In one of my first jobs, I worked with a super sharp woman who was responsible for business development. Her favorite adage was “Don’t ask, don’t get.”
With that simple phrase, she taught me that it’s OK for people to say no to you—in fact, it happens all the time—but if you don’t ask, you don’t even have a chance.
This is a particularly valuable lesson when it comes to your salary. I know—talking about money is never easy, and it’s certainly not always appropriate. But no matter how much you love your job, the end goal of any career is usually a paycheck. So if you want to make sure you’re getting what you deserve, you need to get comfortable talking about your earnings—and knowing when to ask for more.
Now, I’m not suggesting that your salary should be at the center of every discussion, but there are a few key situations when you should definitely speak up. To make the most of your career (and salary!), be on the lookout for these three negotiating opportunities.
When It’s Expected
When you receive an initial job offer, negotiating for the salary you deserve isn’t just acceptable—it’s expected. So if you accept without having that discussion, there’s a good chance you’re shorting yourself.
And if you’re a woman, this is especially important to keep in mind: You may already be aware of the gender discrepancy in salaries between men and women, but you may not know that it often starts the day an offer is made. Men are much more likely to negotiate prior to accepting a job, while women tend to graciously accept the given offer without discussion.
And it doesn’t stop there—this also happens during yearly reviews, even though these meetings are typically prime time for salary discussions. In my experience, I’ve found that for every person who accepts that yearly feedback without a word, there’s someone who manages to get a pay raise, too. Why? Because they ask.
Since the conversation will likely cover your growth and contributions from the past year, you can easily use those accomplishments to start a conversation about why you deserve a salary increase.
When There’s a Window of Opportunity
Jobs are fluid. Responsibilities expand, co-workers move on, and promotions are awarded—any number of things can happen to change your day-to-day routine. And if you’re paying attention, these can be great opportunities to ask for a raise.
Years ago, when I was first managing people, a new hire was placed on my team. After a hefty signing bonus, her take-home salary for the year ended up being greater than mine. And that seemed pretty unfair—I knew that the signing bonus was necessary to attract great talent, but what was the company doing to retain great talent?
I decided to discuss the situation with my boss by presenting the facts: My job had grown, I consistently delivered results, and I’d been told time and again that I was a high performer. I told my boss that I believed all of these things—as well as the fact that I’d now be managing a less experienced employee who was earning more than me—added up to a raise.
Sure, it was scary to ask for what I wanted, but I went for it—and to my delight, she said, “I think what you’re saying makes sense; let me call HR.” And the next day, my salary was adjusted accordingly. And in addition to a raise, the discussion paid other dividends: The conversation created an opportunity to remind my boss that I was a high performer who should be taken seriously.
Of course, getting a new direct report isn’t the only signal that your job is expanding. Be aware of other opportune times to think (and talk) about a change in salary, like when a co-worker leaves and you inherit her responsibility, or when your boss assigns you a project that significantly contributes to your company’s growth.
Even When You’ve Just Received a Raise
Early in my career, I managed a young woman who had served in the Peace Corps for two years, spent two more years running a successful nonprofit, and had an MBA—in short, she was a star. And my company recognized it, too; she received a raise and a year-end bonus of $10,000. As you’d expect, she was incredibly thankful for that chunk of change, and wasn’t about to question the company’s generosity by asking for more.
But I was quick to pull her aside and tell her otherwise. Because surprisingly, in a situation like this, simply saying “thank you” may not be the most beneficial response. Instead, use it as an opportunity to dig in and do some research: Where does this amount rank relative to the bonuses at similar positions in other companies? Is it appropriate for your level of experience and contributions to the team?
In this employee's case, the bonus was appropriate, but the corresponding salary adjustment wasn’t. That knowledge bolstered her negotiating power when she was promoted a few months later.
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be in a much better position to assess whether or not you’re getting paid appropriately—and that can serve as the perfect jumping-off point to negotiate your salary adjustment even further.
In a later conversation with that same employee, she told me that from our discussion that day, she learned how important it was not to have blind faith that an organization would take care of her. She learned that she alone was responsible for her own destiny—and that empowered her to ask for (and get!) what she deserved in future salary conversations.
Getting a raise certainly isn’t easy. But when you know your value and can recognize opportunities to negotiate, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to ask for what you deserve.