Professional negotiator shares her top 5 tips for getting a raise

Courtesy Ashley Feinstein Gerstein

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley makes money by teaching other people how to make more money.

The 33-year-old's company, The Fiscal Femme, offers career consulting and classes to help women negotiate higher salaries and manage their personal budgets. Although Gerstley's main focus is career advice, she traces the inspiration for the company back to a negotiation she made when she was still in college.

Gerstley originally attended Tulane University, but after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the city, she got to spend a semester at the University of Pennsylvania and loved it there. She applied to stay but was initially rejected.

Gerstley, then 20 years old, decided to try once more. She asked for a meeting with the dean to plead her case. To her excitement, she was able to talk her way into the Ivy League: The dean decided Gerstley would be allowed to attend Penn that fall, so long as she aced some summer classes.

"Just having the negotiation is a lot of the battle," she says, "even though it's really scary to show up and have these conversations."

Less than five years out of college, Gerstley founded The Fiscal Femme. Now she regularly shares her wisdom on negotiating as a tool to advance your career. Here are five of her best tips:

Practice with low-stakes negotiations

Get used to negotiating by polishing your skills during everyday interactions when stakes are low. For example, if a friend asks where you want to go for dinner, make the case for a particular place instead of saying, "Oh, I don't care."

"Getting in the habit of having an opinion and asserting it, even with our friends on silly, small things, can really help us practice," says Gerstley, who is also the author of "The 30-Day Money Cleanse." That way, you feel confident when it comes to a higher-stakes negotiation for a raise, promotion, or new job offer.

Be proactive

Gerstley made a classic mistake at an early postcollege job: She assumed she would get a raise after a certain amount of time, as the person who held the position before her did. "I was the stereotypical example of someone who worked really hard with my head down and didn't have the conversations and didn't get the raise and promotion," she says.

Don't be passive. Communicate with your boss regularly about what you like doing and what your professional successes are. Gerstley says there is a misconception that a negotiation is a one-time meeting where you demand your worth. Really, it's a process that includes a series of check-ins.

Laying that groundwork makes it less of a surprise when you eventually ask for more money—and it can also help ensure you aren't passed over because you waited for one big meeting to speak up.

Getting in the habit of having an opinion and asserting it, even with our friends on silly, small things, can really help us practice.
Ashley Feinstein Gerstley
Founder, The Fiscal Femme

Keep a brag sheet

Maintain a physical list of all your successes and how they helped the company. "We think we're gonna remember all these things because we're proud of them at the time, but it's easy to forget 11 months later," Gerstley says.

Details can be vital during those regular check-ins with your boss. They can also come in handy when it's time to negotiate and you can offer impressive specifics about what you've accomplished.

Do your research

Gerstley suggests taking advantage of a particular mental trick called anchoring bias, which is our tendency to put weight on the first number mentioned in a discussion. If you are jewelry shopping, for example, and the first pair of earrings you pick up is $200, anything less than that looks like a good deal.

How can this help when you're negotiating? If you throw out the first number, anchoring bias means you can more easily steer the negotiation toward the number you want, she says. But to use this trick successfully, Gerstley says, you'll need to offer up a number that's on point:

  • Review the market. Figure out what a fair salary is for someone in your field, based on details like your location and level of experience. You could talk to current and former colleagues, or check salary tools including those at Salary.com, Glassdoor, Payscale, and LinkedIn.
  • Aim a little higher. Salary negotiations usually settle somewhere between the first and second offer, Gerstley says. Asking for more than you want may get you a result that's closer to the number you're actually striving for.

Don't stop at 'no'

There are plenty of reasons you could be denied a raise, especially if you work at a big company with lots of bureaucratic processes. That's why Gerstley says you shouldn't take "no" as an end to the conversation. Follow up to ask why. That can help you figure out the best next steps to take.

For example, Gerstley says, your company may only put through pay increases at specific times of the year. Or your boss might be able to provide a few concrete goals for you to reach that would qualify you for that promotion.

"It's helpful to understand why and see if there are ways to make it work for everybody," she says.

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