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The Money Talk

A Suze Orman exclusive

Gals, this is a big problem area. Many of us definitely seem to have gotten the wrong chromosomal mix when it comes to negotiating salaries and raises.

Time for some assertiveness training.

If you’re negotiating a salary for a new job, don’t wait for the offer to form your strategy. Go out and research what the going rate is for your field and for someone with your experience. Websites like make it easy to get good salary info.

If you’ve done your homework and the offer comes in low, you have the facts to back you up. Don’t settle. Don’t think you’re asking for too much. Trust me, the truth is that women tend to ask for too little! Just hold your ground—politely but firmly. Make it clear you are very interested in the job and the company but you need to be somewhere that values (there’s that word again!) your talent and experience.

And should negotiations get stuck a little shy of your goal, don’t be afraid to be creative. If the salary is a little bit short, can you get an extra week of vacation instead? Or maybe an agreement that after you’ve been on the job for a few months, you will be able to work from home once a week? Or maybe there’s extra training you want and your new employer can foot the bill for the tuition? If you negotiate any of these creative benefits in lieu of the salary you wanted, make sure you get them in writing and have a copy put on file with the H.R. department. This is one of those things you don’t want to be left to interpretation down the line.

And, remember: Don’t lie when a prospective employer asks for your current salary. This is easily verifiable and there is no quicker way to lose out on a job than to be caught in a lie during the interview process.

The advice for raises is pretty much the same. You should know the going rate for your job. If you don’t have an annual review where a raise is typically on the agenda, it’s up to you to check in with your boss and ask for a meeting to discuss your compensation. Again, though, don’t just waltz in and say you want a raise. Nor is it good form to say “Katie got a raise last month, so I deserve one too.” Please, please, please, stick to the facts. Your facts. Like I said earlier, the correct pitch is: “As we discussed in my review (or as described in my self-evaluation) I have delivered on every job responsibility and also took on extra work in projects X and Y. Based on that performance, I deserve a raise.” See the difference? You tied it to performance, and made it an assertive statement, not merely a request.

If you are turned down for the raise, be sure to ask why. Is it because of your personal performance or because the company isn’t in a position to give out raises? If it’s because you and your boss don’t agree on your value, well, you know what I am going to tell you: It’s time to think about a new job. On the other hand, if you didn’t get the raise because the company is strapped, then you have a few options. If you really like the company and want to stay, see if you can get a written commitment that the issue will be reviewed again in a few months. And in the meantime, try for one of the creative benefits solutions we discussed earlier.

As a final warning on raises, please keep in mind that personal need, however worthy or urgent in your eyes, virtually never has any place in contract negotiations. Bringing it up is likely to hurt rather than help your cause. Your compensation is based solely on the work you do—not the fact that you have a leaky roof or that the nanny just asked for a raise. It’s not your boss’s concern that you have some added or pressing expenses. What he or she pays you is determined by your performance at work. Period.

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