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How to negotiate like a boss in your early career

Hannah Johnston

Nov 22, 2023
min read

We caught up with Lucy Wark, founder at Normal and Fuzzy to learn about the best way to approach negotiations in your early career.

Have you ever felt blocked or challenged when it comes to negotiating that job offer, salary, or role change? Don’t worry you’re not alone. 

We recently sat down with negotiation expert Lucy Wark to get her best tips on the challenges the Hatch community faces when it comes to negotiating. Lucy is a negotiation expert and founder of Eucalyptus-backed startup Normal, and career-accelerating skills company Fuzzy. Fuzzy is on a mission to help workers around the world find career fulfilment. Fuzzy teaches professionals how to nail some of the more ‘soft’ skills like negotiating for yourself. 

In this blog, you’ll learn about what it means to negotiate, when the right time is to negotiate, how to overcome common negotiation pitfalls, advice on market benchmarking and more. 

Let’s dive in! 

Negotiation challenges

Many people in their early careers find negotiating to be a big hurdle to jump over. It can take a lot of practice, good advice and a helping hand to improve. A portion of the Hatch community was recently asked to share some of the challenges they face around negotiating, these are the themes that came up. 

These challenges identified can be super hard to navigate alone, so we asked Lucy a bunch of questions to get the answers on how to improve. 

What does it mean to negotiate, and in what settings can negotiating be used in the workplace?

Lucy: Negotiation doesn’t need to be scary, or feel like a confrontation - you can do it calmly, respectfully and persuasively (in fact, you’ll be much more effective if you do!). 

Negotiation is essentially a discussion intended to reach an agreement between two parties. It can happen in various forms, such as in person, on the phone, or over email - you don’t have to say yes in the room. Negotiation isn't just about finding a middle ground between two starting numbers; it's about understanding each other's positions and interests and finding win-win solutions.

Negotiations can involve a lot more than salary - think equity, performance bonuses, remote work, and many other terms. Negotiation skills apply to various contexts, from individual pay discussions to business partnerships, fundraising, and more.

Is there a right time to initiate a negotiation discussion?

Lucy: Negotiation is a valuable skill to learn early in your career, as it has compounding benefits. The right time to initiate a negotiation depends on your workplace. If there's a structured review process, you can integrate it into that or initiate it when you receive a job offer. 

In some cases, you might need to initiate the conversation yourself, especially when your responsibilities have expanded without a change in compensation. It can be useful to communicate your goals for your development and interest in discussing compensation over weeks or months beforehand - it’s often useful to avoid surprising your manager during the compensation discussion.

What is the best approach to prepare for a negotiation discussion?

Lucy: To boost confidence, do your homework, benchmark salaries, and understand the market rate for your role. Test the market by applying for other roles to gather offers for leverage. Create a memo outlining your contributions, career goals, and market information, which will serve as a reference during the discussion.

What advice can you give on market benchmarking for early career professionals who find it challenging to understand their market value?

Lucy: Market benchmarking can be broken down more simply than it seems. Look at websites like Seek, LinkedIn, or Glassdoor. Find companies or organisations similar in size, industry, and stage to get an understanding of other job ads and gather data on salary and benefits.

Create a table in Excel or Google Sheets to compare this data to get the full picture of how your role is currently valued. You can also reach out to people on LinkedIn for anonymised data. Then, position yourself around the 80th to 120th percentile of that data based on your skills and experience to get an understanding of your market value.

How can one be both confident and polite in negotiations?

Lucy: It's essential to embody a persona that aligns with your negotiation style. For example, I try to be professional, calm, direct and commercially savvy in my negotiations - I’m not necessarily there to be liked, but I want to be respected and be respectful. I also like watching effective communicators so I can learn from different styles and integrate what suits me - for example, in our course, we do an exercise where you go through communicators as diverse as RuPaul and Tom Ford to Indra Nooyi and Mel Perkins. 

Being commercially savvy doesn't conflict with being a team player or caring about your company's mission. Confidence in negotiation often comes from building qualities into your persona that reflect who you are.

How can someone balance their natural tendency to be a people pleaser with the need to advocate for themselves?

Lucy: Most weaknesses can actually be turned into strengths. Being a people pleaser is a common problem I hear from students - but ultimately, that’s often about empathising a lot with the other side, and empathy can be a superpower if you learn to control its weaknesses. 

Learning to advocate for yourself while maintaining your strengths is crucial. Identify and support your weaknesses, and it will work to your advantage in the long run.

What are common pitfalls people encounter in negotiations?

Lucy: Some common pitfalls include getting reactive or emotional and making poor decisions. Preparation is crucial, both in terms of building a case for yourself and practising how you'll deliver it - think of it like a big presentation, or giving a wedding speech - you wouldn’t leave those to chance, and you shouldn’t with this either. Another pitfall is holding limiting beliefs about negotiation, such as believing that good performance should eliminate the need to negotiate (we have a checklist of about 10 common limiting beliefs which can be useful to help you identify the underlying issues holding you back from improving!)..

Do you have any final advice for those looking to improve their negotiation skills?

Lucy: Anyone can become a good negotiator with practice, but you can't learn from books alone - you need to experience how it’s going to feel in the moment, and gradually expand your comfort zone, so make sure you incorporate practice in a safe space (e.g. a mock negotiation, or a practice run-through of the meeting with a friend). Ensure your practice closely simulates real negotiation conditions.

Practising with a friend or taking a course with a buddy can help keep you accountable and improve your skills.

Remember, negotiation is a skill that can be developed over time, and practice is essential for improvement.

Wrapping up

Negotiation is inevitably tough for a lot of us, but with the right advice, a helping hand and practice, we can all improve. If you would like more personalised support on your negotiation journey, view Fuzzy’s career accelerating programs. 

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