For a young person just entering the professional workforce, the idea of negotiating with a powerful, and oftentimes intimidating, employer can be scary to say the least. You’re new to the professional environment, you’re focused on not spilling your coffee on your new pencil skirt and you’re still completely terrified of the boss you’ve only seen twice.
We’ve all been there.
Now it’s time for your first review and hopefully pay raise. Here is where things get tough. You are probably happy and relieved to have a job at all. Being offered a full time position feels like a gift, and in some ways it is, but this is the time to show your boss what kind of employee you’re going to be. Are you going to be the person who accepts a menial raise even though you know you deserve more? Or, are you going to advocate for yourself and show that you are a confident professional?
Negotiating is an art and it takes time to master. The best advice I can give as a young woman who’s had her fair share of intimidating work situations is to be confident, respectful and honest. I once had a job that was a constant challenge where I rarely saw my boss, except when he came in to point out where we were lacking. There was very little training and it was up to the employees to figure it out. I wanted to impress and knew I could do a good job so I took on more work and responsibility than most and was constantly stressed getting everything done. When it was time for my year review, I was also taking over someone else’s position and was expecting a rave review and adequate raise.
I went into the review, head held high, confident that I was walking away with a solid raise. To my surprise my boss told me flat out that I was nothing special and he could fire me, train someone else in two weeks and pay them less. Then I was offered a 50 cent raise. I was completely blindsided. I barely said a word during the review and felt a huge ball of fire in my chest as I walked solemnly to my desk.
My father had always taught me to negotiate. He knew that certain employers will try to take advantage of their employees and put them down to avoid giving them a raise - exactly what had happened to me. So what do you do in this situation? I had already bombed the review and missed my opportunity to stand up for myself. But, was it too late? It’s never too late.
I spent the next hour putting together a bullet pointed list of my big accomplishments over the last year with specific stats and dollar amounts of what I had made and/or saved for the company. I then wrote a short concise email to the boss, asking to have another meeting with him. I told him I was caught off-guard during my review and believed I deserved a higher pay raise and why. The why is the important part. You can say you want a raise all day long, but unless you can prove you are an asset, it means nothing. So I proved it.
I wasn’t sure if he would just ignore me or put me in my place again, but the worst thing that could happen is he’d say “No.” I stood up for myself, gained some major self-respect and showed my boss that I knew I was a worthwhile employee. He waited two days to respond, set up a meeting with me and offered me a two dollar an hour raise. The best part was, he talked to me like a professional and I had gained some major respect by advocating for myself.
I never stopped being challenged in that position. Every promotion or raise was a negotiation, but I can tell you that he never belittled my work again. When I eventually left the company, he said he was very disappointed I wouldn’t be staying with them and he knew I would go on to have a successful career. Although I learned a lot in that position, the most important lesson was that a little confidence goes a long way in the workforce and it’s always important to stand up for yourself, even if it’s just for your own piece of mind.Carli Leavitt currently handles outreach and public relations for Tacoma Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Treyz. As a young professional in a competitive environment, she loves sharing her experience and expertise.