Conversations about money can be uncomfortable, but pay transparency and salary negotiation rules can help jobseekers secure fair compensation. Credit: Mashable Composite; Shutterstock/RODWORKS, MVelishchuk
“Playing with my money is like playing with my emotions.” As an 11-year-old kid watching Ice Cube’s classic film Friday, I didn’t realize how much this quote from the movie’s secondary antagonist, Big Worm, would stick with me throughout my life and career.
It rings in my ears whenever I have a conversation about money in the workplace. It’s been present with me whenever I have a salary negotiation for a new job, whenever I’ve been up for a promotion and, most of all, it’s top of mind when I’m able to compare how much I get paid relative to my peers and competitors for the same kind of work.
It sure was the only thing I heard immediately after finding out my coworker was getting paid $15K more to do the exact same job that I was doing. We were literally hired the same day, and she managed to get $15K more than I had. I felt humiliated, angry, and insecure about my abilities and my worth. If I knew that they were willing to pay that much, I would have pushed for more. Instead, I was left dealing with a gut punch and the feeling that someone got one over on me. I felt hustled.
This is why pay transparency(opens in a new tab) is so important. Money conversations are always awkward, but having an idea of what people at your skill level are earning, whether in tech or another sector, makes it a hell of a lot easier to navigate the dreaded salary conversation in an interview.
There’s so much that goes through your mind in that moment when the topic of salary comes up: “How much do I feel like I deserve? What’s too much? What’s too little? Does the amount matter if I’m happy with it? What’s fair in this market? How do I even find out what the market is like?”
Knowledge is power, and knowing exactly what you can get with your skill level will ensure you come out on top in your salary conversations.
Knowing your worth in the job market: The community hackThe best place to find out what other people are making is to go directly to the source. Start within your own network by setting up coffee chats and being direct with your ask, explaining how it’ll help you. Almost everyone can empathize or at least sympathize with being underpaid and undervalued. Speaking candidly about this aspect of your career goals is a great opportunity to get someone emotionally invested in your journey, which will encourage them to open up to you.
If you’re finding it challenging to have those conversations, you can always rely on the global talent community. Sites and platforms like Reddit, Fishbowl, Levels.fyi, Blind, Discord servers, and Slack channels are community-focused digital spaces where, under the cover of anonymity, you can share your situation in all its uniqueness and get answers from like-minded people.
Online communities have become an essential tool for a lot of tech professionals due to the complex nature of their compensation packages(opens in a new tab). Equity, stock, shares, and benefits on top of cash have made the salary conversation more complex than ever before. Luckily, you’re not alone, and a lot of people have fostered communities to make sense of it all. Make a post, tell your story, and see how the different communities respond to you.
Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) Keep in mind that not only is pay transparency respectful of jobseekers’ time and a step toward narrowing race and gender wage gaps(opens in a new tab), it allows for smarter use of employers’ resources, refining the applicant pool to invest in and retain candidates who know what they’re getting into. Momentum has been building(opens in a new tab) toward more employers disclosing pay ranges in job postings, during the interview process, and as part of ongoing internal company communications.
But even as more states begin putting pay transparency laws in place(opens in a new tab) to provide job applicants and employees with access to salary information, it remains important to be prepared to use this knowledge to advocate for yourself. Having access to information on the pay of your peers not only gives you a strong negotiating position to work from, but it also prevents you from being taken advantage of during your job search. To avoid experiencing that disappointment and doubt, keeping straightforward guidelines in mind can help you incorporate pay transparency into your salary negotiation strategy.
Understanding the rules of engagementAs a candidate, you should consider the salary negotiation process as soon as a company expresses initial interest in you. The best practice employed by recruiters and hiring managers is to get an idea of what you’re targeting early in the interview process. You’ll often be asked for your current salary, expected salary, or the salary range you’re targeting.
Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) Rule #1: Do not disclose your salary history or salary requirements. Does it feel a bit dishonest? Yes. Uncomfortable? You bet it does. But it’s your first and best opportunity to position yourself to negotiate a much higher salary. When you tell someone what you’re currently making, they are more likely to give you an offer that’s at or barely above what you’re making now. Instead of offering a number in response to this question(opens in a new tab), you can ask about the range budgeted for this position or say, “I’m going to need to learn more about the job so I can properly identify a salary point that makes the most sense to me.”
Rule #2: Make a counter offer — always. Once an offer is made, you’ll counter the offer by sending a carefully written email that includes a strong case to support that proposal. Don’t worry about the offer being rescinded — most recruiters and HR staff expect the initial offer to be rejected. We all hope that you’ll accept the offer on the spot, but history says candidates are highly likely to counter the first offer, and you should not be the exception to this rule.
Highlight your passion, cultural fit, and technical abilities at the forefront of this email as you build value and credibility for your counteroffer. Typically, your counteroffer should be 10 to 20 percent more than their offer, with an emphasis on your base salary at first.
It also can be a wise move to respectfully request an anticipated hiring time frame to inform your consideration of other options, especially if you have another offer on the table. This strategy can heighten your perceived value, add an extra sense of urgency and pressure to your candidacy, and enable you to more easily negotiate for a higher offer. Without showing your hand, you can express your preference for working for this company, while maintaining control and subtly conveying that in this scenario you will be choosing them, rather than them choosing you.
Rule #3: Stick the landing.After you send your counter, get ready for the endgame in the form of a “final discussion,” which typically is a three-to-five-minute-long conversation that has the recruiter or hiring manager responding to your counteroffer as you work out what your final package looks like. This is your last chance to improve your compensation package before you decide whether to accept their offer. You can always choose to continue going back and forth, but in my experience each correspondence from here has a diminishing return and you’ll hit their final offer sooner rather than later.
Drawing a line in the sand: Enforce your boundary The last and arguably most important strategy to incorporate is knowing when to walk away. At a certain point the negotiation will reach the stage where a final offer is on the table. Based on all the information you have, you’ll have to make a decision on what is worth your time and what isn’t.
Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) Walking away from the opportunities that don’t align with your needs will always give you the final say in any negotiation you walk into, and that is the true power of pay transparency: the knowledge to determine what’s really the best fit for you and your career.
Mashable columns reflect the opinions of their writers.
Contributing Op-Ed Writer
Jermaine L. Murray, also known as “The Jobfather,” is a career coach and tech recruiter working to increase the representation of Black people in the tech industry. Through his company, JupiterHR, Jermaine has helped hundreds of Black people find new jobs in tech. He’s on a mission to increase that number to 500 by the end of 2023.