The Salary Chronicles was originally published on Forbes.com
Welcome to The Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation and salaries, one story at a time. We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible.
This week we’re speaking with a woman who doubled her salary by doing the right research and refusing to back down.
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Position/Industry: Project Manager, Insurance
Original Salary: $40k
What was the situation when you decided to negotiate your salary?
I had been unemployed for some time when I decided to make a career change and go into project management. I began an online program for my masters in project management but I needed to find a job that would give me some experience while also paying the bills. I took a low starting salary ($32k) with the plan that once I graduated from my masters program, I would get a promotion and a raise.
Around a year and a half later, I graduated from my program and as I had hoped, I got a promotion to a project manager! I was really excited until the salary conversation came around.
While they were giving me a raise, they were only increasing my salary to $40k. Yes, that was a 25% raise but I was taking on a lot more responsibility. I was going from a job with set hours (and no work outside of those hours), to running million dollar projects and needing to be available around the clock. I also now had my masters degree and was a much more valuable employee than when I started with them.
The salary didn’t match my new credentials or the new responsibilities and I knew it was time to stand up for myself and ask for more.
Being new to project management, I didn’t have a really clear picture of what I should be making. So I decided to start doing research through Glassdoor and looking at job postings when I knew I was up for the promotion. I wanted to make sure I went into the conversation well informed.
This was probably the best thing I did for two reasons: (1) it gave me the confidence to ask for the raise, and (2) I had clear research that I could point to that would support what I was asking for. I didn’t have a lot of experience so I really felt the need to have an external justification for what I asked for.
While doing my research I came across another job in my area that looked really interesting and decided to apply. I wasn’t actively looking for a new job, but the position seemed great and I wanted to make sure I had a backup plan in case the conversation didn’t go well.
What happened during the conversation?
I decided to bring up the salary right away during the official meeting where they offered me the new position and a raise. When I told them I was excited about the new role, but not about the salary, they were incredibly angry. To a certain extent, I can see why they were frustrated. I hadn’t asked for more money previously, even though I knew I was being underpaid. So this felt like it was coming out of nowhere.
I came in with facts to fully support my ask: the low end “market rate” for my salary should have been $68k. I asked for that and told them it was in line with the responsibilities and my education.
The conversation ended without resolution, but I refused to give up. I made sure to keep talking about the possibility of a raise with my manager.
What was the outcome?
After a few months of discussion and tension, they offered me $50k, explaining that they couldn’t afford to pay me more than that.
Luckily, I was also interviewing with a company I had applied to while I was doing my salary research. I really hadn’t expected to leave when I started the negotiation, but doing my research led me to an even better opportunity.
I received a job offer from the new company and the salary was $85k. I was ecstatic!
I put in my notice with my current company and was shocked when they offered to match the salary. Shocked and angry, really. They had been so mad at me for asking for a raise to $68k and claimed they couldn’t afford it. With this new job I had effectively called their bluff and they were scrambling to keep me.
It was too little, too late and their unwillingness to negotiate made me certain it was time to leave.
Any lessons learned or advice for other women?
As women we feel the need to justify everything. I felt like I needed to walk in with external data about how much I should be paid in that position. I won’t always have that data and it won’t always match up with what I think I deserve. I need to build that confidence in myself and my abilities (and get over my imposter syndrome) to make sure I go in there and ask for what I want, not what average salary ranges say I should want.
Also, your starting salary with a company determines so much. Starting at a bargain basement rate with my first company really held me back. They were basing my future salary potential off that and it was going to be really hard for me to play catch up. So don’t be so excited to get a job offer that you let yourself start off being paid too little.