Wage negotiation can make or break your career

Ready to Launch logoGraphic by Holly Nall

I’m sure you and I have both wondered, “Am I getting paid enough for this job?” We work at coffee shops and chain stores and earn minimum wage to pay the bills, but as we grow into degree-level professionals, the question is, how much should you be paid?

There’s a lot of appeal to negotiation for a higher wage; Ramit Sethi, New York Times bestselling author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” told Forbes that “…a single $5,000 raise in your 20s, if you properly invest it, can be worth over a million in the course of your career. And that’s just one raise.”

Hello, sign me up. But negotiation isn’t so simple as waltzing into work and saying, “Can I get $5,000 with today’s barista shift?”

After reading mountains of tips about how to negotiate your salary, especially after looking into the gender wage gap last week, I kept coming to the same question: is it a good idea for college students to negotiate? Or will I look like a prize idiot for trying?

“The short answer is ‘it depends,’” said Mitchell Marks, an SF State management professor in the College of Business. “It depends on whether the job is your ‘dream job’ which contributes to the career you desire of ‘just any old job’ which pays the bills.”

Marks’ example was if you wanted a career in broadcasting and found a job in the field as a student, then he would suggest to be less demanding about negotiating wages since that job will contribute to your resumé and overall career. However, if the job is just to pay the bills, especially when living in an expensive city like San Francisco, a student should negotiate more for a better wage to pay those bills.

That aligns with the unpaid internships and stipend jobs we often get offered: it’s a foot in the door. And once you get started with that foot in the door, it can lead to the next one. Then suddenly you’ve had internships and stipend jobs that you can use as experience and leverage for a better pay than if you didn’t have either of those.

William Sokol, a lecturer for labor and employment studies and a practicing labor lawyer, said that an important part of negotiating your wage is the demand for your services, and understanding what he calls the “labor marketplace.”

“(Students) need to understand as much as they can,” said Sokol, “whether they have negotiating power or anything unique.”

Sokol explained that whether you should be negotiating isn’t determined by age, but whether you have sufficient skills that give you leverage. The way to know if you have sufficient skills and what you should be asking for is to research your labor marketplace. If you’re applying to Wal-Mart and there’s a thousand other applicants that would happily take the job as is, you probably shouldn’t attempt to negotiate.

This also applies after you get the job, and negotiating raises. Sokol said you need to figure out at what point and time do you have sufficient leverage to approach an employer and say you’ve done good work, what you’ve brought to the company, and why you deserve the raise.

“It is always important to listen to the other party and understand their point of view when negotiating,” Marks said. “Never move on your position until the other party responds.”

In the end, it’s up to you to determine if the job you’re after is worth putting on the line for the paycheck, and whether it’ll take you to the next milestone of money or get you booted. It’s a risky task, but at the same time, an important life skill to understand. Learn tact in negotiation, because you’ll be using it for that next salary sooner or later.

Written by
Latest comments
  • Let’s look at the gender wage gap a little more carefully, not through the eyes of ideological feminists.

    Probably most women’s pay-equity advocates think employers are greedy profiteers who’d hire only illegal immigrants for their lower labor cost if they could get away with it. Or move their business to a cheap-labor country to save money. Or replace older workers with younger ones for the same reason. So why do these same advocates think employers would NOT hire only women if, as they say, employers DO get away with paying females at a lower rate than males for the same work?

    Here’s one of countless examples showing that some of the most sophisticated women in the country choose to earn less while getting paid at the same rate as their male counterparts:

    “In 2011, 22% of male physicians and 44% of female physicians worked less than full time, up from 7% of men and 29% of women from Cejka’s 2005 survey.” ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/03/26/bil10326.htm (See also http://www.openmarket.org/2013/06/19/president-repeats-false-equal-pay-statistic-claiming-women-earn-77-percent-of-what-men-do/)

    A thousand laws won’t close that gap.

    In fact, no law yet has closed the gender wage gap — not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap – tinyurl.com/74cooen), not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not the 1991 Glass Ceiling Commission created by the Civil Rights Act, not the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the thousands of company mentors for women, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is another feel-good bill that turned into another do-nothing law (good intentions do not necessarily make things better; sometimes, the path to a worse condition is paved with good intentions)…. Nor will a “paycheck fairness” law work.

    That’s because women’s pay-equity advocates, who always insist one more law is needed, continue to overlook the effects of female AND male behavior:

    Despite the 40-year-old demand for women’s equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Women,” stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. “In the past few years,” he says in a CNN report at tinyurl.com/6reowj, “many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.” (“Census Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier….” at tinyurl.com/qqkaka. If indeed a higher percentage of women is staying at home, perhaps it’s because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs — so why bother working if they’re going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

    As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Answer: Because they’re supported by their husband, an “employer” who pays them to stay at home. (Far more wives are supported by a spouse than are husbands.)

    The implication of this is probably obvious to most 12-year-olds but seems incomprehensible to, or is wrongly dismissed as irrelevant by, feminists and the liberal media: If millions of wives are able to accept NO wages, millions of other wives, whose husbands’ incomes vary, are more often able than husbands to:

    -accept low wages

    -refuse overtime and promotions

    -choose jobs based on interest first, wages second — the reverse of what men tend to do (The most popular job for American women as of 2010 is still secretary/administrative assistant, which has been a top ten job for women for the last 50 years. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/gender-wage-gap_n_3424084.html)

    -take more unpaid days off

    -avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining (tinyurl.com/3a5nlay)

    -work fewer hours than their male counterparts, or work less than full-time instead of full-time (as in the above example regarding physicians)

    Any one of these job choices lowers women’s median pay relative to men’s. And when a wife makes one of the choices, her husband often must take up the slack, thereby increasing HIS pay.

    Women who make these choices are generally able to do so because they are supported — or, if unmarried, anticipate being supported — by a husband who feels pressured to earn more than if he’d chosen never to marry. (Married men earn more than single men, but even many men who shun marriage, unlike their female counterparts, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap: as a group they tend more than women to pass up jobs that interest them for ones that pay well.

    More in “Will the Ledbetter Act Help Women?” at http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/will-the-ledbetter-fair-pay-act-help-women/

  • As a professional salary negotiator, I have seen
    the gender pay gap problem firsthand. I have negotiated over 700 salaries
    representing both male and female employees, but I specialize in helping women
    negotiate their salaries. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. Employers
    negotiate MUCH harder against my female clients than my male clients. When my
    client is a female, the employer concedes less often, he rejects more counteroffers,
    and he’s FAR more likely to make a lowball offer. The funny thing is that whether
    my client is a woman or a man, the employer never knows that I am the one doing
    the negotiating. That’s because we always negotiate via email. I write them,
    and my client signs them and sends them from her own account. The employer
    doesn’t even know I exist. Remember you are smarter, more experienced, and more
    valuable than you’re being paid for. If you want a professional salary
    negotiator to get you a higher salary, please visit us at http://www.NegotiatingSalary.com. Coupon Code:
    PAYGAP will give you a 22% discount. Seems more fair that way, since women are
    paid 22% less than men for the same work.