Love Don’t Pay My Bills: Earning

Last week, we talked about budgeting (oh, did we ever!), but this week, we’re going to rewind a step and look at one of the two major factors involved in budgeting: what you earn. Earning is a topic over which you may feel you can exert little control, but that’s not true. Even within most given fields, levels of education, location, and experiential tiers, there is room for negotiation on your salary. A number of things can influence it: let’s take a look.

My handy-dandy DailyWorth guide tells me that earning is governed by five laws:

  1. Always ask for more.
  2. Extend your reach.
  3. Say less.
  4. Know your market value.
  5. Rehearse

So what are they talking about?

#1: Always ask for more. It’s true. Whenever someone offers you a job, sits down with you for a performance review with any possibility of asking for a raise, or discusses potential contract or side work with you, do yourself a favor. Make them make their offer first (never be the first party to quote a figure), and then counter with a higher offer. This goes for fees, payments for services rendered, bonuses, salaries, hourly rates, whatever. As one friend who works in tech told me, “Women need to stop being so polite and accepting. Salary negotiation is NOT the place for this.” And as another friend, in academia, put it, “I have found that, in the workplace, I have to fight for myself. No one else will.”

Even in a salary freeze there may be other things you can ask for that have monetary value. In a situation in which your company is officially not giving raises to anyone, try a few of these on for size: Are you using your cell phone for work? Ask them to cover part or all of the bill. Does your company cover or reimburse any part of your commute or work travel fees? Ask for a better (more realistic or competitive) mileage rate, or for a subsidized public transportation pass. Haven’t been able to update your work wardrobe in ages due to tight funds? Pitch them a small but regular wardrobe budget, on the merits of image being essential to your position. You’d be surprised how many positions image is essential to. Or ask for subsidized childcare coverage, or improved health/dental/vision benefits, or a higher matching rate for your 401K, or a better (or any) life insurance policy. In short, if they won’t raise your salary you can still find ways to get your income higher. But a lot of the time, they will raise your salary. Which leads us to

#2: Extend your reach. The old sales wisdom is that 100 cold calls = 4 warm leads = 1 actual sale. This is absolutely true for those of you in sales, but it’s also true for anyone job hunting or even schlepping ideas around. That means when you’re applying for jobs, 100 applications = 4 call backs = 1 job offer. And you don’t have to take the first job offered, I hope. It’s a good idea to occasionally apply for jobs you’re interested in, even when you’re happy with your current position, just to keep your resume up to date and, in the case of offers that trump your current position, to keep your employer aware of your value. This way if you ever hit a speed bump career-wise (getting laid off, etc.), your hand is already in the pot, and you’re already half-way to finding that next position. It means you can be pickier, too, which helps you to exert just a tiny bit more control over your earnings. And once you have the offer in hand?

#3: Say nothing. Well-placed silence is golden, literally. I think when we’re talking to our professional superiors it’s sometimes difficult to keep from justifying every detail of why we deserve that raise, or going into over-verbose detail about why we’re such a great hire or why we need more money (cost of living, student loans, expensive city, you’re so worthwhile, etc.) There’s such a thing as overselling yourself, to the point that you sound uncertain. Don’t do that. Go into that job interview or performance review confident of your contributions, state your case as succinctly as possible, and then shut up. And if that number isn’t high enough, usually a simple answer (“I’m sorry, that’s rather below the figure I had in mind”) followed by respectful silence is better than a frantic declaration of all the reasons why you think you deserve more. You ever hear of the strong, silent type? Of course you have. It works for women, too. Of course you can’t make that succinct, to-the-point argument on your own behalf unless you

#4: Know your market value. You absolutely have to negotiate with facts, not feelings. And not the facts about how expensive your life is. Your employer has no reasonable need for that kind of information. Instead, go in armed with market data: sites like payscale.com let you shop around for what similarly educated and experienced people in your location and position are making, and knowing this will help you set a reasonable expectation for yourself – and give you a reasonable weapon in your negotiations. Don’t let a history of making less than you are worth fool you into gratitude for a salary that is still below your potential. Same goes for vendors of goods: what are other people’s glass unicorn dildos selling for? Price accordingly. And finally, to really sell that negotiation, you have to
#5: Rehearse. It helps me to write down the potential arguments I will have to make on my own behalf, and then edit, edit, edit them down until they are three sentences, max. Fewer helps. But besides getting your argument concise, rehearse a few other things. Do you know how to have a decent handshake? How to stand up straight? How to take up a little more room in your seat? Do you speak in a timid voice or one with confidence? And do you smile when you ask for your raise? These nonverbal cues of authority, confidence, competence, and friendliness make people subconsciously trust you, value you, and enjoy giving things to you. Use them.
One of the editors here at Persephone works in Human Resources, and she not only lauded the virtues of doing your research in terms of comparative income, but also being armed yourself with the numbers you know will make your life livable. Overshoot your budget by quite a bit for emergency expenses and just plain fun, and don’t accept a penny less. She also advised that for those who for one reason or another can’t make one salary stretch as far as it needs to go, find ways to bring in supplemental income. Good with kids or pets? Find people for whom you can do some care work. Killer organizer? Hang fliers at your grocery store and local gyms to advertise home organizing and cleaning assistance. Handy with a red pen? Search the Craigslist writing gigs for one-off editing assignments that’ll cover the week’s groceries, or the replacement bra you need to buy. And so forth. Whatever your little, under-utilized skills are, if you’re creative enough, you can turn them into extra income – and you don’t even need to buy into some pyramid scheme to make it happen. Even odd jobs here and there when you have free time can give you a lot of elbow room. Hell, they can even just go directly into your savings account for that international trip you’ve been longing to take, or the replacement car you know you’ll need in a year or two.
Another friend of mine advised women to be more generous with their self-assessment when looking at potential positions. She says that she’s seen a lot of women undervalue their skills because they don’t want to get caught not being experts at a required ability in a position, while men – in her experience – will look at a job description, see that they fit about 75% or better of the required qualifications, and just go for it. The idea is that much of this stuff you could potentially learn on the job, and you may already know more than you’re giving yourself credit for. Let employers be the ones to turn you down; the worst that can happen is you don’t get a job, after all. The best, though? The best is pretty good.
Next week, we’re going to talk about saving, which is a topic near and dear to my heart, and one I know many of us have something of an anemic history with. In the mean time, if you have any additional helpful tips on increasing your earning power, please leave them in the comments! And if you have private questions about your particular budgeting or earning situation, please feel free to email me directly at persephone at parliament-books dot com.

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Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

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