Women and Negotiating Salary

Here's an NPR Morning Edition segment on women and negotiating salary. 

In my experience as a recruiter, negotiating with both men and women, the men do seem to be more aggressive. Of course, this isn't scientific; it's just what I recall.

In my own personal salary negotiating experiences, I've had another person that I could talk to and compare notes about what I should do. Early in my career, it was my dad and he gave me good advice which I took. But this was after I learned a lesson.

My first office-type office job out of college, which I took on during that horrible recession when I was really worried about paying rent, I recall the company head (it was a small commercial real estate company moving toward REIT status) asking me how much I needed to make to "get by". Stupidly, I told him and that is what he paid me. I was a kid. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I really needed this job. I worked there for 2 years and my disappointment in myself and my lack of respect for the person who wanted to pay me the minimum amount possible (no raises...surpise!) both grew. At the end, there was a big project that they were going to hire a temp to do. I offered to do it on evenings and weekends if they would pay me what they would have paid the temp for the time. it actually saved them money because there was no agency fee. I worked some crazy hours and got a nice chunk of money (at least at that time), which I used to quit my job and move back to Chicago. And that is the decision that led me into recruiting.

By the time I was negotiating my next job (about 6 weeks later in Chicago), I made sure that I was ready to play. I had been working as a temp so they knew what I was making and that the amount wasn't what I expected to be making as a full-time employee. So there really wasn't a lot of context or precedent to use to justify any particular dollar amount other than what I would accept and their internal equity. So when they asked me to tell them what I'd need to take the job, while I was still worried about paying rent (on my little studio apartment), I knew not to make the same mistakes I had made the last time. "What were you thinking of offering?" was my response, heart pumping. Their number was higher than the secret number in my head (plus there's HUGE upside in the agency space so there was plenty of opportunity to make more, which I was very excited about). I remember thinking: "Holy cow! That worked (thanks Dad)!"

By the time I was well into my recruiting career, I was a pro at negotiating. I've interviewed and parted ways with a couple companies that couldn't or wouldn't meet my salary demands.  But that was OK. What was important was I had salary demands. I knew what I was worth in the marketplace and I wasn't taking less. And I found other companies that I wanted to work in that made me the right offers. I've always kind of appreciated the companies that will have a "ballpark" discussion with you at the beginning of the process so you don't take the time interviewing for a job that you would never acccept due to the compensation. Trust me, recruiters don't want your reaction to their job offer to be disappointment.

Now, I still have an aversion to talking about my money, especially about splitting up checks at lunch. I'd rather be the person that pays a few dollars more than do the "but you asked for extra cheese so you owe more than me" thing. But when it comes to negotiating salary for myself, I force myself to get over it and just do it. I never really thought about it as "negotiating like a man", just being a better negotiator (which isn't necessarily the same thing as just being a more aggressive negotiator because you need to know when to back off too).

Comments (24)

  1. Kristen says:

    It is all about knowing the market, it doesn’t matter what market it is, housing or job.  You need to know what to walk away from and what you will accept.  

    The clients I work with daily almost always have one distinct disadvantage and that is they have become emotional about a property.  Once you become emotional about a property you will almost always pay more than you should.  People that are selling one property and buying a different at the same time are the worst because they become desperate to get the timing of the deals right.  I also run into people that claim they know the market but are really all talk and end up paying too much.

    It’s the same with a job, if you know your market you can negotiate from a position of power.  Research the company, talk to employees (past and present) and have a point that you will walk away.  

    Be careful of wanting to work for a company so bad because of the "Name" that you will accept any offer because that company will most likely offer less than you’re worth.  

    Don’t become emotionally blinded when you negotiate and be in the position of power.

  2. asteffen says:


    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the matter.  I have a question for you, coming from someone in a similar position as you were when you started in the market place.  How do you know if the number you are thinking is inline with the position?  Or to be more specific, how can/should you determine your range.

  3. tod says:

    I always tell people 2 things for this situation…  

    1. Never give them a figure when you’re being offered a job (like you say above).

    2. Never accept the first offer right away (even if you are extremely excited about the amount). Always tell the person that you need to think about it over night. That’s a reasonable request that any reasonable company/person should respect. Every time I’ve done this (twice) the company ended up calling me back offering a larger salary before I had an opportunity to call them back to accept the original salary.  😉

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    asteffen-there are a couple things you can do. First and simplest if you can manage it is to talk to someone else who had done the same thing recently. If you have a good enough relationship with that person, they can give you some sort of idea what to expect. Short of that, if you know someone in that space, you can always ask them what they think entry-level salaries are in that space, especially if they have hired someone entry level. I would only do this if you were not applying to work for this person, of course. Also, certain industries have salary guides. You can find these by doing some research on the internet. If you can’t find one for your industry, you can try to look at ones for other indistries and make soe assumptions about how it would translate to your space. For example, there are salary guides out for finance and IT. If you wanted to get into something else you might look at the salary guide for those other spaces and use them to estimate starting salaries for your space. Another idea is to call your career development office for your university if you have a degree. They should be able to give you a ballpark idea. Same with placement firms that specialize in your area of expertise; they can give you some ranges.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that you need to add or subtract $$ if you are lacking some of the quaifications that they generally look for. For example, when I took that job, I didn’t have any experience in the staffing industry (-), but I did have experience with finance (+).

    So I guess there’s no one easy answer but there are a lot of places you can go to get info to make an estimate. PLus keep in mind that once you start talking money, the point of negiating is to go up or down in the number. So know how flexible you should be.

    Hope that helps.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ack, repsonding to comments out of order…sorry

    Kristen-great advice! I also think that if you can subtly let the other party know that you are willing to walk away (which is risky unless you really mean it, you should. Honestly, I thought that buying my house was one of the most excrutiating experiences but you are so right about not getting emotional; which id hard to do. But people should at least not give the othe party that impression because then they wil definitely get ripped off.

    tod-good advice. Also, decide what is most important to you from a negotiating standpoint. It’s easier to get more of one thing than a little more of everything.

  6. asteffen says:


    Thanks for the help…thats what i have been doing, just wanted to make sure i was heading in the right direction, thanks for the insight


  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    totally on the right track ; )

  8. ZeZei says:

    What if they PRESS and press and corner you! i never succeed at this "don’t give a number"!

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Zezie, I know, it’s hard. I’ve used the "I’m not comfortable giving a number at this time, but perhaps we can share more when I get to know more about the position and you get to know more about my background". They think that if they press you will give in. Say it with conviction and if you really have to give something, talk about "ball-parks"; general ranges.

    Just keep in mind that if they keep pressing you, they are trying to take your power.

  10. steamboat says:

    Salary.com can be really helpful for this kind of thing na yes, I work there. I admit it.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    steamboat- thanks for the info. Self-promotion is totally OK when it’s relevant to the conversation (especially when you are honest about it). : )

  12. J says:


    I have a question. I am a college student. I recently got an offer for an internship (my first internship ever). Right after the interview the recruiter had asked me how likely I would accept the position if offered, rate on a scale of 10, and I said 10 of course. (It is the company that I really want to work at.) Later when I heard the offer, I didn’t even think twice to say yes. The offer is pretty good. About the average that an intern should expect.

    But my question here is, as a student looking for an intern position, should ever I negotiate for salary? Thanks!

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    J-Hmmm, I’m not sure if intern compensation is as negotiable as regular full-time positions. I’ll try to check on that.

  14. Melissa says:


      Although my college internship was nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t expect a salary and received a nice stipend at the end of it, to my surprise.  By nature, an internship is not paid, and most would advise against initiating a compensation negotiation.  I interned with a retailer for three months and was hired as an Assistant Dept Manager at the end.  That way overshadowed the 1100$-ish stipend I got at the end of the three months.  

    Good Luck

  15. HeatherLeigh says:

    Thought I should point out that our internships at Microsoft are paid. I think that’s more common now than it was ten years ago, though I am not really sure what other companies are paying.

  16. John Smith says:

    How do full-time offers correlate with internship salary at MSFT?

    I ask because I am pondering over taking an internship at MSFT and although the salary is great for the summer, I would be expecting more in a full-time offer (which I would be aiming to get at the end of the summer)

  17. JohnSmith says:

    How do internship salaries correlate with full-time salaries?

  18. Uncomfortable says:

    Hi I just wanted to ask if once I have accepted an offer is there anyway to go back and ask for a readjustment on the salary before starting the position?

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Uncomfrotable-I think the time for that has passed. You already accepted the position with a specific salary. If one of my candidates (or new hires, for that matter) accepted and then came back to negotiate after the fact, I would have serious doubts about their judgement (why did they accept? why did they think it’s OK to come back and try to get more?).  They are not required to let you start the position unless a contract has been signed. You run the risk of them withdrawing the employment offer. I don’t recommend asking for more money at this point. Start the job, be heads down and wait until your review to go in and ask for an increase (and only then if you can identify a performance related reason).

  20. Exhibit A says:

    I am up for a position in which the recruiter asked me in our first conversation to state a minimum figure and a high-end figure that I would work for — unfortunately I was caught off guard by this and blurted out some numbers without doing my research.  I realize now that I have lowballed myself!

    Offer has not been made yet — will my low figures affect what they offer me?

    Is it simple enough for me to say – hey wait, those numbers I threw out were too low?

    I have visions of the recruiter and the hiring manager sitting and rubbing their hands together maliciously laughing and going "hehehe – she’s so cheap, what a sucker!"

  21. Exhibit A says:


    … my other thought was to contact the recruiter right away to alert them that – I have done some research and had some time to reflect and that i just want to let them know up front the new and more realistic range, and ask if it falls in line with their range to avoid wasting anyone’s time.

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    Exhibit A – I doubt the hiring manager and recruiter are doing that. I’ve never seen that happen. It’s not an adversarial relationship, at least in my expeirence.

    It wasn’t clear from your comment if the recruiter let you know whether they will be offering you the position. I wouldn’t worry about it until you know for sure (lesson learned, right?). You aren’t required to take what they offer…there’s definitely room for negotiation after th offer is presented. You could always tell them that now. knowing what the job entails, you’d like to see a salary closer to $x. This is all obviously if you really want this position and if the salary is not so far off that the recruiter is going to gasp when you tell them another number. Againl I can’t tell from what you have written here.

    Hopefully, if you are working with a great recruiter and a reputable company, they will offer you what is appropriate for the position. I think the recruiter was trying to assess the possibility of wasting time at the front end when they asked you that question. I’m not sure that they would be real happy if you tried to do that now.

  23. Misty says:

    I am in a very interesting situation.  My boyfriend and I went to the same college, worked at the same IT company for the same number of years and both quit on the same day.  We have both received an offer from a new company where  I was offered $8000 less than my boyfriend.  A couple of facts:

    1) I was in a more senior position than him at the old company.

    2) I had received the top global consultant award in my organization.

    3) We had exactly the same salary.

    When negotiating for a salary that at least matches my boyfriends offer should I bring up the fact that I know he was offered more?  Any other advice?

  24. HeatherLeigh says:

    I wouldn’t bring up what anyone else was offered. It’s a little hard-ball and I think a more delicate tactic, at least to start, is probably better. I think the one thing that you have going for you in this negotiating situation is that you know they can pay more. So now is the time to ask for more, which it sounds like you are aplnning to do. Ask for the salary that you believe you deserve and relate it to your skills specifically and what those skills are worth in the market.

    A couple points:

    -the idea of candidates discussing offers can be a little off-putting for companies. If you do it, it’s probably not best to be obvious about it. You might offer up that your boyfriend is also considering joining the firm. Obviously, when and how you say this is important. Any smart recruiting/hiring manager will get it withouth you saying that the two of you have doscussed money.

    -not all candidates are equal. And this has nothing to do with gender (or at least not necessarily so). The interviewers may have seen something in your boyfriend from a skill standpoint that they did not see in you. I’m not saying that gender bias does or does not exist in this situation. But I’d definitely look at the big picture.

    -if your recruiter does not respond to your attempr to negotiate, ask her/him to help you understand the skill sets that you would need to build to be considered for a higher level/salary band/position (you can always refer to this as "taking the next step in my career" so it doens’t make it all about the money). This might give you some ideas as to why someone else was offered more. It would also help you, should you decide to accept the positon, to know what to really work on to move up effectively in the organization.

    -then, if you do take the position, make sure that you don’t have any left over ill-will about the whole salary situation. This is something I might have a hard time with if I were in your position 🙂 If you feel that the company unfairly offered you less, I’d be looking somewhere else. But obviously, you have to make the decision of what’s best for you.

    I hope you come back and letus know how things turn out! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

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