21 Nov One reader asked for more, and got it
A couple months ago, we wrote about some red flags in Midwest technology job offers and made suggestions on a few ways to make sure your prospective employer is someone who’s worth your time.
One suggestion was to ask the company for something (even something small like a minor salary bump or early use of vacation time). That way, you can see whether the company’s response to candidates who negotiate with them is friendly or hostile.
We heard from Nine2Five reader and local technology finance executive Debra O’Shea who tried the “Oliver Twist” approach. That is, she asked: “Please, may I have some more?” She got a terrific result. Here is her story.
Liz Ryan: You tried the “Oliver Twist” approach when you got an offer and it worked out for you. What was the story?
Debra O’Shea: A few years ago, I was interviewing for a job with Focal Communications, a start-up telecom in Chicago. They made me an offer that was fair but not quite what I was looking for at the time. The offer included an equity option component that was pretty generous by today’s standards because they were a pre-IPO company and it was the 1990s.
Because I had a husband who was a full-time law student and two children in daycare, cash was king for me. I really wanted the job but decided to see if they would budge at all on the salary issue. I asked them to raise the salary slightly. In return for this, I told them I was willing to take less equity options than the original offer.
This was tough for me to do because I thought that the equity might really be worth something someday. I thought my counter offer was more than fair because if anything I was giving up a lot more in potential than Focal would be providing me in income by modestly increasing my starting salary.
I was negotiating directly with Focal’s CFO and my future boss. He agreed to raise the salary to my desired level. He said there was no need to reduce my options but he appreciated that I put the offer on the table.
Even with the bump in salary, I was still on the low end of the salary scale for the job and my experience level. I was glad I asked for and received the extra money up front. The footnote to this story is that my options became quite valuable after the IPO and I will always be grateful that I didn’t have to give up any of them to take what turned out to be a fabulous job.
LR: Were you afraid to ask for the extra salary because of their possible reaction?
DO: Yes and no. The optimist in me discounted the possibility of rejection because I wasn’t asking for a lot more money and everyone I met during the interview process seemed interested in bringing me on board.
However, I really did need the job because the company I was working for wasn’t doing very well. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would have to find another job and I didn’t want to blow this opportunity.
Yes, I was a bit scared of rejection. On the other hand, I convinced myself that I was bringing a lot to the table and I was worth more money. Given all this, I thought it was worth the risk to find out if they were willing to pay more to close the deal.
Even if they said no to my request, I thought they wouldn’t leave the negotiation table. The worst thing that would have happened was that I would have had to eat crow and take the job at the lower salary level.
LR: Did that first reaction—their willingness to negotiate—carry through during the years you worked for the company?
DO: Yes. In fact, there were a couple other occasions during the six years I worked for Focal where I either approached my boss with a request for something or he approached me with a new opportunity and we ended up negotiating the terms.
The interesting part of this is that I think the willingness to work with their employees was part of the company’s culture. Though I didn’t know it at the time, maybe that is why I was attracted to the company in the first place.
Focal was a place where we tried very hard to go that extra mile for our customers. I think that in some ways this carried over to the management team’s philosophy about its employees.
During my tenure at Focal, I worked for three different CFOs and I had the occasion to negotiate with each of them for different things. Though I didn’t always get everything I wanted, I always felt they were willing to try and work things out.
LR: What did you learn from the experience about asking for what you’re worth?
DO: I learned that you have to ask for what you want or you will never receive it. Unfortunately, many people think the world will reward them fairly if they just work hard. Life just doesn’t work that way. You have to be your own marketing department.
Of course, you have to be honest with yourself and you have to be realistic about your goals. I also learned that sometimes you have to take risks to get what you deserve.
At the time, I really couldn’t afford not to take the job with Focal no matter what the starting salary was. I also needed to make sure I didn’t shoot myself in the foot by taking a salary that was beneath what I was really worth.
LR: Any advice for people who are hesitant to negotiate a job offer? Did you couch your request in any particular way that others might emulate?
DO: I tried to be very positive about the company and the offer when I called the CFO back. I believe I said something like: “Thanks for the job offer. It is very flattering. I would love to come work for Focal. I need to discuss the terms of the offer with you.”
I then explained that the salary was a little bit lower than I was looking for and I wanted to propose a slightly different arrangement. I suggested the salary increase I was looking for and offered up the reduction in the equity stake as a compromising point.
It’s important to know what you want and not be shy about asking for it. If you want more money, you need to be prepared to say how much. Don’t just call the potential employer up and say: “The salary you offered isn’t high enough. Please try again.”
It also doesn’t hurt to be able to offer something in return. In my case, it was a reduction in my equity stake, but it could be something like you are willing to forgo a portion of your first-year bonus or first annual raise in return for a higher starting salary.
Perception is 99 percent of the battle here. You don’t want to come across as greedy or too arrogant. The key is to act professional. Try and conduct the conversation as a business negotiation and keep any personal feelings or disappointment out of the discussion.
If you’re nervous about having the conversation, it might help to practice with your spouse or a really good friend. That way, you aren’t practicing for the first time when you call up the potential employer. It’s often not so much what you’re asking for but how you ask for it that makes the difference.
LR: Debra, thanks for sharing your success story and your great advice! If you have a happy or cautionary Midwest-technology workplace tale, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in a future Nine2Five column.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.