Ask for what you want

IBM was making me an offer for my first job out of college.  I was so excited.  This was 1984.  The technology industry was booming and IBM was a leader.  Then I got the offer.  $25,000 a year.  Now, for 1984, that was actually a good starting salary.  However, I’d worked part-time for three years at IBM while in college and graduated from a top business school and felt I should be paid more than the normal starting salary.  So I asked for more…and got it.  This was a lesson that I never forgot.

I can’t tell you the number of times I talk to young and not so young professionals where they tell me what job they want next, or experience they hope to get or raise they desire.  Yet when I ask them who else knows that this is what they want, they look at me a bit embarrassed because the answer is no one.  If others don’t know what you want or need, they can’t help you get it.

Now, you have to ask in the right way.  Everyone is human, and most people want to be helpful to others when they understand why help is needed.  So I didn’t say, “I’m bringing 3 years of experience and credentials from a top school so you should pay me more”.  That’s arrogant and I probably would have gotten a no, or worse gotten a yes and been “labeled”.  Instead, I explained that I had run the numbers on what I needed to live, combined with the cost of paying back my student loans and while $25k is a respectable salary, I really needed more to make it work for me.  And given my past experience with IBM, I really wanted to work for the company.  But, I’d understand if they couldn’t meet my need.

Asking for what you want, includes more than just compensation.  You can ask for tuition reimbursement, conference participation, professional organization fees, etc… I was working in Dallas and was being recruited by a Silicon Valley based firm, NorthPoint.  It was a great opportunity and they wanted me to be their EVP of Sales.  Not only did I convince them that I should have the CMO role as well, but I also negotiated for them to pay for my relocation and the relocation and hiring of my assistant and her family.  She was the best assistant I ever had and played a material role in helping me be successful.  I knew I would be more effective with her by my side.

Now, it should be obvious, but let me be clear, this strategy works best if you are very good at what you do.  So, focus on doing your job at hand so you can ask for and get what you want going forward.