The Salary Chronicles: A Simple Mistake Almost Cost Me $18K

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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 recent MBA graduate who botched her first negotiation attempt but was successful with her second try.

Title: Brand Manager

Location: New York, NY

Salary Offered: $110K

Negotiated Salary: $110K with $18K other compensation

What was the situation when you decided to negotiate your salary?

I was interviewing for a job at the end of my MBA program. I had two offers, one for $120k at a tech company, and one for $110k at a beauty company. Though the offer from the tech company was higher, I was much more excited about the role at the beauty company.

I decided to try to use the higher offer as leverage to negotiate for a higher starting salary with the beauty company.

The director of the beauty company was on campus that week, and I set up a time to speak with him about my dilemma. I came prepared with notes and I was ready to negotiate. I launched into my speech about how I really wanted to work for his company, but the salary divide was too large. Would they be willing to match my other offer?

I was a bit surprised that his response was an immediate no. He was really respectful but informed me that they made standard offers to all of their MBA graduates and my salary couldn’t be adjusted. There was nothing he could do.

After that meeting I was frustrated because I felt I had done everything right. I had been assertive, I had made my case, and I had another offer to use as leverage.

How did you decide to change your approach?

A week later I was sitting in a negotiation seminar at school, feeling really disappointed about my situation, when the professor started talking about how important it is to understand what the other side can actually offer. It’s a waste of time asking for something that they can’t offer.

I realized that I approached the negotiation completely wrong. I assumed that salary was negotiable, but I hadn’t done any research to understand whether that was true. I needed to figure out if there was anything else that could potentially be negotiable: increased bonus, extra vacation time, or additional stock. I decided to reach out to an alum currently working at that company, who I had met previously at an event.

Speaking with this alumni provided valuable information about how to approach the negotiation conversation again. After talking about her experience with the company, she asked what my concerns with the offer were. She was in the Chicago office, where the company is headquartered, and I explained that my offer was to start in the New York office. I told her about the other offer I had and that I was struggling with the idea of taking a role for less money in such an expensive city.

She mentioned that they sometimes give cost of living assistance for people moving from a low cost of living area to a high cost of living area. She suggested that perhaps I ask for that.

I set up a call with the director for the next week and began researching cost of living differences between Chicago and New York.

How did the conversation go?

When we got on the phone, I started by telling him how much I had enjoyed speaking with the alum and hearing even more about what it is like to work for the company. Speaking with her made me even more excited about finding a way to make this work, financially. I then told him that I understood that the company gives cost of living assistance to their employees who move to more expensive markets, and though I was a new hire I was hoping that I could still qualify for this assistance.

He pushed back a little saying that it had been my choice to select the New York office. That was true, but I replied that I was only asking because I knew that this was something they already offered and I was hoping that my income would be level set with the other employees in the office.

After what felt like forever, he replied that it seemed reasonable. He would pass my request on to HR and they would let me know if they could make this exception.

A week later I received a call from the company HR manager telling me that my request for cost of living assistance had been approved. I was being given cost of living assistance for my first twelve months, which could be extended. My offer letter would be revised to include a one-time payment of $18k, which I would receive two weeks prior to my start date.

I was shocked. By figuring out what they could be flexible with, I was able to negotiate for a significant amount of money. A few months after starting my new role I learned that I was the only new hire who was receiving the cost of living adjustment because I was the only one who had asked.

What advice do you have for other women?

Figure out what they can offer before you ask for something. It’s a simple step that’s easy to overlook. I assumed I could negotiate for a higher salary, but they couldn’t offer that. I didn’t do my homework and I wasted their time and my time asking for something that wasn’t an option.

For more Salary Chronicle stories, click here.

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