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This One Question Helped Me Negotiate to Make as Much as My Male Counterpart

Nina Semczuk

I almost signed the contract and returned it without a second thought.

My yoga teaching gig was up for renewal, and the quoted hourly rate was the same as the previous year’s. The number still seemed pretty high to me compared to my experience teaching in Texas, where the standard rate was half as much as in New York.

But I didn’t send the contract back right away. I’m immersed in the personal finance world and write a lot about women, careers, and negotiation, so I knew I needed to at least attempt to get a higher rate. The tricky part was the director. I had worked with them going on three years, and I felt awkward asking for more since I thought the rate seemed fair.

So, I decided to ask indirectly. This is what I wrote back in an email: “As for payment, I do have to ask (since I work for a company that’s all about gender pay parity!), is that what [name of the male instructor] makes?”

Sending that question felt bold, and I worried about how it would be received. However, when the director replied, they stated what the other instructor was earning: It was a number 15% higher than my rate. And — here’s the best part — they said they were happy to match the rate for me. It felt amazing. By asking one question, I ended up with pay parity, and a rate that was 50% higher than what I had started with two years ago.

While that question worked for me, there are plenty of situations where it wouldn’t be ideal. If you want to increase your rates, you have to get creative.

Illustration for MONEY by Kiersten Essenpreis

How to ask for more when you’re negotiating a project price

You could ask for more money by packaging your services so that it seems like hiring you for more work will give your client a bigger discount. I did that a few years ago when I was pricing out a series of articles for a website. Instead of agreeing on a lower rate per piece, I gave a higher estimate with the agreement to produce a certain number of articles per month. Not only did this tactic net me an additional $200 per month, but it also guaranteed me a certain amount of work over time.It’s also imperative to know what you’re worth.

When you do, you can walk away from a lowball offer that won’t budge. Crowdsourcing is your friend. Ask someone in the same industry for their expertise. You’d be surprised how many are open to sharing.

Here’s a simple ask I’ve used before to figure out if an offer was worthwhile: “I was quoted [price] for [describe the scope of work]; since you’re a [insert a true description, like seasoned professional or expert], I wanted to see if you think the offer is fair for someone with my experience [add details if the person doesn’t know you well].”

If you have some rapport with who you’re asking, you can add, “What would you charge for this project?” If you’re new to an industry, ask a few people these questions rather than just one person, and you’ll soon get an idea of the range of compensation out there.

How to ask for more when you’re negotiating a job offer

First, get yourself in the right mindset. It’s easy to fall prey to thinking that the offer is good enough, or that you don’t deserve more money, or that the company is offering their highest possible amount.

But you have to remember that most companies (unless it’s a nonprofit, government, or union job with a predetermined set salary) have wiggle room when it comes to compensation; most companies have a rough measure of what they can pay per role.

If you accept the first offer given — which is almost always on the low end of the available range — you’re likely giving the company a bargain.

Here are a few tactics to try:

  1. Keep it simple and ask “Is that the best you can do?” Sometimes, that will be enough for a better counteroffer.
  2. Show your enthusiasm by saying, “I’m very excited about this position and would accept your offer right now, if the salary offered was [name your number].”
  3. Try a little hardball: “Thank you for the offer. Unfortunately, that’s lower than I expected.”

The key to all of these asks is patience. After you make your statement, stay quiet and give the person time to answer. If you scramble to fill in the silence, you risk sounding unconfident, and a skilled HR manager can bulldoze over you.

Remember, when you’ve made it as far as an offer, you have the upper hand. Most companies hate wasting time on recruiting, and it’s often easier to give a candidate what they want than to withdraw an offer and start from scratch.

It’s not offensive to ask for more money during a job negotiation — it’s expected and it’s your right. So, take a deep breath, do a little downward dog if you have to, and give it a shot.