Negotiating For a Raise: Tips & Scripts From a Pro

Obviously, you can’t prepare for every eventuality. But if you prepare in the way I’ve suggested, you will be more prepared than the person who’s interviewing you.
Victoria Pynchon, Founder of She Negotiates

For some, the thought of asking for a raise can produce levels of fear usually reserved for public speaking. Women, minorities, and younger professionals who have just earned their degrees may feel reticent to broach the subject, given the unconscious and conscious biases they are likely to face at the negotiation table. The Covid-19 pandemic has complicated matters even further, presenting what one might assume to be a hostile environment for asking for a raise.

“There’s never a perfect time to ask for a raise, but every day is a good time,” says Victoria Pynchon, founder of She Negotiates, a consultancy that provides negotiation and leadership coaching for women who want to get hired, get raised, and get promoted.

A central tenet of Pynchon’s philosophy is to begin by characterizing yourself and your experiences as positive benefits to your employer. For recent graduates who have been absent due to school work, this could involve framing one’s college degree as a massive investment in one’s skills. For those who have been in the same job for two years, it involves reformulating one’s job description to match reality.

Even a poor performance review can lead into a discussion about the validity of a raise—over time, employees are often asked to take on extra responsibilities or continue in roles that are beneath their level of ability, and a realignment of roles or compensation could improve outcomes.

Meet the Expert: Victoria Pynchon

Victoria Pynchon is the founder of She Negotiates, a consultancy that provides negotiation and leadership coaching for women who want to get hired, get raised, and get promoted. She practiced commercial litigation for 25 years and since 2004 has been mediating and arbitrating commercial disputes.

In 2006, Pynchon earned her master’s in conflict resolution from the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University School of Law. She has published two books on the psychology of conflict and the practicalities of assisted negotiation: The Grownups’ ABCs of Conflict Resolution and Success as a Mediator for Dummies. She also brought her passion for fair compensation to her membership on the Pay Equity Task Force convened by the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

For the summer of 2020, Pynchon is giving free consultations to Black women in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pynchon graciously shared her advice for negotiating for a raise.

Tip #1: Finding and Stating Your Market Value to Anchor Negotiations

The first step in negotiating for a raise is to find your market value. Thanks to sites like Payscale, Glassdoor, and 81cents, it’s never been easier to get an accurate, objective figure. But Pynchon also suggests to not simply take the average salary for your position, because when’s the last time you were simply average? For highly motivated employees, the 75th percentile and above might be a more accurate range.

Pynchon advises, “Learn what your market value is and then tell the employer, using these words: I have benchmarked competitive compensation in this industry, in this geographical locale, and competitive compensation for this position is X. By doing that, you’ve anchored the negotiation and set one end of the bargaining range. The beauty of it is, you haven’t asked for it, you’ve just said it. That’s the number they’re going to have to get close to in order to hire you or in order to give you a raise. It also appeals to the company’s desire to be at the top of its field. They’re conscious of where they stand in the competitive pile, so it’s good to use that language.”

Tip #2: Stating One’s Potential Benefit to the Company

By leading the conversation with the possible benefit to the company, rather than a justification for why you should be paid more, you enter into an interest-based negotiation, which focuses on selling people what they want, rather than trying to convince them to do something they don’t want to do.

“Everybody’s self-interested, so you have to remember what the interests of the various players are,” Pynchon says. “Having an effective interest-based negotiation requires you to learn what your negotiation partner wants, needs, fears, desires, prefers, and prioritizes. This applies both to the individual who you’re having a negotiation with, and the organization itself.”

Tip #3: Prepare a Research-Backed Script and Practice

Preparing for a raise negotiation requires diligent research. This can involve scouring press releases, speaking with other members of the organization, and asking business-centered questions. In such a negotiation, one’s instinct may be to justify their value by talking about past achievements, but Pynchon says it’s critical to dovetail these achievements with how they can solve pressing problems and achieve the goals of the organization. This takes the focus off of oneself and puts it back on the business.

“You should prepare a script,” Pynchon says. “First of all, you need to know what your opening proposal is going to be, and you need to be able to justify it with objective data. You need to be able to say what I said before—competitive compensation is X. Then you go quiet. You want to learn as much as you possibly can about what their reaction to that is.”

Tip #4: Plan Concessions Based on Employer Reactions

From there, Pynchon says, one should have planned concessions. While the organization is likely to reject an initial proposal, they’re also likely to come back with a counter-offer. One’s script should consider what tactical retreats and counter-offers one is willing to make.

  • Would you accept $10,000 less in return for a glide path to the next promotional opportunity?
  • Would you demand a timeline and objective metrics for such a hypothetical proposal?

The script should include pivot points to redirect and lead the conversation back to its central theme.

“Obviously, you can’t prepare for every eventuality,” Pynchon says. “But if you prepare in the way I’ve suggested, you will be more prepared than the person who’s interviewing you. It sounds like a lot of work, but we’re talking about tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of difference. We average somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of an increase in initial offers and raises.”

The Success of Pynchon’s Consultancy, She Negotiates

One of the reasons for that eye-watering rate of return is that Pynchon and her consultancy work with a historically underpaid population. And, after a quarter-century in the legal profession, Pynchon is acutely aware of the type of biases that women and BIPOC face. While those biases aren’t going to disappear overnight, one can prepare for them.

Both women and men who step out of stereotypical gender roles are likely to encounter social sanctions. For women, this is particularly harsh, as the stereotype expects women to be giving, loving, and nurturing—skills that are valued in the home, not in the world of business. But confronting the stereotype overtly and explicitly, Pynchon says, is a dangerous strategy, and runs the risk of creating an adversarial position, instead of a cooperative one.

“Just use objective metrics,” Pynchon says. “If you’re using objective metrics, it’s difficult for subjective judgments to come in, and subjective judgments are the delivery system of implicit bias.”

That bias can also extend to oneself, according to Pynchon. Most of the young professionals she talks to, both men and women, envision pushback and negativity from hypothetical negotiations much more than they envision persuasion and positivity. Reframing that mindset is critical for success.

“Some people stop working for a couple of years, get their MBA, come back into the workforce, and think that they’re starting all over again and that their absence from the workforce is a problem,” Pynchon says. “You got to flip that script. What you’ve just done is invested a huge sum of money in educating yourself to be far more effective for your potential employer than you’ve ever been before. I especially hear from women that they have the MBA but don’t have the experience. Stop it. Whatever it is you have, you tout that.”

Negotiating for a raise isn’t magic; it’s a craft like any other. Pynchon perhaps undersells how hard that craft is, having mastered it herself: she equates it with learning how to knit. But her consultancy took form in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and she’s undeterred by the current economic uncertainty.

“It’s a finer needle to thread during Covid, but I think that the interest-based negotiation strategy is perfect for it,” Pynchon says. “You say, last year I did X, and I think that same program or those same ideas can be used to address our central problem this year, which is, for example: what happens when the pandemic ends, or what happens if it lasts for two years, or what happens when the government stops infusing the economy with money, as it will do?”

Speaking with Pynchon, it’s easy to get the sense that she has a dogeared script at the ready, complete with penciled flowcharts spilling out in every possible direction. But that script is entirely internalized, chiseled cleanly through objective research and a steadfast desire to advocate for what’s right. One shivers at the thought of appearing on the other end of the negotiating table from her; fortunately, she’s invested her time and passion in putting herself in the underdog’s corner.

“Make more money,” Pynchon says, with a warm laugh. “Just do it.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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