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10 steps on how to approach salary negotiations…and lose but feel like you’ve won

“Last night I had a rather vivid dream about a 4m high, white, new species of owl-cross-furry-animal called a ‘Leano’ standing outside my window, staring at me, making soft hooting noises…and in case that wasn’t weird enough, the Leano owl then started to hoot and offer me Japanese cereal. Now the Leano Owl wasn’t threatening at all, in fact I think it was trying to warn me away from something…but unfortunately I was too busy scoffing my face with this Japanese cereal to understand what the Leano Owl was trying to say [and I also don’t really speak “Owl Hoot” so Leano Owl had chosen a pretty ineffective way to communicate].”

Now for the Grammar Crazies out there, you might have noticed the above paragraph was in quotation marks…now whilst I am prone to inappropriate punctuation [especially hyphens…I’m really feeling hypens this season and really feel their on trend at the moment…lol now I’m the Tim Gunn of punctuation], the quotation marks were completely intentional. You see, the above is in quotation marks because it’s something I said…at the start of a meeting where I wanted to negotiated my pay. Yep, when trying to negotiate pay, I got so awkward that I decided to talk about my weird dream/nightmare and hope that this would magically translate into more money.

I’m almost certain that my general aversion to negotiating salaries is due to growing up in the household where ‘we don’t talk about money’. In fact, my parents were so strict about not talking about money in front of us, that I actually used to think a 50c coin was just a teaching tool that they used in primary school to educate children about polygons…[and even then I still couldn’t tell you how many sides a 50c coin has because they’re too fucking big to keep in my wallet, so I just keep leaving them as ‘tips’ and I’m not going to lie – I do enjoy the cudos I get as this 30% tipping, big baller].

Anyway I just don’t like it. In my ideal world, my perfect employer would just look at me, ask me a few questions (without any stupid need to ask me to do a case study), employ me off the back of how awesome they think I am having spent 30 minutes with me in an interview, and then proceed to pay me exactly enough to cover my rent, food [which unsurprisingly is more than what I spend on rent], an easy 10-15 nights out per month [lol who am I kidding? I’m 28 and by ‘night’s out’ I really just mean enough to spend on more food to consume at home without needing to move from Netflix], and some “buffer” for “incidentals” such as buying “1,000 bottles of sprinkles from Costco” because “they’re cheap”.

I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

But instead, the reality is that when you enter pay negotiations, both parties prefer to stay ill-informed, make speculative assumptions about the other party and then arrive at a conclusion that usually isn’t optimal and leads to further issues.

For me, negotiation of pay usually fits neatly into 10 Simple Steps of Being Underpaid Relative to Peers [things sound so much better when they’re in steps rather than spelt out as reality you have to deal with]:

  • Step 1: I go on holiday during performance review time, mostly because I want a holiday…but I’m not going to lie, getting to avoid having to discuss my pay because I was “on holiday” is a create excuse for my own conscience.
  • Step 2: I have no leave so have to enter pay negotiations. In order to put myself in the best possible position, I enter pay negotiations completely UNPREPARED because I think of myself as one of those “it’s not about the money” people….after all “I’m just after appreciation of my year of work and I’m sure they’ll pay me what I think I deserve”.
  • Step 3: Boss compliments me on how I’ve done a great job – internally I feel chuffed with myself…[*self pats on the back*]
  • Steo 4: Boss then explains that [insert some bull shit excuse about cost pressure/market conditions/his dogs kidney stones etc.] and so this will mean that unfortunately my pay increase is limited.
  • Step 5: Boss then tells me my salary for the next year.
  • Step 6a: I respond by making some token effort to get paid a bit more which is then brushed aside seamlessly by Boss’ bull shit excuse. This token effort is then replayed in the future, to justify to myself that I did try to negotiate, but in reality I just mumbled some feeble number that I’d prefer to be paid; or
  • Step 6b: I think “oh hey, well at least this number more than my current number (well not that much more, but it’s ok because I’m sure everyone else is subject to the same [repeat Boss’ bull shit excuse that he just shat out at you]
  • Step 7: I walk out thinking “hey I’m awesome at this pay negotiation thing” [*self high-five* and starts thinking I should write a blog piece about how awesome I am at negotiating pay]. I then accept this feeling triumphant, that in a great battle of David vs. Goliath, I had won and I had got the behemoth corporate to increase my pay. I already start talking up my mad negotiating skillz to my peers, as if I’m some wise battle worn hero telling stories of my adventures…
  • Step 8: 4 months later, I discover that I’m being paid a lot less than my equivalent at another organisation and peers at my workplace. Even the 15 year old pimply kid who delivers the fruit box, told me to get my shit together and get paid more.
  • Step 9: I then justify to myself: “oh well I tried to negotiate my pay and I did as well as I could, but I will have a word to my Boss when he gets back from his 6 week island-hopping vacation in the Greek Islands” (which was obviously funded by what my salary was meant to be)
  • Step 10: 12 months later: Boss takes me out to coffee and makes a token attempt at helping me with ‘career development’ which I lap up and feel satisfied again. I head into pay discussion again unprepared….

Repeat cycle.

But now it’s time to break this cycle. How? Well for one, I’m going to harden the fuck up and stop being such a muppet (Step 1). I’ve also gathered some good advice from some awesome people who are good at this thing, which seems pretty good to share:

  • Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared [and no don’t just get caught up singing Scar’s song “Be Prepared” from The Lion King…well you can but make sure you start doing some actual work after finishing your bedroom musical production of The Lion King]. Get out there and under the guise of “can I please get some advice” find out what people get paid.
  • When a recruiter/prospective employer asks “what are your pay expectations?” DO NOT fucking lead with “well…hmmm I currently get paid [blah] so I guess I’d want a bit more”. Instead a better response is “I’d like to be paid what the market values someone with my experience and ability”. Don’t tell them what you currently get paid – past pay is not indicative of future pay. Put it back on them and you’ll also get a better indication of what they expect you to be doing in your new job.
  • When you arrive at a new job, it’s fine to be all starry eyed on your new job but don’t be a newb with respective salary stuff. Don’t ask HR, on the balance of probabilities they’re going to be useless. Instead find a peer and ask them straight up how everything works – when reviews are, when salaries are negotiated and how promotions etc. work. Everyone’s in the same boat and wants to act together

These are probably simple lessons for most, but if there’s anyone out there who’s like me then unless you want to be eating Japanese cereal, or be mocked by the fruit box boy, for the rest of your life, then I suggest you stop making excuses, get comfortable about talking about money and start negotiating.

Don’t get caught looking like this guy in your pay negotiations:


About Arani Satgunaseelan (78 Articles)
Corporate nerd. Wannabe blogger.

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