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Episode 10: Salary Negotiation Tips for Relaunchers with Katie Donovan

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Episode Description

Ensure you're getting what you're worth. Salary negotiation expert, Katie Donovan of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC, shares tips with iRelaunch Chair and Co-Founder Carol Fishman Cohen. Katie is a founding member of the MA Equal Pay Coalition and a co-president of the Massachusetts branch of American Association of University Women (AAUW). Katie and the MA Equal Pay Coalition were honored with the Be the Change Award at the 12th Annual Massachusetts Conference for Women which was held on December 8, 2016.

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Hi everyone. It's Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch, and welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch. Salary negotiation is such a hot topic for all job seekers whether or not they take career breaks, but we're going to focus today specifically on information that's relevant for relaunchers in their job negotiations.

Our guest today is Katie Donovan, Founder of Katie consults to employees, job candidates, employers, and policy makers in her dedication to achieving equal pay. We work closely with Katie to provide salary negotiation advice to relaunchers, and Katie is part of is one of the founders of the Massachusetts Equal Pay Coalition, which recently won the Change Award at the Massachusetts Conference for Women.

Hi Katie, thanks so much for being with us today.

Katie Donovan: Thank you, Carol. It's a joy to be with you today.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So Katie, let's just dive in and start at the beginning and ask how early in the application process should the salary negotiation begin? I mean, typically, you have a series of interviews, you have a phone interview or a Skype interview, and then you might move to the next stage, which also might be by phone or Skype. And then maybe you get called in for a conversation or a series of conversations.

And then at some point, maybe you even need to make a presentation or go through some other kind of homework exercise. Then at some point you get an offer. So, during that whole process is there a certain period of time or certain moment where you're supposed to be thinking, “Well, I have to be cognizant because I'm already in a negotiation,” or does that start when the offer is made?

Katie Donovan: There's two layers of the negotiation. The employer starts it in the job application. There are two questions specifically. They're created to put you at a disadvantage for your pay. The first one being, what have you earned in any previous jobs and the second one being, what would you like to make in this job that you're applying to now even though you are a relauncher, and it may have been five, 10 years since you've worked. They still want to know what your last job was and what the title was and what you got paid there.

And some companies, I actually worked with a client recently, she hadn't worked for four years and they, regardless of when her last job was, would only go up to 30% more than what she previously made. She was in a completely different city, a completely different market, and it had been a big gap since she worked. It had nothing to do with what the current job market is for that job today.

So don't answer it, is the answer. When those questions come up on the online application, just enter zero-dot-zero-zero if it requires some kind of number. As for the salary that you're looking to make, you've read all of three paragraphs and a few bullet points. You do not know enough to know what the job should pay. And that basically is what you want to say. But on the application, once again, leave it blank or put zero-dot-zero-zero.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So that's important because sometimes you must put something in the blank in order to move on to the next stage of the application in order to press next on the application online process. They won't let you proceed unless you put something in. So, you're saying to put 0.00, and then, later on when you have conversations about it, and they bring it up or you bring it up in terms of ranges or what the possibilities are, do you just focus on getting the job until you get the offer and then have those conversations? Or are you supposed to be saying something in the process ahead of time?

Katie Donovan: For you to have the best power in the negotiation that you possibly can, you need to be quiet until they actually offer you a job. You have the most power between the job offer and you accepting it. So for no other reason other than enjoying the power, don't accept it right away.

But they are going to, the employers are going to try to have that conversation throughout the interview process and you want to be able to ask them questions without providing a lot of information. So if they say something like, “Well, we don't want to waste your time, we want to make sure we're in the same ballpark, what are you looking to make? We noticed you left it blank on the application.” Your response can be, “Well, I still don't know enough about the job.” That's one way to go to know what it should pay. Another way to go is, “Well, I assume the job has been approved and budgeted. Can you provide me the budget you have for it? And I'll let you know if that's in our range, because once again, I'm still learning about this job.”

They've lived it for years. They know it. You don’t. Surprisingly most employers, if they're asked point blank, they will provide it, most people don't think to just ask point blank.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Because there's always that advice, you know, don't be the first one to offer a number. So are they going to try to sort of play that game with you in terms of, they want you to offer a number first versus them offering a number or, you think asking this question usually elicits some kind of response?

Katie Donovan: They will try to play the game. It's a tactic that is very basic in the world of negotiation. So most do try to play it. You will find the more aggressive the internal HR recruiter is about responding to you, most likely they're getting a bonus based on how underpaid you are. So if they have the job paid up to $100,000 and they think they can get you for $80,000, the recruiter is getting some kind of percentage bonus on that $20,000 that's not used.

So they'll be overly aggressive and you can tell that. If that's the case, go ask the hiring manager, don't fight that fight. But every other time people will just share it, because they have no personal skin in the game.

Carol Fishman Cohen: What percentage of the situations are where you think the person negotiating actually stands to benefit financially, if they get you to agree to a lower salary? I haven't really heard about that .

Katie Donovan: I haven't seen any data specifically on that. It is definitely a fairly common practice, I would say over 30%, could be as high as 50%.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's interesting. So let's go back to the situation where relaunchers might be out of the workforce way longer than four years, it could be between five to ten years or even longer than that. Is there any kind of language that relaunchers can use to say, “Look, you know, the salary information that you would get from me is really irrelevant because it is from so long ago. And the research I've done shows that these positions are in the X to Y range, so I'd like to keep the conversation there.” I mean, is that the kind of way that you can push beyond having to disclose some very old salary information, even if you don't put it on the form, if they ask it in the interview?

Katie Donovan: Well, there's a couple of ways you can do it. One is, luckily, if it's been a while since you worked, in almost every state, going back, probably eight to ten years allowed for salary secrecy, salary confidentiality.

So you can say, “I'm sorry, I was employed where they had salary confidentiality. I cannot share that with you.” How can anyone ding you for actually honoring an agreement? Whether or not you're playing the game and you actually didn't have one, who knows, that's for you to decide. If you work for a public, government office, it's public knowledge, it's out there. If someone really wanted to dig, they could go find what you made in 2004 at whatever government agency. So in that case, you can say, “Hey, I can share it with you, but I'm not sure how relevant it would be because one, the market's completely different. Two, you may be switching industries.”

I mean, there's a million different reasons. Pick one and just say, “it's not relevant. I don't understand why it would be helpful to you. Can you explain that to me,” instead of just putting the stance of it's not relevant by then following with the question, it actually makes it a little more of a consultative kind of conversation. So you won't feel as combative because the idea is not to be combative.That's the total opposite of what we're going for.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you dive into that a little more because it stresses me even thinking about having to have one of these conversations. Especially, with the prospect of it being combative while I'm in a conversation for a job that I might want very much. So how do you change the tone or make the tone of the conversation to be consultative, keeping in mind that you might really, really want this job. So how do you balance those?

Katie Donovan: There's a couple of things first. Remember, you're still interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.So even though you’re on the three paragraphs and maybe a friend used to work for them, at some point in time, you have an inkling, you'd like to work for them, but it's still like the first date. You may really think the other person is sexy and cute and makes good money and has the same kind of values as you, but you don't know for sure yet. So you're not going to say, should we get married today? You wait and get to know each other. So even though you think you want that job, don't assume this is the job you want until you find out it will actually pay you appropriately.

Because to me that is one of the three primary things a job should do, pay you appropriately. And if that answer is never going to be correct, “yes, I'm going to be paid appropriately,” then you don't want that job.

Think of it as saving yourself from a divorce, finding out that, Oh gosh, he does that. We don't have the same values. Finding it out sooner during the interview is very important.

So give yourself the freedom to say this looks good. But I need to still dig. And until it answers yes to, “Is it something that's engaging?” “Do I feel like I can do it and it pays appropriately?” Then I'd jump in and say, “I want it.” And the negotiation isn't about beating them, but finding out whether or not it pays appropriately to me, that's truly what the negotiation is.

It's giving you all the information that you have the best offer on the table. And now it's totally in your power to say yes or no. So the negotiation itself, you may not move another penny up and that's fine, but now, you know, there's no more pennies coming. And this is truly the offer I need to decide on.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I want to add on some of this is also where you are in the process, because there are some situations where we advise relaunchers to take a temp job or some kind of a special project or contract role to get in the door. So the employer can see a work sample from you and then the longer term permanent role can flow from that initial experience.

And, I wanted just to talk to you also about the formal reentry internship programs that we're seeing and that we at iRelaunch are working hard to make happen across a whole range of industry sectors.

But moving from a situation where you're in a temporary, you're a temporary hire, you're an intern, you're doing a consulting project, something special, or you're a temp job to a permanent role. Can you talk a little bit about that transition and any specific advice about how to handle negotiations while you're making that temp to perm kind of transition?

Katie Donovan: In the same manner, whether the job is permanent and even a permanent job, most of us are employees that will, and any day, can walk in and it's no longer there. So, permanent can be defined differently, but if it's an internship, a returnship, a consulting gig, or one time project, even their first offer for those short term, things should be negotiated.

One, it gives you practice. Yes, which is very important because this is just like any other new skill. You're not very good the first time, but just the sheer fact that you're doing it is better than not doing it. And you get better and more comfortable the more you do it. The second part of it is even in internships, believe me, there are many different layers of pay and the person who negotiated it is making more than you doing the same exact internship.

So, if you start underpaid in the internship, it's going to be even that much harder to make the appropriate pay as a full-time employee.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. And I remember at one of our iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences we had a panel of interns who had then transitioned into long-term hires after their internships.

And one of them made a point of saying that the internship itself helped her build her confidence and proved to herself as well as the employer that her work quality was excellent. And she felt more empowered in the salary negotiations for the long-term role as a result of that.

Katie Donovan: Absolutely. The more comfortable any of us are in anything, the more we can understand that we should get paid appropriately. I'm kind of pushing that a little sooner, especially for someone relaunching into the work world where it's been a gap and gee, they didn't use that kind of social media marketing when I was working or whatever it might be.

The sheer fact that you're good enough to get the job, whether it's a full-time job, a part-time thing, a short gig thing, if you're good enough to get it, know that's reason enough to be empowered enough to get paid appropriately. If you're good enough to get it, you're good enough to get paid appropriately and believe me, that first offer is not the best they can pay.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm Carol Fishman Cohen CEO of iRelaunch speaking with Katie Donovan, founder of Equal Pay Negotiations about negotiation strategies for relaunchers. Now I want to go into a slightly different area of the negotiation, and that is, that the negotiation and compensation is sometimes a lot more than just the salary, the benefits around schedule, or insurance, or retirement, or parking, or I'm sure there are things I'm not thinking about. How do you look at that? And what do you remind people to think about in terms of the entire offer and how does that play into the negotiation conversation?

Katie Donovan: So excellent point. It is not just about your base pay. It's a much bigger puzzle and think of it as a puzzle. You want to put all of the pieces on the top of the table, so you can stop moving them around to make one perfect picture for both you and the employer. It may not be exactly what you think it's going to be from the start because you want three weeks vacation and $10,000 more, but they can give you four weeks vacation and $7,000 more. Maybe that's a win for both of you. You have to go throw it all on the table. So both of you can play around.

Other things that I would add to the list, you mentioned signing bonus. Absolutely. Say the words “I'm surprised there is no signing bonus.” You never know, even if it's $1,000, there could be some extra money there. Healthcare, do not accept a job without understanding specifically, even if you get health care now with your spouse, what they do in health care. If their health care is a really low version where it's a $4,000 deductible and your co-pays are high and your premiums are high, you need to get a much higher base salary for when and if you ever have to use your own healthcare through them.

Other things, an annual bonus. Do you understand how that's created? Is there an actual math problem to it or is it just, you got in front of the right person on the right day of the week so that you can manage that? Other things, stock options, any other form of financial equity childcare, elder care, flex time.

It used to be everyone thought, “Oh, this company treats me well with flexibility. I can't ever go anywhere else.” Over 80% of companies have some kind of form of flexible time. So do not use that as golden handcuffs, you can get it elsewhere. Sabbatical, relocation, 401ks, all of that goes into it.

Is there education, especially if you've been gone for a while you may want to try to get a certification or something to help you? As you jump back into the corporate ladder conferences, you want to make sure you can go to the right ones and it's not vacation time and they're actually paying for you to go.

I also like to include success resources. So whether it's you getting a career coach or you having an assistant or membership to a trade association, whatever it might be to make sure you're kept up to the level you should be.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So is the idea that you get the offer and then you come back to them with this sort of a checklist with all of these different items on it.

And then you decide for yourself, well, there are 15 items on this list. I'm going to talk about the one, the five I care the most about. And you kind of march down that list with them, or is it a different way to handle that?

Katie Donovan: I always say to pick kind of the five, five is the magic number of my mind. More than that, then you're just killing them with the death of a thousand cuts.

So really what's important, but the things I mentioned to you are what you should be looking at when you review the offer. It is fine for you to ask, to get a copy of all the paperwork you're going to be asked to sign your first day of work because there's legal stuff in there. Understand what you're signing away.

And ask for a copy of the employee handbook because there could be stuff up that you're just shocked until you see it. That's in the review process.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. Okay. So, you get the offer and you're reviewing it for all of this, kind of a checklist of items. You review it and then you come back to them saying, “I noticed that, parking there, there's no discussion of whether parking or transportation is included,” and you pick your five things and then you ask about each one of those things.

Katie Donovan: Right. I say first throw everything out. I would say if you had offered me a job, Carol, I'd come back to you a few days later and say, “Carol, thank you so much. I'm really excited about this opportunity. I have some questions before I'm able to say yes so first and let me just laundry list them and then we can review them. Is that okay? So first I was surprised the actual pay is lower than I expected based on the current market. I was actually surprised that there's no signing bonus. My understanding is that it's pretty normal, standard best practice. Parking, there's no mention, I just want clarification on if there's any parking offered for free or where I would even go for that. Vacation,

I see that it's two weeks at this level of a job. I don't know anyone not getting at least four weeks at this level. And finally, I don't know if I understand the 401k matching. Can you explain that more?”

Notice nowhere in here did I say the word “no” as if I can't accept this piece of junk, you just threw in front of me. I never said a number for what I'm looking to earn or make or anything there. It's basically, I'm just putting my questions in their lap for them to now convince me that it's a good offer, or for them to realize they're going to counter offer.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. And what happens if you have health coverage through a spouse or partner and you don't really need the health coverage?

Is it a good idea to come out early and say, “You know, I noticed that this health plan is part of the package, I'm actually already covered through my partner. Is there an opportunity for there to be an increase on the salary part because I don't need the healthcare?” Or what words exactly would you say if you were asking those questions, pretend you were role-playing just like you did before.

Katie Donovan: Okay. Before I get to the role-play, think of health insurance as the trade-in car. If you've ever heard the practice of negotiating your new car and then say, “Oh, by the way, I really do have a trade in.” That's what you want to do with the health insurance. Do not bring that up until you get any other counters from the employer.

“So I told you, I was surprised, the pay's lower based on the current market.” And let's pretend you came back to me either, actually in that meeting or a day or two later and said, “Well, I really worked hard. I talked to all the powers that be, and I'm able to get you $5,000 more. Will that do it for you?” And then I would come back and say, “Carol, thank you so much for working with me on this. I truly appreciate it. I'm glad we made some progress. If that's the best you can do. I'm wondering if there's another way we can get it, ‘cause I still believe that's a bit low. I know because we get amazing healthcare through my husband's work that we're not going to be using the healthcare benefit here. And I know that costs you probably six, seven grand a year minimum for me. How about if we put that six grand into my salary?”

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. Thank you. Very helpful. And what happens is this sometimes is a situation for relaunchers, if they already have a vacation plan, they already have a vacation planned sometime in the summer at the time they're accepting the offer can, and it's a longer amount of vacation than they're allotted, or that they've been able to negotiate for themselves.

Is it appropriate to indicate that early on and essentially ask for some sort of a carved-out or acceptance of that, even though the following year, the vacation would be shorter.?

Katie Donovan: Things like those one-off vacations, life has been planned before you took this job are not as overwhelming as we think. What we think personally are the biggest things, the employers really could care less.

They're going to come to some kind of term with you either, “Yeah, take it. But we're not paying you for it,” or, “Take it and yes, we'll count it as an employee vacation and it may come off as some of next year.”

So maybe you get three weeks a year and this is not going to cover what you need because your family is going away for a month.

They'll take three weeks from this year and maybe take a week from next year. But that's really, you just bring it up as, “Oh one last thing,” and really make it one last thing. This is totally a non-big deal, and treat it as that. My family has planned a vacation. You know, my elder son is getting married, whatever it is and it's in this timeframe and it's this long, and I know that doesn't really sync up with what we're talking about here for vacation and paid time off. How would you want to handle that? I mean, because you already know you're an adult you're taking that time now. It's just how they are going to do it internally on their books.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm so glad you said this, because I do know relaunchers who might push off when they're ready to relaunch, but they know that they have that vacation coming up and they will just think, you know, I guess I just can't even apply, or I can't take the role because I'm going to have that vacation in the middle and it's just going to mess everything up.

So, I'm very glad that you made a point of saying from the employer perspective, that it’s not an important issue and you shouldn't make that upcoming vacation months from now be the thing that delays your relaunch because you're afraid you'll have to work through that period. So very helpful.Thank you.

Alright, so we're kind of running out of time. I'm really loving this conversation. I feel like there's more to cover, but I guess as we're wrapping up, I wanted to know, we always ask our podcast guests, if you can give us a favorite piece of relaunch advice, even if it repeats something that you already said during this podcast?

Katie Donovan: This is a repeat, and I say it all the time because I think it takes a while for it to sink in. If you are good enough to get the job, you are good enough to get paid appropriately for it. You do not have to work to get paid appropriately for the work you do.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. Thank you, Katie. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Katie Donovan: Well, thank you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And be sure to visit us at in order to get the most important tools and resources for returning to work. Thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch. Join us each week for the latest in career reentry strategies, success, stories, and advice.

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