Less than half of respondents to PayScale’s Salary Survey reported that they had asked for a raise in their current field — 43 percent, in fact. Most held back out of fear of negotiating, in some form, whether it was because they were uncomfortable talking about money (28 percent), unwilling to risk being perceived as pushy (19 percent), or afraid of losing their job (8 percent).
So, there’s a lot of fear out there around negotiating salary. The truth is, however, that fear is misplaced: the real danger isn’t negotiating, but not asking for what you deserve.
1. Not negotiating will cost you.
“I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they’re leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime,” says economist Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University in an interview with NPR.
Blame the snowball effect. See, when you negotiate salary, you’re not just negotiating the number that will appear on your next paycheck. Because most employers give raises in the form of a percentage increase based on current pay, you’re also determining how much you’ll be earning next year, and the year after that.
Even if you change jobs, taking less can hurt you. Although some states are outlawing the practice, employers in areas that permit asking about salary history often include the question as part of the hiring process. Some even ask for tax documents or pay stubs verifying your previous pay. (Which means you can’t lie, not that you would.)
Further, taking less than you deserve can hurt your performance at work. Underpaid workers are less satisfied and less productive — meaning that you might be less likely to earn that raise, anyway.
2. Negotiating probably won’t hurt you.
Seventy-five percent of those who asked for a raise received some kind of a pay increase. If that surprises you, you’re probably among that 8 percent that’s afraid they’ll lose their job for asking.
Your fears, while understandable, are most likely unfounded. The vast majority of employers won’t pull a job offer — or fire you — simply for asking for more money. Especially during the negotiation phase of the interview process, most employers not only accept that candidates will ask for more money, but expect it.
“…as long as you’re not asking for an unrealistic amount, no reasonable employer will pull an offer,” writes Alison Green of Ask a Manager at US News. “That said, some employers do bristle when a candidate tries to negotiate—but that’s the sign of an unreasonable, dysfunctional employer, and you probably would have encountered plenty more dysfunction if you worked there.”
In other words, you have little to risk by negotiating … and you might find out something about your potential employer that could change your mind about taking the job.
3. Fail to negotiate, fail to grow.
Negotiating salary provides benefits beyond more money. It helps you learn how to tackle difficult conversations at work, while being professional, cooperative, and non-adversarial.
The fact is that while asking for more money is unlikely to hurt your career, asking in the wrong way might. The best way to ask for a raise is after a great deal of preparation. Successful negotiators do their research on appropriate salary ranges, prepare their salary negotiation script, and go into the conversation regarding the other party as a negotiating partner, not an adversary.
That last part is important. Being positive, professional, and calm will help build your case — and your career, after negotiations have concluded.