“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” — Estée Lauder
Read Part I to appreciate why we should learn to negotiate.
Know what you’re worth
This is the most, and often surprisingly overlooked, stage. It comes before applying for a position. Be clear about what you provide.
I was sometimes offered low pay for a high-stress job, with bosses saying they could hire people for half my rate. They did – only to run back when things went belly up to call me in for crisis management. If you’re someone who who is efficient, diligent and an all-round firecracker, then you’re saving them a lot (and not just money) in the long run.
There are websites that list current salaries for different roles in various industries. Know what your peers are getting. Talk to other people in similar positions.
I’m not getting paid to do only the job at hand of managing people, supervising projects and setting up structures. I’m also getting paid for my background in having dozens of solutions for tricky situations, anticipating problems and seeing the bigger picture. Weigh up your experiences, not just skills.
Being sure of your personal deal-breakers means being willing to walk away. Knowing this puts you in a position of strength.
Become good at saying no. It’s a common platitude in bite-sized inspirational quotes to encourage people to say yes. It sounds cheery, pleasing and non-combative. But when it comes to what you get paid, there’s power in saying no. “No, this doesn’t work for me.” (I sometimes first say, “Let me think about it,” to give myself room to weigh up options, even when I’m fairly clear what my answer is.)
Choose your job. Sometimes we go after things because we think it’s prestigious or impressive. Or because we’re told it’s good for us. Or because we believe it’s the only thing we’re qualified to do (because it’s the only thing we’ve ever done). Choose the job you think will be challenging, exciting and nourishing.
Choose your life. We are complicit in the design of our lives. We are not victims to whom things “happen”, at least not so many times that Oscar Wilde would call it mere carelessness.
Know what’s important
After my initial years, I only accepted a film job if it fulfilled two of the three: good people, good script, good money (all three together being impossible). Of these, “good people” rapidly became non-negotiable. It’s an excruciating, miserable mess to work with people you despise. Where possible, being able to hire some of your own team is enough to surround yourself with the right peeps. Good money rarely trumps good people.
It’s important to keep in mind the day-to-day nature of what the job entails. Daily contact with unpleasant people on tedious assignments is soul draining. If nothing else, who you come home to will have to bear the burden of your unloading, affecting your non-working hours too. It’s that or stuffing your face with junk food or alcohol to drown out the misery. It’s a high price to pay for good money earned in a toxic workplace.
We often, if unconsciously, assimilate into our environment. If everyone at work is complacent, or always yelling, or eating all the time, then soon we will too, as part of the now-normalised atmosphere. Observe what your new space will be like.
Research the company and the manager you’ll be reporting to.
Be clear about your objectives. I wouldn’t advise this for too long a period; if you change your goals ten years from now, then you will have spent ten years working towards something you may not even want by the time you get to it.
But if a sucky but well-paying job for two years buys another year to fulfil personal goals, there’s clarity – and motivation. Then when things get frustrating at work – and you know they will – you can remind yourself why you’re there. I’ve even worked for free (with expenses paid) because I knew exactly why I was doing so. Being resentful – of a low salary, your boss for proposing it, yourself for accepting it – is a waste of energy.
If we take a job because we’re afraid we’ll never get offered another job ever again (fear makes us dramatic) then that panic tends to cling. When we face a wobble at work, the fear resurfaces and we feel paralysed, stuck and frightened.
These factors may sound like they have little to do with negotiating your salary, but they’re the foundation. Do you want to work there?
Hold on to your power and moral compass. You are choosing just as much as they are.
Before my graduation, Harvard Career Services prepped me by videotaping mock interviews. I have no recollection from those sessions (so many years ago!) so this is from what I’ve learnt from my own experience.
I still however follow the Harvard mandate of putting everything on my CV/résumé on one page only, except publications. Seeing anything longer than two pages is a warning that the candidate isn’t succinct.
Clean, uncluttered, information in reverse chronological order, easy-to-read font and spacing, major accomplishments standing out – that’s all that’s needed. Most people only do an obligatory scan. The focus of sending the CV (with a personalised email or cover letter) is to get an interview. This is when everything gets discussed in detail.
Come prepared. Be dressed appropriately for the place. Bring two hard copies of your CV, a working pen and notepaper. Switch off your phone.
Allow for traffic and arrive early. Wile away the extra time in the loo or a nearby coffee shop loo doing the “victory stance”. As per Amy Cuddy’s TED talk; it’s where you stand, chest open, arms raised and open; even blind athletes do it when they reach the finish line, and studies show it helps you feel positive and victorious.
Don’t schedule an important meeting before the interview that could delay you. Never, ever keep an interviewer waiting. If, on the unavoidable chance that you do, then apologise sincerely and give a brief explanation.
Report to the reception desk a few minutes before the appointment.
A firm handshake, a smile and a look into the person’s eye is the best way to start.
Make the interview a dialogue as much as possible. If you’re interested in the position and the company, that will come across when you ask astute questions or give intelligent replies. You are assessing them as much as they are assessing you.
Your enthusiasm will be noted. Being overconfident however is overkill. I once interviewed a young person for a Production Assistant role – his first on a feature – and asked what his aspirations were. He replied, “Well, frankly, I could do any position right now on the whole movie, except maybe lighting.” He wasn’t joking (and we had award-winning crew).
Adjust your tempo to that of the interviewer’s. If the interviewer moves swiftly, they’ll get impatient if you dawdle over every question. Be coherent, without sounding rehearsed.
Sometimes we say something – anything – and follow it with a non-sequitur laugh to soften our stance. It’s the equivalent of adding a smiley at the end of everything. Maybe the intention is to sound friendly but it comes across as meek. “Like me! I’m not threatening!” Being cutesy is annoying, but minimising yourself is unnecessary.
I always ask what the candidate’s last salary was, as a means to gauge their expectations (PS – I know when they’re lying). It’s fine to explain why you wish for more. This is also a good time for both sides to be clear on time commitments. On films, we worked standard 12-hour days for six-day weeks or eleven-day fortnights. Different unions have strict rules about overtime, but even if you’re not a member of one, nobody should exploit you.
It’s an excellent idea to do a trial month where possible. It’s not feasible when the overall time frame is short or if the job involves moving, but it helps both sides to realistically assess working together. I’ve requested this for non-time-pressured roles. It’s also an opportunity to finalise my pay based on the actualities of the job.
Next week: Get what you want by negotiating!
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.” — JK Rowling
Uncover and be true to who you are.
Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova said in an interview she loved this essay by Paul Graham on doing what you love: “[It] is the existence of English majors, and therefore jobs teaching them, that calls into being all those thousands of dreary papers about gender and identity in the novels of Conrad. No one does that kind of thing for fun.” The whole essay is brilliant.
A story about a small-town seven-year-old boy who believes he’s a girl. This had me in floods of tears for its deeply touching bittersweetness. Actor Georges Du Fresne’s performance is truly remarkable. Watch Ma vie en rose (aka My Life in Pink, not to be confused with the French film about Edith Piaf titled La vie en rose), directed by Alain Berliner.
A housewife in New England with a wheelchair-bound husband and young children is forced to go out to work when their roof caves in. Her perfectionism becomes lucrative when she joins the staff of a department store. First published in 1924, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher is reprinted by Persephone Books.