Salary Negotiation and Self Worth

“I just feel bad asking for more, you know?” My student’s voice trailed off as we discussed the difference between her job offer and the data she found online about salaries for Web Developers.

There’s plenty of research on women and salary negotiation, how we don’t do it, how we’re not confident enough, and how we need to “lean in” to our careers. When thinking about salary negotiation and young professional women, one of things I notice the most is that young women “feel bad” about asking for more money often, even in cases when they are being blatantly low-balled in their salary offer. This particular offer was $12,000 below the average salary amount for this job title in this city. The concern that I notice the most centers on wanting to be liked, and fear of rejection. Essentially, the concern is that if a young woman takes a stance on what she wants and thinks is reasonable, the employer in question will want to work with her less, will like her less, or will pull her offer of employment altogether, rejecting her. The next thing this talented, smart, young woman in a very competitive and technical academic program said to me was, “what if they rescind my offer?”.

These fears can be found in young women in other areas of life too, not just the employment arena. I see this in dating as well, young women afraid to ask for what they want, even when it is incredibly reasonable. (“I’m not ready to sleep together yet, I’d like to spend more time with you first” or “I can’t make it to pick you up from work, but I could meet you half-way between your place and mine.”). It’s difficult for young women to set a boundary, to tell someone that we don’t want the same thing they do, or to request what we do want instead. The concerns are often around likeability and fear of rejection…that being liked less or, worse, dismissed, might mean we aren’t worth anything at all. It’s easier to simply be grateful for being wanted, to agree with others’ assessment of us and what they might want from us.

The paradox of course is that the fear of being disliked or rejected actually makes it more likely that we will experience this from others. I should write that twice, it is such an important professional and personal lesson to learn. It takes self respect, a sense of self worth, demonstrated through setting boundaries and standards for your professional and personal value, that will cause others to truly value you.

So what does that look like in practice?

In salary negotiation, Step 1 is knowing what you’re worth, in a literal sense. Do your research to determine what the average salaries are for the job title you’re being offered, in the city where you’ll be living. There are great resources for this:,,, will all give you a sense of the appropriate salary range for your position based on nationally-collected data. Step 2 is to request what is empirically reasonable, given your experience, what you know about the company, and the market rate for your services in the job you’re doing. If the feeling of fear of rejection and wanting to be liked rings true for you, then ask for a number that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Aim higher than what you instinctively want to ask for. Talk to a mentor, a strong professional in your life, about your offer (including actual numbers in your conversation!) and get their feedback. My student ran her salary negotiation request by her lawyer brother, who confirmed that the amount she was being offered seemed low, and encouraged her to ask for a 10% increase.

Your words are important. When you make your request, take yourself seriously. Infusing your request with statements like, “I totally understand if you can’t do this”, or “it’s okay if you can’t meet my request” undercuts yourself and the value of what you’re asking for. Aim for clear but gentle language and don’t give away permission to turn you down. Instead of undercutting yourself, take a collaborative approach that demonstrates a desire to communicate. “Given the market range for positions similar to this one, I am requesting a 10% increase on my offer. I look forward to talking more with you about what would be a reasonable market rate for my value to the company.” You can include sentences that indicate the value of the relationship to you as well. Ending with statements like “I’m thrilled to be joining your team”, or “I’m looking forward to working together”, or even “Thank you for such a positive interview experience” convey positive and familiar intent without undermining your request. Expressing enthusiasm, gratitude for the experience you’ve had with the company so far, and your desire to work together to a mutually beneficial arrangement will help preserve your relationship and your likeability, while still allowing you room to set your expectations and ask for what you need.

**This post was first published on LinkedIn. View the original here.**