cabanas of the Surfcomber Hotel. Not a bad way to grow the negotiation muscle.
The caliber of attendees really impressed me. They hailed from all over the country and from careers in academia, international development, technology, and media. They are future leaders, founders and CEOs, who are serious about growing their negotiation skills.
At mock-negotiation session, I partnered up with a woman who initially thought she had very little bargaining power and was unsure how she could articulate her value to a prospective employer. But once we dug deep for her value, she found she had a lot to offer and great negotiation skills to boot.
“I’ve worked ten years in this field, starting from the very bottom and I’ve done just about everything at the company,” she said. “I know the median salary is X, and I would like to ask for the top end of the range, but I don’t know how to ask for that.” So I probed her a bit further, to see if she could back her value proposition with specific details, facts, and figures. “My role in account management is very hard to quantify,” she said.
So I asked her to tell me a story in which she played a crucial role in saving an account. She realized she had a great story to tell, of how she once saved one of the most widely recognized luxury brands from leaving the agency. She accomplished this through her calm demeanor and relationship management skills. She realized she could articulate her value by qualifying her skills, tying them to a specific benefit her employer received from them (i.e. saving a huge global account), and projecting confidence.
In the beginning of our session, she thought she couldn’t negotiate for herself. Once we got into the mock negotiation, however, she surprised both of us with how well she actually did. After countering my initial offer, she leaned back into her seat and calmly said, “well, I appreciate the offer. I’d like to think this overnight.” To which she later added, “Tell me about the company’s employee benefit program. Is there room for improvement in my vacation package?” From the perspective of a hiring manager eager to fill a position, the first statement creates a sense of urgency, and the second statement brings to the negotiation table non-monetary compensation.
I’m deeply grateful for many who made the Miami workshop possible. I’m really grateful to Carol Frohlinger, another great negotiation mentor who connected me to Jen Dziura. I’m grateful to Gwen Taylor, my collaborator and mentor who gave me the encouragement I needed to say yes to this wonderful opportunity.
Starting this month, I now work as Director of Business Operations at TreSensa, NYC-based mobile tech startup that leverages HTML5 to distribute game content across various platforms. TreSensa has been a consistent and generous venue sponsor for several of my equity classes and negotiation workshops in the past. It also happens to be where my life partner Charles Parra works as a SVP of Product. We are blessed in that we don’t mind spending about 23 hours out of 24 hours in a day within 10 feet of each other. I first started doing contract work for TreSensa back in May, translating games into Japanese. Over time, the scope of my work eventually increased to financial management, administration, and now content distribution. I went from working part-time to full-time. I feel very fortunate in that I’m able to use the full range of my skills — linguistic, analytical, and operational — in this new position.
I continue to hold workshops and speak on the topic of workplace negotiation for professional women. Two weeks ago, Hands-on Workshop for Negotiation Prowess, a follow-up to August’s workshop was held at Sapient Nitro. It was a great event featuring guest speakers Heather John, attorney at Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt, Kim Baird, IT recruiter with Connections of New York, and Kim Rudolph, recruiter with Google.
My goal for the workshops is to create community learning experiences, where knowledge is shared and skills developed through interaction among professional women.
It takes bravery to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. And courage to negotiate, or even mock-negotiate, for yourself. At this workshop, the attendees impressed me with their bravery, courage, and action.
I have a number of speaking engagements coming up. Next week, I’m leading the inaugural Athena Leadership Lab workshop on negotiation at Barnard College. The following week is a webinar on workplace negotiation for the Smith College Alumnae Association. Later in November, I’m leading another hands-on workshop for GetBullish conference in Miami.
Blessed with the abundance of work.
And tomorrow and the day after that, and so on and so forth:
To negotiate is to set, reset and push boundaries, to see yourself in control of your situations, and to act in good faith.
Faith starts from within.
Speaking of which, I’ll let you in on a secret.
I pray sometimes as I walk, to no god in particular, but to myself.
Please help me be persistent and disciplined.
Please help me create, do, and serve.
Please help me see that the answers are within me.
I pray for the strength to counter the voice of doubt and judgment with intuition and compassion. To continue to push boundaries when the next step forward seems to fall in the dark, only to land in the light.
With my negotiation coaching, I walk the tension between self-actualization and material achievement. The former follows the latter. To ask is to take initiative; to be rewarded is its positive outcome.
What binds the two is confidence, the belief and trust that one can do. What underlies belief and trust is faith.
So I try to build faith by praying.
I’ve been praying because I’ve been doing things outside my comfort zone. I’ll keep praying as I push forward the boundaries of what I do.
See, back in April, Coach Jennie of Audacity Rules asked me to be bold, within an hour of meeting me. She asked me to present a webinar on negotiation for the Hungry Entrepreneurs, a group of moxilicious doers and makers.
The first flash of thought when she asked me was, “but I’m not qualified.” The Itty Bitty Shitty Committee reared its ugly head. The second flash of thought was to squelch doubt and accept this juicy challenge, my first webinar.
Last month, I gave another webinar for the Daily Muse readers on the topic of negotiating a raise at work.
Can I just tell you I was a nervous, anxious wreck in the days leading up to the event? To have this webinar advertised to the entire Daily Muse readership (a subscriber base of about 30,000 as of July 2013) felt like coming out for me – as a negotiation coach, as someone with an unconventional approach, and another upstart.
I came face-to-face with my impostor syndrome, the irrational fear of being found out a fake fortified with webinar anxiety. Which is ironic because the first thing I tell anyone when it comes to negotiating is to not be afraid.
I have to walk the talk. So I mustered my faith, went for a long run, and trusted that I would deliver.
In the end, both webinars went really well, allowing me to reach more than hundred young professionals with my message (and potentially more as the recordings live on).
This is just the beginning. I want to be bolder and reach bigger audiences. Plus I missed the live, face-to-face interaction that a workshop allows.
This coming Tuesday, I’m taking the message live in a hands-on workshop geared towards freelancers, solopreneurs, self-starters who work for themselves. I’ll be trying some new methods and challenging attendees to communicate their value.
Let’s dream big and ask boldly.
The Daily Muse published an article I wrote on the topic of startup equity for employees. Exit strategies, option plans, vesting schedules, the stuff you should know about if you earn equity as part of your compensation package.
By request, I’m also hosting two webinars on the topic of negotiating at work and asking for a raise. They will be held tomorrow, 7/30 at 12PM and 6PM EST. Click here to register. I’ll come clean on my worst and best negotiation practices. I’ll talk about how to get in the right mindset for negotiating, how to articulate your value, and how to prepare.
Check out the free worksheet you can download right here on this site.
And if you want to continue this conversation, I’m here to help.