How to negotiate a higher salary — in three steps

Opinion: As few as 40% of employees negotiate their salary

This article was written by Sarah Hoy, Program Analyst at the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, province of Ontario in Canada. For more like this, see our work and inequality newsfeed.

When I first got a job as a summer student with the provincial government of Ontario, I felt lucky that I had a job. As a fresh university graduate, I was drowning in student debt and I was eager to enter the workforce full-time to start paying it off — and I knew that the government would start chasing me to pay back the money I borrowed me for my education. (I find it ironic that my government salary is now paying for my government loan).

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Soon after, I entered and won a competition to become a Program Analyst at what was then the Ministry of Children and Youth Services with a steady one-year contract. When I was told about my salary, I didn’t try to negotiate the amount because again — I felt lucky.  

The first negotiation

This sentiment is typical for novice negotiators in the workforce.   

According to a study conducted in the United States by the staffing firm Robert Half, only 39% out of a survey of 2,700 employees wanted to negotiate their salary.  

If those numbers are the same in the Ontario government, that equals about 23,400 employees that haven’t negotiated a salary! Out of this number, imagine the number of employees who may have missed out on negotiating better wage increases that they could have deserved.

For me, the cause of this insecurity stemmed from the fact that I was still finding my feet as a young female minority working in public service. Since this time, I’ve been actively improving my self-confidence and other key skills that have contributed to my ability to negotiate in life and at work.

There’s nothing worse than showing up to a negotiation where one party is unwilling to consider your views

I’ve gained some interesting knowledge on labour agreements and workers rights which have helped me understand how to have a good negotiation meeting on salary. I’ve also gained experience working with colleagues on service contract negotiations with service providers that the ministry funds services through.

Negotiating for the better

So, how do you prepare yourself for a negotiation? Based on my experience, three key things are important: asking the right questions, empathy and preparation.  

Knowing the right things to ask is important because it tells the other party that you are knowledgeable in the topic you are negotiating or, if there are gaps in your knowledge, that you are trying to fill those gaps with knowledge that they have. It also tells them that you are trying to have an engaging dialogue which puts your interest and theirs at the centre of the discussion to make it a true collaborative negotiation.

By conveying empathy, you can communicate your willingness to consider the needs of the other party involved in the negotiation.

There’s nothing worse than showing up to a negotiation where one party is unwilling to consider your views defeating the purpose of even having the meeting. A true working relationship relies on empathy to foster good communications and dialogue to ensure that the interests of both parties are considered when a negotiation occurs.

Finally, the more you prepare before going into a negotiation, the more successful it will be. As a Program Analyst, I’ve spent hundreds of hours preparing for contract negotiation meetings with service providers funded by the ministry. The work leading up to the negotiation meetings could include communicating about pre-negotiation questions, time put into analysing the information for the topic at hand, information gathering and time invested in practicing for the meeting itself.

Let’s talk

In summary, building on your negotiation skills can lead to more than just an increased ability to try to achieve the salary you know you deserve. It is a valuable skill to help you do your job, manage critical relationships in work and life and helps you become an effective team member.

As I enter my sixth year as a public servant, I have proven to be an effective negotiator in the office and I have successfully been able to facilitate the work that is carried out in the office because of this skill.  

Having a conversation about salary and raises to my manager is no longer an issue for me as I am able to effectively convey to my manager my worth with evidence and use my negotiation skills to ask for what I know I deserve. To this day, I continue to try to teach others about what I’ve learned in hopes that these skills empower other public servants as well to be confident in their negotiation skills as well.

Happy negotiating! — Sarah Hoy

(Photo credit: Unsplash)


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