You read that right. I started a negotiation being offered $80,000 for a job, and mutually agreed upon $168,000 by the time we were done. In the non-profit sector, to boot.
Let me tell you how.
I used to be horrifically underpaid for the work that I did. Many factors led to this. When I took my first job out of grad school, I didn’t even briefly consider negotiating when the HR Department called and offered me the job. I heard the salary number and thought “oh THANK GOODNESS...I can afford both rent and my student loans with that salary.”
And that was the extent of my consideration. I accepted the job--and the compensation package--on the spot. I would not realize how big of a mistake this was until it was time to start progressing within this organization. There were rules in place for how large a raise could be at any given time (this is extremely common), and so when I would take on projects and have entirely new dimensions added to my work, the raise I got was sub-par. As someone who rose the ranks VERY quickly, the more I progressed, the more underpaid I became.
By the time I was ready to leave this job, I was utterly obsessed with being compensated appropriately. I could see the long-term ramifications of NOT being compensated appropriately. Over the course of my career, it was adding up to well over $1 million in unrealized potential.
I couldn’t stand for that any more.
As I moved through the job interview process, I was intensely focused on creating a smart, rigorous, and achievable salary negotiation strategy. I knew if I was going to be successful in this, I had to play my cards exactly right.
How I Negotiated an $88k Increase in a Salary Offer
Here are the 10 cards I found are most important to play:
Card #1: Market Value:
Market value is an understanding of what the “going salary” is for both the position a professional is currently in, as well as the positions they are targeting, either through internal promotion or a new role. Job sites like salary.com, payscale.com, or (in the non-profit sector) guidestar.org are critical for gathering this information.
In addition, I am a big proponent of tactfully and carefully discussing salary with coworkers to gather valuable information about the salary range for given positions. When I was looking to leave a non-profit management position for another opportunity, I knew through this type of research that I was grossly under-compensated in terms of title and salary for the work I was doing, even in the non-profit sector. I knew what salary relevant comparative colleagues were making, and because I was largely searching within the non-profit sector, I was able to use data in organizations’ Form 990s to find out what they were paying a limited number of employees. This helped me set a target I would be confident in and push for in the negotiation.
When the initial offer of $80k was ‘put on the table’ I could visibly balk with the confidence that their number did not align with my market research on the going rate for this type of role.
Card #2: Track Record of Success:
One way to communicate the value you can bring to a promotion to a new role or an entirely new offer is to leverage your past successes, as often as possible in terms of metrics and storylines that directly resonate with the way those you are trying to convince view success.
In my case, I had spent the last several years doing intense external stakeholder engagement, consensus building, and innovative program delivery around one of the most influential programs in the green building/sustainability space. I had helped my current organization accomplish ambitious goals that there was even internal executive debate about whether the organization should be trying to meet them. The skills and accomplishments I had achieved in this role were directly beneficial to the new organization making me an offer.
There was also a public record of my success, including quotes in industry articles, workshops and other speaking engagements and conferences; I did not shy away from leveraging this, as my purpose in taking those opportunities in the first place was to build a rapport of high competence and influence in the industry.
There’s no point in “being nice” or being worried about “bragging” when the opportunity to leverage your experience presents itself. During my negotiation, I could easily point to the public record I had carefully and intentionally built to prove the value I could bring to them in a similar role. None of the other final job contenders could build nearly the same case.
Card #3: Strengths and Versatility:
While your track record for success is important, it’s not the only important indicator. Your overall strengths as an employee, translated to how you will be effective at delivering on your new role, and your versatility to help them realize benefits and avoid risks they hadn’t considered yet, is of crucial importance.
During my negotiation conversation, I spent some time simply providing consulting about how they (as a start up non-profit) had set up their operating policies, and the glaring risks they had built into their processes. Having been deeply involved in industry consensus based program development for a few years at that point, I knew exactly where all the pitfalls were.
My recommendations to them in that conversation provided them immediate benefit to help them avoid potential obstacles in delivering their programs (not to mention potential lawsuits) that they hadn’t even conceived of.
Card #4: Fit for the Role:
I experienced a bit of luck in that the new position I had applied for and was offered looked like it was written with me specifically in mind. While this opportunity doesn’t always present itself, I was poised to take advantage of it by deeply and intensely knowing my strengths, market value, and unique insight, and then making that case at just the right time.
Intentionally choosing to offer my very specific, very valuable insight to this start up non-profit during my negotiation was the most strategic possible way to communicate the value I could bring them, and demonstrate why their initial offer was totally inappropriate.
Card #5: Organization’s Context and Needs:
The organization I was negotiating with had a unique context of being a start up non-profit with a group of founders who wanted to move very quickly on delivering relevant programs to their community of members. I understood this context and knew that it translated to a very high value on the person they hired being able to help them move quickly and be innovative in their approach. My past experience and track record of success played directly into this need, and I was sure to clearly communicate it.
Card #6: Alignment with Mission & Values:
No matter the organization, most will operate with a mission and have a set of values they operate by. Before going into the negotiation, I ensured I was intricately aware of their mission and values—including building an inclusive community, being iterative, being stakeholder based, etc—which allowed me to position myself as the best possible person who could help them deliver their programs in lockstep with their values.
Assuming that others they had shortlisted had also made this case very clear (whether or not that was true didn’t matter, I needed to work from the mindset of being the BEST at communicating this case), I remained laser focused on ensuring they fully internalized the direct benefit I could bring to achieving their mission and values.
Card #7: Industry Notoriety:
I spent years at my previous position slowly building up notoriety in my industry, positioning myself to be able to take on public facing opportunities and taking my credit when credit was due. I also positioned my job transition to coincide as closely as possible to the public launch of the program I was leading, because I assumed my “stock value” would be at its peak in the market.
The organization I was negotiating with, being a start up, needed to demonstrate that they could attract influential, heavy hitters in the broader industry to help them get off the ground. I knew I could be that person. In my negotiation, I used that notoriety to put a premium on my value, and insist not only on getting significantly more money than what they were offering, but significantly more than what a typical market rate would be.
Card #8: Strong Personal Advocacy Skills:
Having a firm hold on Cards #1-7 is important, but without Card #8, you may inadvertently play the wrong hand.
During negotiation conversations—whether for an internal promotion or as part of accepting a position with a new company—you must fiercely prioritize being the strongest personal advocate for yourself as possible. This means knowing how to clearly and confidently articulate your skills and strengths, not being bashful about discussing your accomplishments and value, and being abundantly comfortable speaking about your value in terms of real dollars and cents.
During my negotiation, knowing I was making the absolute best case for myself possible, I did not shy away from insisting that their next offer be at least $40k higher than their initial. That if such a jump require they get permission from their Board of Directors, that the next step should certainly be to go back to their Board and have this discussion.
I was also sure to present the liabilities to my career and industry notoriety joining a virtually unknown startup would bring me, and that in order to take on that risk, they needed to make it worth it to me. It meant specifically communicating that I ultimately really wanted this position more than other offers I was expecting having similar opportunities without the liabilities, but that I was only going to join on my terms.
It meant closing our conversation by saying “I hope you can make this work for me, I’d really like to help you achieve this mission;” firmly putting the ball in their court to come up to my level.
Card #9: Tactical Planning
In addition to the strategic approach discussed above, I was extremely intentional about how I spent the days leading up to my negotiation conversation. I needed my mind and my body to show up focused and ready to go if I was going to succeed at this negotiation.
I was sure to go to bed early every night for a week prior to the negotiation.
Cycling really helps me clear my thoughts and get in a creative mindset, so I biked to work everyday and took the long way home.
Sugar, caffeine, and simple carbs make me goofy and limit my ability to focus. So I cut them out and prioritized keeping my blood sugar stabilized.
I knew what I was going to wear, and I practiced wearing it the days before. I wanted to make sure I felt comfortable and confident. That my clothes weren’t itchy or droopy or anything else that would distract me from my conversation.
Card #10: Interpersonal Skills and an Ally Mindset
During this negotiation, I had moments feeling assertive, aggressive, bossy, pushy, out of my comfort zone, and lacking confidence. And all of that was okay! It’s likely that I was perceiving my own effectiveness in a negative light, which was not how my counterparts viewed it (after all, they did come back with an $88k offer increase).
I relied upon two things during those moments to maintain my authentic self during these conversations: 1) my interpersonal skills and 2) holding an ally mindset.
My interpersonal skills allow me to be perceptive, to pick up on social cues and adjust accordingly. If the conversation was turning leisurely, I would push harder for what I wanted. If tensions seemed to be increasing, I’d take a softer approach to my communications. I used active listening and adaptability to respond in the moment to get closer to the outcome I wanted.
Finally, I maintained an ally mindset throughout the entire negotiation. This was a conversation, not a confrontation. All of us ultimately wanted me in this role — we could see the potential. The goal was to work together to come to terms we could both agree to. Seeing my counterparts as allies, not adversaries, AND positioning myself as an ally in the process of getting me on their team was critical to my success.
How is your salary negotiation strategy coming along?
How confident are you that your target salary is high enough? That you have a persuasive case for earning this salary?