How to Know Your Worth (and Negotiate for It)

I will never forget the first time I asked for a raise.

I was in college, and I had a part-time job. Even though I was working as many hours as they had available (and doing a darn good job), I was having a little trouble making ends meet, so I asked for a meeting with my boss to make my request. It went a little like this:

Me: I’d like to discuss the possibility of a raise.

Boss: Okay! Tell me why I should pay you more.

Me: Ummm … well, it’s really hard to get by on what I’m making?



As you might guess, I didn’t get a raise that day, but I learned a really valuable lesson for which I’ll always be grateful (and thank you, Linda, if you’re reading this!). My boss explained to me that as a business owner, it really wasn’t her responsibility to make sure my rent was paid. Her job was to put good people in the right job and keep them there. “So, if you’re worth more than you’re making — if the value you’re providing me is greater than your current wage — that’s what I need you to tell me,” she said.

So that’s what I did. I came back the next day, requested another meeting, and detailed the things I knew I was doing well. I explained how valuable I’d become to her business and to the other members of the staff. I let her know I was open to greater responsibilities and more duties. And I not only got a raise, but a promotion.

Don’t Worry About ‘Being a Lady’

Lots of us have been taught all our lives that it’s not ladylike or polite to talk about money. It’s sure as hell not a comfortable topic of conversation most of the time. And true, there are definitely times when it’s not appropriate to discuss money or income.


But it is important to be aware of what the typical income (including various benefits) looks like in your field. In some cases, that’s easy information to find. In my case, pretty early on, I talked to some colleagues who’d been in the freelance game longer than I had, and they hipped me to the fact that I was asking for way less than I deserved. I didn’t love having those conversations, but they were some of the most important ones I’ve had regarding my career.

I’ve since had a ton of practice at asking for my worth. I’ve been a freelance writer and editor for a decade, and every time I land a new gig, I have to go in and say what I want to be paid. And now that I have a history of earning my fee (and references to back up the fact that I’m worth it), it honestly is much, much easier to stand up for my worth, even if someone questions it.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy — for women in particular, according to the research that shows that, in general, women are less likely to negotiate for their salary than men (68 percent of women accepted the salary they were offered vs. 52 percent of men in a Glassdoor survey). When you take that to an anecdotal level, the differences are even more pronounced.

A friend (and former boss) of mine, Cat Lincoln, recently wrote an article for Fortune about how every man she’s ever hired — including an unpaid intern — has negotiated for something. Women? Not so much. She’s got some excellent tips for how to prepare to negotiate, including role playing with a colleague, doing your homework to make sure what you’re asking for is in line with what that job actually pays, and making your argument factual rather than emotional. (She’s super smart. You should listen to her.)

Control the Narrative

Another helpful resource I came across recently is a TEDx talk from 2015 by pricing consultant Casey Brown, who says, “No one will ever pay you what you’re worth. They’ll only ever pay you what they think  you’re worth — and you control their thinking.”


And controlling their thinking begins with your thinking. There’s a time for modesty — but this isn’t one of them. Don’t downplay your previous experience and accomplishments. I’m not saying you should lie, but make sure you’re not peppering your language (or even your internal monologue) with words like “just” or “kind of” or “little.”

For example, if you won an award, you might want to shrug it off as not a big deal or that it was really your team who earned it — but don’t. Own it. The more you tell yourself that you’ve earned the good things that have come your way, the easier it will be to communicate that to prospective employers — and that, my dear, makes it easier to negotiate for your true worth.

Are you a successful negotiator? Got any tips to offer? I will admit, it’s far easier to negotiate for something when I’m willing to walk away. When it’s something that’s really my heart’s desire … oooh, the struggle is real. But earning what I’m worth and getting to do something I love while I earn it? That’s basically the best thing ever. —Kristen

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