Bullish: How To Ask For More Money, Part I

Jennifer Dziura writes Bullish, a career column, for The Grindstone on Fridays and Bullish Life, a life coaching column, for our sister site TheGloss on Tuesdays.

There’s a lot of advice out there about negotiating for raises. Do it, and do it often; keep records of your accomplishments so you can make your case. Please, dear god, make sure your sentences don’t come out sounding like questions. (I need a raise? I am a valuable member of the team?)

Here’s the Harvard Business Review on How to Negotiate Your Next Salary. From HBR, among other suggestions: Do your research on what the company pays others and what other companies pay for your role. (I have long advocated salary openness – see Bullish: How Talking About Money Can Make You More of It.)

But I think that a lot of the decisions and communications that determine how much money you make just don’t always happen in a formal negotiating meeting, in which you know in advance that you will be discussing your salary and that you should come prepared.

I think a lot of the difficulty of negotiating is even knowing when the negotiating part starts. (If you’re wondering, maybe it already has! Or maybe it never starts unless you start it!) Sometimes, “negotiating” is spending an hour writing a three-sentence email spelling out your requests.

I also think that there are a lot of ways to get more money without having to think as though you’re going into combat. Sometimes, companies are doing well, and asking for money isn’t that big a deal, and also wins you respect from the people around you who were making more than you the whole time. Asking for more shows self-awareness. It’s not a fight; it’s a way to become a peer.

Other times, wherever the battle over money takes place may not be where you think. Better to have people on your team than have to persuade enemies.

Here are a few ideas.

Try drafting the decisionmaker to your team.

If you are negotiating a fee for a freelance gig or a salary for a full-time position, there are a few postures you can take.

You can make a negotiation sound like a polite argument if you want. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. You can give ultimatums! Awkward.

But sometimes the person doling out the money doesn’t have that much personal stake in it. If she screws you over, she’ll get a pat on the back from a higher-up for saving the company a few thousand dollars. Or, if she helps you out, she’ll get a pat on the back from you, and a mere shrug from those higher-up. The money’s not coming out of her pocket. Her motivations are shifting and unclear.

Sometimes you can draft her onto your team.

Assume that the person is on your side, fighting with some kind of “bad cop” who controls the money. So, instead of, “I need you to give me more money,” it’s like, “I trust you to get me as much as you can from the big guys.”

In actual practice, I’ve often had success with, “Look, I really want to work with you – I trust you to get me as much as you can.”

This has worked well when working with professors trying to bring my educational comedy shows to their university. Of course we’re on the same team! We want to share the love of punctuation with young people! So, “My fee is $2,500, but you know the ins and outs of the administration – I trust you to get what you can for me.” It has also worked well in a variety of other situations.

In one case, this strategy got me an extra $7,000 on a freelance contract that had already been negotiated, but turned out to be a lot more work than I thought. I said, “I know the contract’s already signed, but if you have a way for you to pull some strings the company…” As it turned out, that guy did have a way to pull some strings with the company. And when I got paid, he (I assume) felt like he had done a good deed – standing up for someone who needed it – rather than like he’d been strongarmed into doing something he didn’t want to do.

Even in cases in which the person paying you really is the decisionmaker, a bit of feigned naivete can work here. “It’s been great meeting you! I know you’ll talk to whoever you need to to make my case, and I hope it works out!”

In a full-time job situation (things are looser in small businesses and startups), you can sometimes spin this as, “I like the top people here so much that I would like to join your club now. The club where we are all awesome together and get paid accordingly. I respect the fuck out of you. Let me into your Borg cube!”

It’s kind of like pledging a fraternity. But still: this is a presumptive sales attempt to get yourself and the decisionmaker on the same team.

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    • Amanda

      What if you’re desperate? Like, “I’ve been unemployed for x months/years, I really need this job to get back in the workforce/get my foot in the door/build my resume,” so you’d happily work for peanuts, but you don’t want to screw over your future self by starting out with a low salary you might spend the next 5-10 years trying to climb out of?

      • Amanda

        Wow, I really didn’t want my picture next to that, guess I should have used a fake email!

    • Bob V

      Thanks for the excellent piece.

      An on-topic story:
      In my wife’s field, it is very customary to negotiate salary. When she got her offer, we were just friends, but I begged for her to ask for *something*. She simply wouldn’t do it.

      She’s now likely to be in that job for the rest of her mortal life getting paid $5k plus compounding less per year because she’s a conflict avoider.

      I almost forgot to mention this: SHE HAD FOUR JOB OFFERS FROM GOING ON FIVE INTERVIEWS.

    • Anastasia Beaverhausen


      I just passed my 3 month probationary period at a new company, de facto. They never gave me a performance evaluation that is listed in my new hire paperwork. I’ve been planning on requesting a performance evaluation and asking for more money at that time, even though I think “typically” they do not consider raises until 1 year of service. I have done an excellent job so far and have noted all my accomplishments along the way. Any advice on how to negotiate a raise before the 1 year mark, based on great performance and having expanded this role to encompass many responsibilities the previous person never did? Just wondering how to phrase it, I have never negotiated a raise, just accepted the standard offered at annual reviews (mainly because I was in gov’t with no ability to negotiate). Really nervous about it as well as how to react should they decline at this time (1 year policy, etc).

      • Anastasia Beaverhausen

        I should add I’ve received very positive feedback from my supervisor as well as peers so not worried that anyone is unsatisfied in the least. We all have areas to keep improving, and part of the reason I want an evaluation is to be able to fine-tune things based on their feedback.

    • Avodah

      Here is my question:

      Many recruiters and job applications ask for you to list your salary history. It is pretty much mandatory. Thus, one has lost the negotiation before it even began.

      Further, I believe (I could be wrong) that previous salaries can be verified in a background check.

      How does one move forward?

    • alma

      Here’s an interesting situation I would love your take on:

      The architecture office i work at is very small (and getting smaller by the month). The people who work here are my bosses (husband and wife), me, another girl and our accountant. We were promised raises at the beginning of the year which didn’t happen, and now one of our major projects was put on hold. So they let go of the other girl whom i worked with because there will not be enough work to keep both of us, though she has a couple years more experience than I and she has a masters degree while i only have a bachelors.

      Now that she’s gone I have to take up more of a work load, work later hours etc etc. Would it be wrong of me to ask for a raise even though they downsized? We only get paid salary, not hourly, no benefits , and I really dont get paid as much as I should to begin with.

      please share your wisdom

      • Anastasia Beaverhausen

        It would be wrong of you NOT to ask for more money! Absolutely you need to be compensated for the additional responsibilities, no question.

    • Jane

      Thank you so much for this!!… I love your column on thegloss and thegrindstone but normally don’t comment. It is so true — I would consider myself a fairly successful female surrounded by successful female friends — but we are all pushovers when it comes to negotiating salary! Time for us to step up and close the wage gap!

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