The other night I joined dozens of other women and supportive men for an event hosted by Marin Software. The event was the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner, and it was aptly scheduled on International Women’s day 2016. Catriona Fallon, the EVP and CFO of Marin Software was the keynote speaker, and her topic of the evening was negotiation. Negotiations is a super applicable topic for those of us in the technology industry, and it was so useful to spend an evening hearing from such an accomplished woman. I gleaned a lot from what she had to say, and below are some snippets and shards from her presentation.
3 Questions you need to know the answer to before an interview
What are you interests? If you have managed to get an interview, you should by this time have an idea of what kind of work you want to do – that’s great (and you’ve now surpassed me, as I have no idea what I want to do with my software engineering skills), but it’s not quite good enough. By the time that you walk into an interview, you need to know what your interests are. I’m not talking about your hobbies, or what you are currently binge watching on Netflix, not those kind of interests. I’m talking about what you want to get out of the job, if it’s offered to you. What is it that you want to accomplish? What new skills can tis job offer give you that other jobs, which you are qualified for, can’t? What can this job, this company, or this boss help you achieve? Make sure you know the answers to these questions before you walk in.
If you don’t know what your interests are in this company, why are you even sitting in that chair being interviewed? How do you even know the job would be a good fit? You have to figure out what it is that you want to do, and also where you want to go. Make sure your interests align with the company.
What is your best alternative? I can’t stress this one enough. Have an alternative. Even if what you are interviewing for is your dream job, make sure you have a plan B. If all of your hopes and dreams are riding the wave of that one interview, it’s going to quickly become a much more stressful satiation than it needs to be. You can never think clearly when you are stressed out. You can start to stress out, and the thought pattern tends to look something like this…
“They are not offering me what I want in pay, but it’s the only offer I have on the table right now”
“The company ethos seems a little stressful, but who knows when something else will come along”
There are countless studies on the effects of stress and decision making, Science Daily says it like this
“This means when people under stress are making a difficult decision, they may pay more attention to the upsides of the alternatives they’re considering and less to the downsides. So someone who’s deciding whether to take a new job and is feeling stressed by the decision might weigh the increase in salary more heavily than the worse commute.”
When you fail to have a backup plan in place, thoughts like the before mentioned tend to drive your decisions, rather than your logic. If you have a backup plan or two, you are more level headed and objective. One of the worst things you can do is take a job knowing it’s not the right fit, solely because it’s the only thing on the table.
What is your walk away price? Before you ever walk into an interview you need to know what your walk away price is (your W.A.P.). Do your research ahead of time and know what you are worth. This can be really hard sometimes, not the research, but assigning a number to your worth. Talk with friends (although this sometimes can be not quite reliable), check out glassdoor.com, and talk to others in the role you are applying for. The walk away price does not just include your salary – it could also include, but is not limited to – vacation time, job flexibility (working remotely etc), time commitment, stock options, and much more.
It’s not just you who has a walk away price in this whole endeavor. The company you are interviewing also has a W.A.P. They have a cap at what the are willing to offer for the position they are interviewing for. Between your W.A.P., and the company’s W.A.P. there is a space of negotiation. There are a lot of things possible in that space, it just necessitates an aligning of intentions between you and your possible future employer.
Walking away can be super hard – but in some situations it might be the right answer. So you need to prepare for it. It can be particularly hard when much of the offer seems attractive, but a few things stick out as red flags. With diligent preparation, you will hopefully be able to gauge when it is appropriate to walk away.
Go to the balcony. The previous tips about negotiations were specifically targeted at the interview environment. This tip, ‘going to the balcony’ is targeted more towards negotiations once you are in the thick of the work space. Negotiations are thrust upon us all of the time, and the worst feeling is finding yourself in the middle of one and not fully prepared. Just like you need to be prepared to walk into an interview, you need to be prepared for workplace negotiations. Whether you are a project manager, developer, engineer or what-not, if you have an arsenal of responses to negotiations, you will find yourself getting what you need more often than not. One thing Catriona advised was a tactic she calls ‘go to the balcony’. It’s the idea, that when you find yourself in the middle of a negotiation – maybe you feel your temper start to heat up because things are not going the way you wanted, or planned, it can be super helpful to visualize yourself on a balcony looking down on the negotiation happening below. This can be partially helpful if the negotiation situation gets catty or a little disrespectful (as can happen when people start to loose their whits and revert to elementary tactics).
Once you’re in a workspace, a lot of the negotiations you find yourself in may have absolutely nothing to do with you personally. Maybe it’s a budget reform, or new policies and procedures – you need to be prepared to take a step back and and not take the negotiations personally. If things start to heat up, ‘go to the balcony’, finish the negotiation in a professional manner, and carry on with your day.
Don’t get mad, get what you want. If the situation starts to deviate away from what you are trying to achieve in the negotiation, don’t get mad, don’t react negatively, don’t throw a hissy fit. Cool down, step away (maybe get a drink, or feign a phone call) – focus on your breath. When you are ready you can return to the negotiation and continue the conversation. After all, we are professionals, and we all have a job to do. Fight for what is right, and don’t give up until you get it.
post script –
I love attending events like this, I sometimes feel like women come out of the woodwork, and I get to meet so many people that I never would have had the chance to otherwise. I do struggle with events that only target women though, I don’t want to live in a technology world where men and women operate on separate parallel lines, both working towards innovation, but never crossing paths. It IS important to create spaces where women and men feel comfortable and supported to talk about whatever need-be – and this sometimes necessitates that we put ourselves in separate rooms. I just want to stress that we can’t just keep those conversations in those separate rooms. We need to be able to regroup – men, women, and everything in-between and have those conversations together. That’s actually one of the very reasons why I really enjoyed this event. It was called ‘Girl Geek Dinner’ and we still had men in the room playing the role as advocate. If women want to make big waves in the technology field, we need men on our side (and they need us on theirs). I don’t advocate for more women in the tech industry, I am an advocate for more diversity in the tech industry, women just happen to be part of that diversity that is lacking.