The value of knowing your worth

Perhaps the best bit of redundancy, or at least the most thrilling bit, is going through the compensation negotiation phase. I was made redundant twice last year (welcome to the life of a startup-loving PR), so I went through more pay negotiations in a single year than I think most people a generation ago did an entire lifetime.

At first it's pretty scary. After all, my generation grew up being told that "there are no jobs", "you better just take first best offer" and "Donald Trump will become president" (actually no one ever said that, but that turned out to be the truest of all three statements). If your starting point is that there are no jobs and you're used to living off student finance, asking for anything more than £25k is likely to feel cheeky beyond measure. After all, you don't need that money, do you? You've been just fine with student finance before so you'll be fine without, and also it'd be so uncomfortable asking.

Wrong. It's almost unbelievable how wrong that is, and what's even more unbelievable is that some of my closest friends, high achievers who've won awards(!) and shit, still seem to think this when they enter the negotiation room for a new position. So naturally, I decided to put down my key learnings from my numerous salary negotiations. 

1. You're not important
First of all, remove yourself from this entire equation. Whatever your personal take on a "reasonable salary", it's simply not important. I'm amazed at how non-scientific some people tend to get in these conversations - they take it all too personally, and not in a "I'm good at X and Y, so I should ask for Z"-sort of way, but rather "I've been living off way less money and I wouldn't even know what to spend the cash on?"- sort of way. Wrong, remove, delete. Your personal finances are not important (naturally, that goes the other way, too - you can't ask for a raise just because your rent went up by 10%).

2. Google first, as later
At my first ever internship I was told to "Google first, ask later". I now live by this, and although it obviously requires some critical thinking, Google is the absolute go-to place to figure out salary levels. Sweden is fortunate in that all salary data is public, so you can easily find hard facts on what you should ask for (though then add some more, for reasons I'll outline below). It's a bit trickier in the UK, but most industries will do surveys outlining current salary levels. Once you've googled, ask your peers. It might be uncomfortable (depends on relationship, industry, culture, country etc), but ask your mates and mentors how they went about negotiating their salary. Finding out how much my colleagues were making at one of my first jobs gave me a well-rounded understanding of what my sector and industry looked like, and what I could ask for when I moved on to my next gig.

Don't ask, don't get.

3. Don't ask, don't get
When you first leave uni it's pretty hard knowing what sort of money companies deal with. It was to me at least. I honestly couldn't believe it when I realised what my agency charged as my hourly rate (though obviously, that doesn't just cover my time - it also includes office rent, paid leave, benefits etc). The negotiating phase is the one time in at least a year(!) that you'll discuss your salary with your manager. Don't hold back - the company can afford it, otherwise they wouldn't be hiring. A grand here or there makes little difference to the company, but it'll make a significant difference to you and your pension scheme. Don't ask, don't get.

4. It's the economy, stupid
Putting your salary proposal at just average does no one any favours. First of all, you're likely to be pushed down regardless of what you ask for - the most I've been pushed down is £6k/year, and that was a job and offer I ended up happily accepting. But more importantly, if you accept a lower salary than statistics and facts indicate you should, you're pushing down the salary level at the company and for your peers. This becomes ever more important if you're a woman. There is no doubt in the entire universe that asking for the right salary is a feminist statement. We all bear the responsibility to close the pay gap - some more than others, but it starts with you. And don't forget that if you start low, it becomes difficult to increase your salary without changing jobs.

5. Hold yer ground
I'm just gonna go ahead here and assume you won't ask for an impossible package of Swarovski plated gadgets and a gazillion pound salary. In which case, if the employer or client comes back to your salary proposal and downsizes it by 20%, which happened to me once, do not fight the urge to laugh in their faces - I certainly didn't. Don't sell yourself short - it's not worth it. And don't be scared to reject an offer that feels ludicrous. The first offer I ever rejected came back to me with a £7k increase that I hadn't even asked for (I ended up taking the job, but not before I'd doubled my equity package). Also, if they can't afford to pay you a decent salary, you probably don't want to be there anyway.

All this said, you live and you learn. I once massively undercharged a client when I did a four-day freelance gig - and you only ever realise that you've undercharged when they happily accept your offer. Likewise, I've also had clients flat out reject my offer because they didn't think they could afford it, and I definitely prefer the latter to the former. Your time is valuable, and so are you. Selling yourself short isn't doing anyone any favours.