a real-life salary negotiation success story — Ask a Manager

A salary negotiation success story from a reader:

In all the years I’ve been reading your column, I have never ever managed to get the gumption up to negotiate salary.

I was laid off in February (just after closing on a house!) so I knew I’d need to get something quick. Severance didn’t last long since I needed to put a new roof on the house immediately. I was making $117K with an 8% bonus at the job I lost, which sounds like a lot, but I live in one of the top 5 most expensive cost of living areas in the country. So I was careful not to apply for anything that didn’t bring me up to $120K.

I ended up as a finalist for a role that I was really excited about, and I knew that call was coming when the recruiter emailed me to ask if she could call me that afternoon. So I went through the archives and pulled all the scripts you’ve ever offered, and keeping in mind the wild range for things I’d interviewed for (not kidding, a communications manager role was all over the place, some places $110K and one had a starting salary of $180K). And not only did I write down the scripts, I practiced saying out loud, “I’m really excited, but I wondered if there’s any flexibility on salary.”

I had no idea what they were going to offer me, but I’d given them a range of $130-150K at the beginning and they were okay with that. (Also, I have never given such a big step up range before. I know I’ve been underpaid for a while, but I never felt “good enough” to ask for more.) So when the recruiter offered me $130K + 15% bonus, I thanked her, said I was really excited, and was there any flexibility on salary? She asked what I wanted and I took a deep internal breath and said, “I was hoping you could make that 140.”

She asked me if that was based on my previous salary — in my state you can’t ask about salary history, but I looked this up, they can ask after they’ve given you an offer with a number attached. I said it was based on other roles I was interviewing for. Completely true, I’d spoken the day before with another company about a role at $160K.

She said she’d check in with the hiring manager, and I spent the most nerve-wracking night thinking I should have just accepted the $130K and now they would probably not want me at all. Couldn’t sleep. And the next day I got a call back and they said $140K, final offer. I took it, which was good because I didn’t get an offer from the other place I’d made a final round for and I really needed a paycheck.

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