Every year as graduation time rolls around, so do the emails and tweets from young graduates wanting advice to make it in the real world. This year, I turned to the ladies behind Ask Ajna*, a career guide that helps you find your voice and negotiate for what you really want. Here are their five best tips for women starting their careers.
1. Don't accept the first offer you get – negotiate your pay package. Some women are afraid to negotiate pay and many more simply don't think to ask for more. Consider this: by simply accepting an offer as presented, and not negotiating for a better compensation package, you stand to lose up to $1-million or more over the course of your career.
You can help ward off the anxiety of negotiating pay by arming yourself with information. Research the current market value for the job you want. Third-party compensation information will give you a good indication of a job's value. Some great sources include payscale.com, salary.com and glassdoor.com. Use this information as a baseline. Then assess your skills versus the requirements to determine your value in the job.
Very few professional-level jobs are compensated via salary alone. So, think in terms of a total compensation package. If you can't get the salary you want, ask for a signing bonus, more vacation or some other work benefit. Many women are surprised at how easy it is to get more by simply asking.
2. Use your voice. Don't expect your work to speak for itself. Most women are uncomfortable promoting themselves. You may think, "If I just do a good job, someone will notice and the rewards will materialize." Unfortunately, it seldom happens that way. If you're not getting acknowledged and you don't ask for the things you want, recognize that you may have lost your most important career asset – your voice! You were hired for a job because of your skills and talents. Don't let these get minimized by not speaking up. Your ideas, contributions and achievements are yours to realize AND to highlight, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Take steps to ensure your great work is visible to others – especially your boss. It's not necessary to force conversations or to become an arrogant jerk. Simply take those natural opportunities to talk about the work you're doing and what you've achieved.
3. Take credit and accept praise. We've all experienced this scenario: you're wearing a great new outfit and a co-worker compliments you. You respond without a second thought, "This old thing?" or "Thanks, I got it on sale." Women tend to deflect in situations where we may be elevated because we're natural equalizers.
Unfortunately, this can be a huge disadvantage in the workplace. When you respond to praise or an acknowledgement by deflecting or giving credit to others, you give away your power. For example, your boss says,"Good job on that project." You respond, "I had a great team. They really worked hard." You think you're being gracious, but you actually devalued your role and yourself. And, you may have left your boss questioning your contribution to the success of the project.
When you receive praise, own it! Simply say, "Thank you." Or, take the opportunity to elaborate on your accomplishment. You can even acknowledge others, but do so in a way that doesn't devalue your role, "I'm very proud of the results I achieved. The whole team did a great job on this project."
4. Use powerful language. It's not what you say, it's how you say it. Women are often perceived as indecisive, ineffective or unsure of themselves, simply because of the language we use and the way we speak. We fill in the details before getting to the point; we use more words, softer and more inclusive language; we have a tendency to speak in terms of "we" rather than "I."
The ultimate challenge for women is communicating in a way that enhances our credibility and capability, while being authentic and true to ourselves. Here are some ways to strengthen how you communicate without having to "talk like a man":
- Be direct, lead with the bottom line first, then fill in the facts and details. Always have a strong close. The first and last things you say are the most remembered.
- Don’t end what you say with a question (“What do you think?”). Instead, make a statement (“I’m interested in your feedback.”). By making a statement rather than asking a question, you retain control of the conversation and you’ll sound more confident.
- Speak in clear, concise language. Eliminate the “umms, ahhs, uhhs and other fillers, it impacts your credibility and likability. It also makes it appear as if you’re unsure of what you’re saying. And let’s face it, the teenage “like speak” (“Hey, ummm, do you think, like, it’s cool to, like, do that?”) is just downright annoying.
- Use silence to your advantage, especially in a negotiation. State your case, then wait for the other person to respond before you speak. The one who speaks first almost always loses the advantage.
5. Establish your boundaries and stick to them. When you're just starting your career or new in a job, it's easy to get sucked in to the 24/7 chaos that often exists in companies – endless email at all hours, working weekends, always changing priorities, and countless new projects. Whether it's a biological imperative or a socially ingrained behavior, women have trouble saying no and often, don't set boundaries because we don't want to let anyone down. We like to please.
As a result, many of us frequently find ourselves in positions that are unmanageable because we try to be all things to all people. Bottom line, you can't please everyone all the time. If you have to sell your soul to a job or company by compromising yourself, your integrity, or your family, it's not worth it.
There are very few, if any, perfect companies and perfect jobs. It all comes down to what's right for you. Know your priorities, set your boundaries, make smart choices, and ask for what you want. You'll be surprised at how little resistance you get, the amount of respect you gain, and how much happier you can be.
* Full disclosure: Ask Ajna is a client of The Marketing Zen Group.
Shama Kabani is the award winning CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a full service online marketing and digital PR firm. She is also the author of the bestseller The Zen of Social Media Marketing, and an international speaker. Follow her @shama
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.