Who taught you how to negotiate?

Nobody really taught me how to negotiate (until I got into sales. Then wow, did I get a lot of training on it!) I'm guessing that nobody taught you how to negotiate, either (unless you've been in sales). Even worse, you may have gotten the same message I did growing up.

My first lessons about negotiation came from my dad. He had great intentions. He really did. I turned to him for advice about salary from my first job (mucking out horse stalls at the age of 12), all the way through to my first professional job as a recruiter. His advice was always the same: 

"If you work hard and keep your head down, you will be rewarded." - Don Byers (my father)

I'm afraid I've got some news for my dear old dad:

If you don't ask, you won't get.

How much money someone is worth is fairly subjective. Look at any salary survey and you will see what I mean. An IT project manager in the state of MN can get paid anywhere between $83,397 and to $126,864. That is an enormous swing! I know it's true, because I lived in the IT recruiting world for years. I've hired project managers at $80,000 and I've hired project managers at $130,000. Sometimes, it's driven by the client's budget. Sometimes, it's driven by the candidate. In a perfect world, it's driven by both. 

Ouch! (My painful story)

I learned this the hard way at the tender age of 24. I went out for drinks with a coworker (who started her job the same month I did) and she said "Can you believe they only paid us $25,000? Have you seen the cars those sales people are driving? They can afford to pay us more for a base salary." I almost spit out my drink at her, because I was only making $20,000 to do the exact same job! She was making $5,000 more than me! 25% more!!!!!!!!!!! She was just as inexperienced as me, and was doing the exact same job as me. 

Two weeks after my devastating discovery, I finally screwed up the courage to walk in to my boss's office and ask him why he paid her more money than me. You know what he said to me? "She asked." And then he walked away. I followed him and said "That's it? That's all you have to say about this? She asked, and I didn't?" He said "No, I suppose I could say more. This is a painful lesson for you, but it's probably the most important lesson of your career. For you, and for all the people you are recruiting who are going to trust you to take care of them. Most of them will not know what they are worth. It's your job to make sure they get paid what they're worth, without breaking the piggy bank." When he walked away that time, I let him go. Then I went and hid in my car and called my dad in tears:

"Daddy, what you told me is a bunch of hogwash! If you don't ask, you won't get!"

After saying he was really sorry to hear that, he started to argue with me and say that he had gotten all of his raises because his boss recognized how hard he worked. I challenged him to really think about it. When he did, he realized that, in fact he had asked for every single raise. Granted, he had gotten that raise every time he asked because he was such a great employee, but he had asked for every single one of them.

The cost of apathy (saying "I don't care" or "It's not worth asking for more.")

If I had not made up the difference in my salary with commissions that year, and had not started asking for more money, I would have left a bunch of money on the table over the course of my next few years. An eye-popping study by Pinkley and Northcraft in the book Get Paid What You’re Worth showed that if a college grad leaves just $5000.00 on the table while negotiating her first job, she will lost significant wages over the course of her career: 

  • Over ten years, she will lose $34,000 in wages
  • Over his lifetime, she will lose up to $1 million in wages

Don't leave your financial future in the hands of someone else. You deserve to get paid what you are worth!