5 Negotiation Strategies For The Modern Woman

Jennie here.

In January, I negotiated a 25% raise after just one year on the job. To “celebrate,” Ivan and I went out for some Vietnamese pho in our neighborhood. We probably would’ve done the same thing regardless of the outcome. To be honest, we have larger ambitions than extra numbers on a paycheck.

That said, I came away with a few insights on what it takes for a woman to get ahead in the workplace. So in the spirit of tilting the scales in our favor, I wanted to share some non-obvious advice on how to tackle a negotiation. 

1. You’re Only worth as much as the relationships you cultivate

When I decided to move out of Boston back in 2016, I had two offers on the table:

(1) a six figure job in New York City with a brand name company

(2) a below six figure job in Los Angeles at a little known start-up

On paper, this looked like an easy decision. Ivan and I love New York and I could have definitely learned to love a six figure salary. But here’s the thing: the person who was recruiting me to L.A. was a mentor from my former company. And having just escaped a sexist situation at my last job, I was willing to take less money for a guarantee that my new boss wouldn’t be a misogynistic dick.

That decision paid off almost immediately. Not only has my mentor been a constant advocate for me, he’s also been completely open about giving and receiving feedback. Knowing I had turned down a more lucrative opportunity to work for him didn't hurt either. If I could trace my raise back to one thing, it was that I  had chosen to invest in a relationship over a company.

Jennie’s Takeaway:
When in doubt, pick the Boss with whom you can speak your mind over a higher salary and a faceless brand.

2. It’s not about what you deserve

It’s not even about how hard you work. A negotiation is all about what you can leverage. Broadly speaking, there are two types of leverage: market and emotional.

  • Market leverage means you become so essential in your role to the point where it's difficult to replace you. A good test is to strategically take a two week vacation a few months before your review meeting and see if things slow down or fall apart without you.

  • Emotional leverage means you have people outside the company who would hire you in a heartbeat and people within your company who would be sorry to see you go. This goes back to cultivating relationships. 

Jennie’s Takeaway:
Figure out what kind of leverage you have and use it.

3. Negotiation begins months before the actual review

Like the movie Inception, by the time your annual performance review rolls around, the idea of giving you a raise should be so firmly planted in your boss’s head that he'll think it was his idea all along.

From day one, I began scheduling weekly one-on-one sessions with my boss. Even though my startup had no formal performance guidelines, I wanted to make sure to get into the habit of asking questions, finding areas of improvement, and summarizing those conversations and goals in an email to my manager. By the time my annual performance review came around, I had every available proof of my work, my goals, and my progress, all documented; everything spoke for itself. 

Jennie’s Takeaway:
Treat your career as one continuous negotiation.

4. At the review, listen more than you Speak

Your case should already be made before you even set foot in the meeting. A quick reminder of your past accomplishments should suffice. Then state your market value (based on thorough market research) and when prompted, throw out a salary range in percentage terms. Remember to let your boss do most of the talking. Better yet, ask him probing questions. What does he think about your accomplishments? How much does he think you’re worth on the market? Let him deal with the uncertainty before you counter with hard numbers. When you hold all the cards, you can only mess this up if you panic and start running your mouth. 

Jennie’s Takeaway:
Don't Give Your Cards Away. Ask Questions and embrace the long pauses.

5. Know what your response is going to be

Since meeting Ivan, I’ve become much more pragmatic about approaching situations. Negotiations are pretty simple. It’s just business. And no matter what the end result, you need to know exactly what your response is going to be.

So, I suggest that you prepare follow up responses and action items for both the “yes”, “no”, and “less than ideal” situations.

Here are some responses that you might have to prepare yourself for:

  • I can only offer you $xx,xxxx right now. (Much lower than what you expected.)

  • It will take a while to run this by management.

  • Sorry, we just can’t afford this raise in the middle of budget and hiring freezes.

After my most recent performance review, I simply stated that I wanted to keep working for the company but if they were going to continue pay me 75% of my market value, I would have to open myself up to other offers moving forward (subtext: just remember I waited and came to you first). 

PS. Here's where having a fuck-off fund comes in handy. There's nothing they can say or do that'll hurt you. 

Jennie’s Takeaway:
If you know what you're going to do In Every scenario, why WOULD YOU LET ANything bother you? 

Although my story and suggestions are not a silver bullet for any situation, I think it will help you think of more strategic ways to approach your own career goals and negotiation tactics.