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How women should negotiate their salary

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July 07, 2006 16:30 IST

Here's a startling fact: By not negotiating their salaries, many women sacrifice more than half a million dollars by the end of their professional lives.

"That is pretty scary," says Linda Babcock, the Carnegie Mellon University economics professor who researched that figure. Babcock surveyed M.B.A. students who graduated in 2002 and 2003 and found that those who negotiated received 7 per cent to 8 per cent more than what they were initially offered.

And of those two graduating classes, 52 per cent of the men negotiated, compared to only 12 per cent of women. Over time, that adds up, since percentage raises are based on a person's current salary. "Women leave a lot of money on the table," says Babcock, who also co-authored the book, Women Don't Ask.

Women who do negotiate for more are still seen as pushy, even by today's younger generation. In her research, Babcock had people in their 20s and 30s watch tapes of men and women negotiate using the same tactics. Viewers said they found the women demanding, while they considered the men's behavior acceptable.

So what's a girl supposed to do? Women can negotiate cooperatively rather than competitively. For example, a woman who has a job offer but would like to stay with her current company might say, "I like working here, and I'd like to stay. Can you match the offer?" instead of saying, "I'm leaving unless you match the offer."

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Remember, it's business, not personal.

"Women tend to balance the outcome of the relationship they'll have (with their future boss), whereas men tend to be competitive negotiators--the relationship is secondary," says Lee Miller, co-author of A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating. "That's why men tend to be able to negotiate hard and then grab a drink (with their boss)."

To that, Leslie Whitaker, co-author of The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating, says, "The goal isn't always to be liked. It's about being valued."

Joanne Zaiac, president of marketing agency Digitas' New York office, agrees. She found that the best way to get financial recognition is by setting clear goals and achieving them. She encourages women to sit down with managers and put their goals in writing. It's also important to keep a list of your accomplishments throughout the year. When it's time for a performance review, you'll be able to "merchandise" yourself.

Don't be uncomfortable highlighting your professional accomplishments, says Zaiac. She suggests keeping any notes or e-mails a client or colleague sent about the high quality of your work. She even recommends soliciting it.

For instance, if a client compliments your work, she suggests saying, "It would really help me get the support I need if you put that in writing so I can show it to my boss." Don't worry about seeming too forward, she says. "People shouldn't be so shy; don't be scared to ask. (If you've done a good job), most clients will be thrilled to help out a peer."

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Another key to earning the highest salary possible is finding out what the typical pay range is prior to the interview. That way, you have a sense of what to tell them if they ask what you hope to be making.

Miller recommends putting off answering that question--how much do you make now?--for as long as possible. Not negotiating has a snowball effect. If a prospective boss asks for your current salary and then raises it by a certain percentage, it's likely to still be lower than a male counterpart's offer, since his current salary is probably higher.

If you're asked about your current salary, Miller suggests you say, "If I'm right for the job and this is right for me, we'll work out the money." If that doesn't work, ask what the company has budgeted for the position. Never throw out a number, because if it's too low, the company will be more than happy to accommodate it. If it's too high, the hiring manager might be turned off. If you must give a number for your current salary, be vague.

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When you go into a job interview, be confident and explain exactly what you've accomplished at past jobs and discuss what you plan to accomplish at the one you're interviewing for. Have examples ready.

"Make sure the right people in the right way know when (you're) doing great things," says Zaiac. "You have to be your own fiercest career advocate."

Tara Weiss, Forbes