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Dear Negotiators,

I am currently on the hunt for a new job after four years at my current company, and I've run into something that concerns me: A few of the jobs I've applied to have asked me to provide both what I'm currently making and my salary requirements

Here's the problem: I'm not making a lot of money right now. I work for a small company that doesn't pay very well (or provide a lot of benefits). It's been fine for me because I have a lot of flexibility at work, and I have small children and have been taking classes at night to boost my skills, so the tradeoff (less money for more flexibility) was fine.

But now I don't need as much flexibility, and I want to make more money. But the difference between what I'm making and what I want to make (and what I should be making, according to Payscale) is a lot—about 30% more. How do I justify such a big gap when I'm talking to employers about salary? 

—Underpaid Mom



Dear Underpaid Mom,

I’ve seen this 30% gap scenario before, most recently with a mom who was out of the workforce for two years raising her twins. Some insight into your question can be gleaned from my answer to that question. As I pointed out to her, it is situations like both of yours that contribute to the 16% gap between working mothers and their female peers who are not parents.

But there’s no need for good negotiators to be stuck with other people’s wage gaps. You made a conscious choice four years ago to give up 30% of your market value in exchange for flex time. I’m hoping that means you actually worked only 70% of the time similarly situated employees worked. In my personal professional experience, women far too often trade money for time and end up working as much as or more than their peers. But that’s water under your bridge. This is the way we learn.

Let’s focus on the immediate future. The best course for you now is to frame your existing salary for what it actually is—a discount given by you to your existing employer in exchange for time off. Let’s assume you’re making $70,000 annually. Tell prospective new employers that your existing salary would be $100,000 if you were working full-time. If asked about your current paltry benefits, explain their paucity as an artifact of your flex-time status. Tell your prospective employer that you no longer need to work part-time or be provided with flex time and that your salary requirement is at least $100K (in the hypothetical case I’m using here), plus benefits. If you’re filling out a form, you could put something like “N/A—flex-time role” in the current salary space and $100K in the space for your salary requirements.

That’s the most conservative solution. The best approach would be to avoid answering both questions, putting “N/A—part-time role” as your current salary and writing “negotiable” or “commensurate with experience” in the salary requirements space—just the way employers do when they advertise a new position.

The reason for avoiding the current salary and desired salary questions is to avoid setting too low an anchor before you have the opportunity to meet with your prospective new employer to discuss their needs and your skill set. A negotiation “anchor” sets one end of the bargaining range that will strongly influence your bargaining partner throughout the course of your eventual salary negotiation. Most people do not anchor aggressively enough, leaving money or valuable benefits on the table that they could have captured.

You should plan both your opening number and at least two concessions before you get to your bottom line. Our negotiation preparation worksheet, available free at SheNegotiates.com, will walk you through this process step by step.

Research has shown that negotiators are happier with the outcome of their negotiations if their bargaining partners make several concessions than if both parties agree on the first proposal. That makes anchoring aggressively and planning concessions during salary negotiations particularly important since you’re at the beginning of a new relationship, and you want to set the tone of that relationship by being flexible on salary requirements.

Go get ’em, champ! Every time you negotiate your true market value, you raise the bar for all women by chipping away at the gender wage gap. Some day, we will no longer be asked to work for less simply because we compromised on salary early in our careers for the purpose of raising children.



This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Expert in the subject line.

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