Why don't we negotiate? Discomfort. Most people would rather be doing anything else than talk to their current employer or hiring manager about money.
Employers negotiate every day — you don't. So they're at an advantage and it's their job to employ whatever psychological tricks they can to conserve their budget.
So how do we get from "I don't want them to think I'm only in it for the money" to "this is a great job, but I'm great too — I deserve to get paid what I'm worth"?
One thing I've found to be simple but effective — always maintain a list of professional achievements or career wins.
This doesn't have to be more complicated than a bullet pointed list of the accomplishments you're most proud of.
Remember that time you worked on that special project for your boss — how much revenue did it generate again? If you had written it down in your list of career wins, you could look it up.
These are the types of accomplishments we list on our resumes. Except what I'm proposing is instead of compiling this list every 4 years when you look for a new job, keep adding to it every time you achieve something.
Having this list always up to date will give you periodic confidence boosts — when you're feeling down or you're worried about your value to the team, re-read your list and remind yourself what you've accomplished.
It's amazing how much you forget when you don't record these events as they happen — you miss key dates, skip important details and lose data on performance.
Can you remember what you worked on last week? In detail? What impact did it have on the companies bottom line? Ok what about the work you did last month? Last quarter? Last year? The further back you have to go, the higher the chance you forget some of your proudest professional moments.
Right before you go into a salary negotiation, read this list and you'll head into that meeting proud, confident and willing to ask for more.
😎 62% of the most successful negotiators describe themselves as "very confident" when entering negotiations — confidence has a huge impact on outcomes.
If you do this, you'll be armed with tangible examples that you can reference in interview questions to make it easy for your manager to build a business case for increased pay. You might even want to print a copy of this list off and take it into the room with you, and even give a copy to your manager.
They often want to pay you more, but just need help from you to make the case to their boss. Having this list is going to help them immeasurably, and it makes paying you more the path of least resistance.
How do we define professional achievement? What counts? Well it'll be different by industry and job role, but there are several recurring themes that apply. There are three types of achievements.
Did you make the company more revenue?
Did you save the company on costs?
Did you achieve a strategic goal (non-monetary)
When answering these questions, think primarily in terms of money and time — treat them as interchangeable. If you saved 2 hours per week for 10 people who get paid an average of $75,000 a year, you just saved the company 2 x 52 x 10 x ($75,000 / 52 / 40) = $37,500 a year.
That's a lot of money for you, but it doesn't feel like a lot for a company turning over millions a year. But wait — employers think in terms of profit margin, not revenue. If your company turns over $5,000,000 in sales, that's <1% of revenue. But if they make a 5% net profit margin, you just improved their profitability by 15%!
Here are a few examples to get you started:
You might not have all the access to information you need to get this data — my advice is to just ask. This data does exist somewhere and most companies want to quantify it. Remember it's in your bosses best interests to calculate these numbers... because they will have their own career wins list too!
You know how your manager always makes you set SMART goals — Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, Time-based? Well now you get to turn the tables.
This is the perfect format for listing your professional accomplishments. Make your achievement specific and narrow, define what evidence proves you made progress, remind them how unachievable it looked at the time, how relevant it was to the organization and how quickly you got it done.
Remember you don't get paid more for the promise of what you'll do — you get compensated on the basis of what you've already done.
For most revenue or cost savings, per year is the standard. But you might want to get a little creative. For example Youtube claims to have "500 hours of video uploaded every minute" — why not say 262 million hours uploaded every year? Well hours per minute seems more relatable, and people have a hard time processing really big numbers. So choose your comparison wisely.
How do you know if anyone will care about your achievement? Try this thought experiment — you're in a noisy bar, about 3 drinks down, and someone you want to impress asks you "how is work going?".
What would you say? How would you say it?
Remember you're in a noisy bar, and a little inebriated. You want to sound impressive, but you still have to be casual about it — you're in a bar, not in a job interview. You have to dumb it down — this person doesn't work with you, so you can't use insider jargon. How would you play it?
You might say something like:
Yeah honestly it's been really good — we just did a big pilot project with Google. I work on the software side and I managed to make everything run about 50% faster. It was a big deal for our company — they represent 20% of our revenue.
That's it — now take the simplicity of that statement, jargon free, and include that in your list of achievements. Now it's in a form that anyone can understand, because this thought experiment helped you strip away all but the most important aspects.
Companies spend millions on brand awareness — you can hijack that spend to build your own brand. Are you the person behind Dropbox's famous referral program? Have you made Google $200m by testing 50 shades of blue in their logo? Was it Did you do Slack's early brand design?
Even if you never did anything that impressive, being part of a winning team does wonders for your career. In rapidly growing companies, there's more money to go around, and you get a built-in network of successful people when you leave. Working with household name brands, startups that have a successful exit, or companies dominant in your industry, will always get you a foot in the door.
If you're currently employed you can still leverage this to your advantage in multiple ways.
When you're employing this technique remember to be clear about your role. You can't get away with lying for long, and you'll do irreparable damage to your own brand when you get caught. Name dropping works best when it's natural and relevant to the conversation. How can your example help the person you're talking to achieve their goals?
Here'a an example scenario — your manager (or a hiring manager) is explaining the following problem:
Manager: "I'm having a problem keeping track of all of the experiments we're running. I have no central record of what we're testing or why, so our learnings are getting lost"
So what do you do? How do you establish your credibility in a situation like this, without overdoing it?
"Oh interesting, it sounds like you're having the same problem I helped the marketing team at Nestle solve. The trick to fixing it was this..."
DON'T DO —
"Hmmm that sounds tricky. So anyway did I tell you that I once made a Youtube video for Kanye? I also got asked by Kendrick Lamar but he was too difficult to work"
It's also important that you stay positive when dropping these brand associations. Gossip is risky because they'll be thinking "if they're talking about this company, they might talk about me when I'm not in the room".
Revealing sensitive data or business practices could put you in breach of your NDA — so be careful. Stick to the following rule:
🧠 Be smart — reveal the company but not the results, or the results but not the company.
So if you worked with Google to improve latency by 52% in their data centers, you could say "I worked with a prominent Silicon Valley tech firm to improve latency by 52%" and reveal the method, OR you could say "I worked with Google on their data centers" but not reveal what worked.
People will be impressed you work at Google, and will understand and respect that you can't elaborate. Always stick to percentages where possible — it's safer than revealing sensitive revenue figures. Be especially sensitive of what you reveal in writing versus in person or over the phone. Please don't put sensitive company information in your LinkedIn bio, for example.
For the really big accomplishments, your greatest moments, you need to tell a story. Don't just list a bunch of numbers and move on — you need to keep your boss or hiring manager entertained. If you get stuck, consider the CAR formula:
Every accomplishment should include the problem or challenge, tell a story about the action you took, and then share the outstanding results of your hard work.
The patterns that keep people engaged in a story are pretty well established by now. Read this diagram and then tell me how many popular movies this applies to:
The Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell. Source: http://thehumanjourney.weebly.com/what-is-the-heros-journey.html
Now it's your time to be the hero in the journey that is your career. Don't oversell it — you don't need to. Make it as interesting and eventful for them as it was for you to live through it.
Let's take an example we've seen and embellish it further to use as a template.
Saved $37,500 per year, increasing net profit margin by 15% by creating an Excel template for invoicing, saving a team of 10 people 2 hours each per week.
We can take that great achievement, and turn it into a story like this:
Back last year when I was still an intern, I got assigned to do invoicing because my manager was out sick. This wasn't something I had trained for, but I did know my way around a spreadsheet, so although it felt like forever, I got it done in 4 hours. Little did I know that even the senior staff were taking 6 hours every week to get this done! My trick was to create an Excel Macro to automate the copy and pasting from one tab to another — nobody in the department knew you could do that. When my boss came back he was so impressed he got me training the rest of the 10 person team, and we calculated we had saved the company about $40k per year, which was about 15% of our profit margin at the time!
You'd be astounded by how many people but the same five things on their resume. They like reading books, traveling, cooking, hanging out with friends and watching Netflix. Stand out from the crowd — do you have any interesting hobbies you can talk about? What about personal goals — have you achieved anything in your private life that proves you're a motivated person?
Losing weight, running a marathon, mastering a difficult skill — these are all good examples. It's better however if your example stands out in their mind. Do you do paragliding in your spare time? Are you playing in poker tournaments? Did your writing get published in a magazine?
You might not think about it this way, but you have a personal life in the office too. Nobody spends 100% of their time working, so what do you bring to the company culture? What's your 'thing'?
Having a 'thing' is the key to staying memorable — especially when you're just one of thousands of employees. Are you the "sports guy" who runs the fantasy league? What about the one that always brings in freshly baked cookies? Do you keep a collection of vintage toys on your desk?
This might not go on your achievements list, but it can help you skip levels and network with managers several stations above you. Remember that managers are human and mostly promote who they like, based on often fuzzy, intuitive, and poorly expressed feelings.
So while you prepare your own list of achievements, remember that your manager has their own (likely less positive) list of your achievements in their head — it's that one that matters. Take every chance you get to get items off your list and into theirs.
Find out how much you’re worth and how to ask for more — the right way.