Negotiation is never as easy as just screaming, “Show me the money.” It’s more art than science, more fear than comfort, and absolutely more volatile than predictable. Trust me, I married a man who negotiates contracts for a living, has talked me through multiple negotiations and it’s still a difficult process for me (and for him!)
The “women in business” book market is saturated with books about negotiation. We’re told to ask for what we want, know what we’re worth, and be prepared to play in the same way men do when it comes to jockeying for position and salary. The problem, though, is we’re conditioned to believe we know exactly when to negotiate. You do the interview, the company makes the offer in writing and then you counter-offer. Right?
While that scenario is traditional and sometimes ideal, it’s not always the way it happens. Often, you’ll have multiple conversations about salary along the way. From the screening interview to the in-person interview to multiple conversations with HR, you might have spoken about salaries at length before an offer comes. And during those times, of course you should take the advice of all those books: know what you’re worth and be willing to say it out loud; i.e. “I would like my salary to be $XXX and I expect benefits to be XXX.”
The place I respectfully disagree with my husband, though, comes at the end of the process. In my opinion, if you’ve had multiple salary conversations, have been clear about your range, and the offer comes in at that range, you’re done. Stop negotiating. If you said, “I want $XXX” and they offer you just that, I think you look greedy and difficult if you again try to squeeze more out of the company. My darling husband, however, believes wholeheartedly in negotiating just for the sake of negotiating. If they offer you $5, you should always ask for $10 even if $5 was what you wanted.
Ultimately, whether you agree with me or my husband, remember that negotiation doesn’t always happen after the offer is made. It begins the first time someone asks you about salary requirements and ends the day you sign that letter. Treat it as such. Don’t let any of those interactions be inauthentic, and never throw out a number you really wouldn’t accept. Be honest and authentic throughout the project, and you might just find you don’t need to negotiate the final offer if you’ve had an open conversation in the process leading up to the offer.