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How to negotiate salary, benefits amid coronavirus crisis

Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi, Alexis Christoforous, and Heidi Chung speak with Columbia Law Professor and 'Ask for More' author Alexandra Carter about tactics employees can use to negotiate during the coronavirus climate.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: Switching gears here, there's no denying that negotiating a salary or benefits can be tough, and the coronavirus crisis has only made it harder. Today's April jobs report paints a grim picture of the damage the virus has caused to the US labor market. And that likely leaves more bargaining power in the hands of employers-- or does it?

Alexandra Carter, Columbia law professor and author of "Ask For More" joins us now to give us some negotiation tactics to help soften the blow during this time. Alexandra, good to see you this morning. So where does the power lie? We saw in the-- in this jobs report today, 20.5 million people are out of a job. And you would think this population, this pool, are excited to go back and get to-- get to work. And they may not ask for a higher wage or the wage that they ultimately deserve.

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Yeah, good morning, Brian. It's a pleasure to be with you. You know, yes, on the one hand, you know, times are very difficult for a lot of companies. On the other hand, it's never been more important to spend each dollar wisely. And what I'm counseling people to do is to really make the argument about how they would be the wisest investment of a company's funds at this particular moment. You know, perhaps hiring or promoting you could save cash flow in the short term or help promote earnings in the long term. So there's always a wage re-frame one's experience to gain additional leverage in the negotiation.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Professor, you know, at this time, you see a lot of people losing their jobs. But it also means that some people who have worked now have to take on more work because their co-workers have been let go. How do you advocate for yourself during this pandemic to show sort of your value and your worth to your employer?

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Great question, Alexis. And this is something actually I counsel women about all the time. Because very often, even in a regular market, you know, a female employee may be asked to take on extra work in her job, and it's not seen or compensated. And so what I would ask people to do is keep a log of all that you are doing. And remain visible to your manager. Be sure to check in and let them know about things that you're doing. And then I would continually ask and raise, you know, when is a good time for talk about compensating me at a level that all of the work that I'm doing really deserves?

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, let me follow up to that. If your company is one of those companies that has had to make tough decisions to cut costs and tighten the belt, workers might feel guilty about going and asking for a raise. Is-- is it still seen as OK to do that, even when you know your company is hurting?

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Yes. You know, again, I always advise people to really think about how what you're asking-- first of all, be very clear about what it is that you need, but also how it is that it's going to benefit the company. You know, and Alexis, if a raise right now possible, I always like to ask open questions. Go in and say, what else could we-- what could we do next year? What other benefit can you offer me? There are lots of different things that people can negotiate right now that come together to produce value.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: One-- one more, real quick. If-- as the employee, do you seem a little tone deaf if you go to your boss? I'd be afraid that maybe the boss would turn around and say, are you kidding? You're asking me this now? We're in an unprecedented time, and so many people have had to lose their jobs. I'm in no position to give you a raise.

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Yeah, you know, I agree the timing is important. And-- and we have to think, also, you should be realistic about, you know, looking at your prior accomplishments and the justification. You know, asks, in negotiations, should always be optimistic, specific, and justifiable. So make sure before you go in that you pick good timing to approach, and think about how you're going to justify what you're doing for the benefit of the company.

HEIDI CHUNG: Hey, Alexandra, it's Heidi Chung here. So just kind of going off of Alexis's question regarding timing, even after we're out of this pandemic for quite some time and you're starting to look for a raise, I guess, just in general, when's a good time to bring that kind of conversation up, regardless of how long you've [AUDIO OUT] been in that position?

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Yeah, great point, Heidi. What I would say is, you know, you want to pick your moments of maximum leverage. So for those of you who maybe-- maybe you just completed a project really successfully. You've saved the company a bunch of money, you've saved a particular effort. You know, pick a moment when your options are visible, right, or that you've just reached the milestone. And that can be a propitious moment, then, to go in and say, I'm happy to deliver this at, you know, ahead of schedule, and I'd also love to talk to you about my trajectory at the-- at the company going forward.

BRIAN SOZZI: What are the-- how do they-- what are the logistics on how to ask for a raise right now? So many-- in so many workplaces, you knock on the boss's door, say, hey, you have a chance to talk? Can you give me a couple minutes? You can't do that now. So how do you do it in this virtual world where we're all working from home?

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Yeah, great question. So first of all, like I said, timing is extremely important. Right now, people have a lot of demands placed on them. It's just extraordinary. They have children in the home, elders in the home, perhaps illnesses.

I would ask for a good time, and then I would try to meet on a virtual platform where people can see your face. The fact is that, in negotiation, the more we can see, the more we trust. And so it really, really helps not do it over the phone, but to do it in a place where it feels as close to a face-to-face as possible.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, Alexandra Carter, Columbia law professor and author of "Ask For More." Really great insight here. Have a great weekend. And look forward to staying in touch.

ALEXANDRA CARTER: Thanks. Same here. You too.