Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee

Professional Speaker & Negotiation Trainer

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How to Ask for More at Work

Three years ago, I had some friends over for a casual get together on a summer evening. There were introductions, the usual small talk, wine, and snacks. The conversation turned to work.

A friend complained, “I’m totally getting burned out at work. And I know I’m getting underpaid, but I don’t know what I should do. Should I look for another job? Ugh, a job hunt feels so daunting, like so much extra work.”

To this, another friend, a really smart and ambitious woman I looked up to, made a comment that lit a light bulb in my head.

She said it rather nonchalantly. She said, “You know, you could ask for more. If you’re good, there’s always room in the budget. You can always ask for more. But you gotta ask well.”

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Lessons from Strategic Conversations: Or what being a latchkey kid taught me about living a life of no regrets

In June I had the pleasure of taking part in She Negotiates’ Strategic Conversations course led by Lisa Gates, She Negotiates co-founder, negotiation expert and consultant.

I highly recommend it, especially if you are in a managerial or executive level at your company or if you are an entrepreneur and want to improve your negotiation skills.

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Getting Start-up Equity? Everything You Need to Know

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Going Stag, Taking Shots and Asking with Confidence

Yours truly at the first Get Bullish conference, looking like I'm asking, "Will you be my prom date?"

Yours truly at the first Get Bullish conference, looking like I’m asking, “Will you be my prom date?”

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I was a nerd in high school. Senior year, I edited the high school newspaper, and was about 20 pounds overweight. I wore glasses, of course, and liked to dress in baggy pants and t-shirts. I had few friends. Undaunted by my lack of popularity, I asked five boys to be my prom date. They all turned me down.

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Negotiating Sooner Than Later at Athena Leadership Center

On February 25th, I had the pleasure of reprising Negotiating Sooner Than Later workshop at Athena Leadership Center at Barnard College.

On the heels of last October’s hour-long workshop, February’s workshop was extended and improved, with mock negotiation sessions that addressed the here, now, and later of negotiation for college students. I addressed negotiation as a life skill directly applicable to academic life as well as useful in professional life — more specifically, for conflict resolution and for salary negotiation.

Barnard students practiced negotiating with a partner for mutually agreeable solutions in three different scenarios:

1) negotiating with a classmate to resolve time conflict while working together on a class presentation

2) negotiating as an intern to establish their value to a potential employer

3) negotiating an an employee for compensation

Each round was punctuated with open discussion on specific negotiation frameworks. Students took away specific tactics and word-for-word scripts for negotiating for mutual win outcomes.

I really enjoy facilitating workshops with college students and look forward to doing more in 2014.

How I bungled my salary negotiation, so you don’t have to.

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!

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Negotiation Prowess at Inaugural Get Bullish Conference in Miami

I woke up this morning dreaming of palm trees and a Miami sunrise along my jogging path. Had I dreamed it all?

Nope.

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.

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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.

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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.

Anchoring for High Value for the Self-Employed

Autonomy. Location independence. Being your own boss and doing the work you want whenever, wherever.

With the freedom to chart your own path and potential to earn as much money as you can as a freelancer or independent contractor comes the responsibility to negotiate for pay with customers. When you were an employee of Boring Company XYZ, you negotiated once, before starting the job, and maybe twice, if you’re an ambitious rockstar, to ask for a raise. Now that you work for yourself, you are constantly negotiating with every new prospective customer. On top of juggling sales, marketing, IT, and finance roles, you bear the burden of making or breaking your own livelihood by negotiating the value of your work.

Pricing your new product or service can feel like a scary dark art, especially for the first-time freelancer or independent consultant. Uncertainties are great, riddled with difficult questions: What’s the optimal price to charge a new customer? What if you ask for too little or too much?

For some of us, the desire to please customers — coupled with the insidious desire to have people like us without being threatened by our ambition and bullishness — can make us squeamish about asking to be paid for our value.

“You can pay me whatever you want for my virtual assistance/copywriting/graphic design services. I’ll happily redo your spreadsheets/rewrite your press releases/redesign your logo, bend over backwards and work the weekends for you.”

Sound familiar?

Worse yet, we pre-empt possible objections by cutting down our current prices, unwittingly lowering expectations and giving away our power even before a single word is uttered from the other side. Then at the end of the month, with the rent due and dark bags hanging under strained eyes, we wonder where things went wrong and shudder to consider the alternative: exchanging the entrepreneurial dream for a green Starbucks apron and a steady paycheck.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Setting your rate doesn’t have to be a stab in the dark. Making customers happy doesn’t have to entail underselling your value and working for peanuts. In fact, setting an ambitious anchor, or a reference point, for the monetary value of your work can not only help you earn more money but also increase your perceived value, making you more desirable in the eyes of the customer.

Here are five steps to set and negotiate your rate like the boss lady you are:

1. Run the numbers. How much should you charge per hour? To get down to brass tacks, your hourly rate is a function of 1) billable hours, 2) sum of expenses and 3) profit. Based on the number of hours you expect to charge your customers, you can guesstimate how much you need to bring in to cover your living and business expenses and have enough remaining to save and invest back into your business. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you have about 2,000 working hours in a year and can bill half, or 1,000 hours out to customers (the other half you spend networking at Meetup or industry events, writing emails to prospects, paying your bills, and doing other administrative tasks). Sum up all essential expenses such as rent, food, connectivity, computer, and legal expenses. To this figure, add your desired profit, or the amount you want to save for retirement, to cover future expenses, or to invest back into your business. Let’s say that this adds up to $50,000. $50,000 divided by 1,000 billable hours is $50/hour. Your standard hourly rate is $50.

How does your hourly rate feel in your mouth (humor me, ladies), when you say it out loud? If it doesn’t feel ambitious enough, raise it by another 20%. Then practice saying the following out loud, at least three times: “My standard rate is $X per hour.”

2. Listen to your customers. 80% of a successful negotiation is preparation. In other words, nearly all the work in a negotiation is done before you sit down to negotiate. Just as you invested countless hours to research into your field before you developed your services products, you’ll need to invest some time upfront to learn as much as possible about your customer before negotiating. The best way to do this is to ask open-ended, diagnostic questions that start with why, how, when, where, and who. Here are some sample questions to help you get started on the listening and learning process:

What are key metrics that determine the success of this project/assignment?
How can I help address your specific pain point or preferences?
How long do you envision this project/assignment to take to complete?
What is your budget for this project/role?
Who has the final say in the budget and scope of this project/assignment? When can I speak to her?
3. Generously demonstrate your value. By now you know what to charge per hour and you are armed with enough knowledge to both ace the job and make your customers supremely happy. Resist the temptation to rush into work. Instead, generously demonstrate your know-how, expertise, and skills to your prospective client. This can take the form of a complimentary consultation, demo account, or a sampling of what you can offer.

4. Frame for high value based on credentials, experience, and expertise. When you make the pitch or offer your proposal, frame for high value based on your education, industry-specific know-how, or glowing references. You’ve worked hard to achieve your credentials, so don’t be shy about owning and sharing them with your prospective customer.

5. Offer options and paint the picture for alternatives. Your proposal would have helped your prospective client see a crystal clear picture of the end result of having worked with you. What would the alternative look like if they passed up on the opportunity to work with you? Working with you, your prospective client would benefit from the economic value of your contributions. If she were to pass you up, what would be the cost of missing out on the unique expertise, accountability, or convenience that you offer?

With the right mindset and preparation, you can confidently ask for your value and make your customer happy to hire and pay you. At core, the same basic principles for workplace negotiation applies to negotiating your pay as solopreneur: firmly believe in your value, and articulate your value based on the benefits your customer will reap from working with you. Then relish your freedom and success. After all, you’re the boss, so give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!

Negotiation: Is it about getting your slice of the pie?

Bullish: Hi Jamie, thanks for talking with us today. I recently attended a seminar about negotiating, and I remember hearing a speaker suggest that we keep in mind when negotiating that, after all, we’re only asking for “what’s fair.” I thought, hmmn … no. I think that’s a very stereotypically female way of thinking. While you’re asking for what you think is “fair,” men are asking for three times that. And what is “fair,” anyway? The whole idea of fairness is often used by employers to keep workers (equally) down — the pretense of democracy is used to keep from paying the highest-value employees in line with the value they provide.

Jamie: You make an excellent point regarding the “fairness” argument in the context of salary negotiation. I’ve been subject to this same argument myself at the negotiation table. Because I know this to be a negotiation tactic, my response was to not respond to it. When used effectively, silence can convey power and the willingness to walk away from the table.

Bullish: So what role does the idea of “fairness” really play in negotiating?

Jamie: To me, the idea of fairness reminds me of childhood — particularly the flawed childhood lessons in negotiation that don’t apply in the real world of work. Think of six year old Sally stomping her feet, scowling her face at her parents, and demanding for the same toys and privileges as her older sibling Mary. “That’s not fair!” she cries.

Or, in my case, growing up with two siblings meant bickering over limited resources on the table, namely food. If we had to share a pie, I would not be happy if my older sibling got the lion’s share of it. To be fair, it would have to be split into even thirds, but that was hardly the case. The bigger or faster sibling got to eat more pie than the smaller or slower one. You had to fight for more, and someone, a slow eater like me, would invariably complain that it wasn’t fair.

By the way, the field of conflict resolution has a term to describe the scenario of splitting the pie; it’s called distributive bargaining. That’s definitely not the type of negotiation I’d advise, because a professional delivers and grows the value of her company or client. She’s growing the pie, not splitting it.

Okay, so life isn’t fair. As working women we have to see and act in the world as it actually is and not how we think it should be. It doesn’t serve us to approach the negotiation table with an idealized expectation that our employers or clients will pay us what’s fair, because that’s what we think they should do. For the same reason, it’s never a good idea to ask for more pay based on the argument that you should make just as much as a coworker, or — if you’re a consultant or contractor — someone in your field, who does similar work as you. I’m talking about comparing, which is not to be confused with benchmarking against industry standards. By comparing, you might think you’re just asking for what’s fair, but to the other side, you could come across as whiny and childish, like little Sally.

Instead, make the argument based on your own merits and the value you bring to the table. How did you help the company or client achieve their business goals? What were the positive outcomes of your services and contributions? If you are delivering great value, and you can make a compelling case for it, you can open a dialogue for getting more for it. The right mindset, with a focus on the value of your work, underlies effective self-advocacy, asking and getting your worth.

In other words, instead of worrying about how the pie is split, aim your focus on how you are growing the pie.

Originally published on Get Bullish.

2013 Fall update

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.

Kim Baird, Kim Rudolph, Heather John, and Ji Eun (Jamie) Lee at 10/16/13 Workshop

Kim Baird, Kim Rudolph, Heather John, and Jamie at 10/16/13 Workshop

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.

Audience engaging in mock-negotiation 10/16/13 workshop.

Audience engaging in mock-negotiation 10/16/13 workshop. Yes, men are welcome, too!

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.

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