How To Negotiate Like A Pro

Whether you’re looking for a raise, a promotion, or an investor in your startup idea, Amanda Slavin has some techniques that work. The 29-year-old entrepreneur is the founder of CatalystCreativ, a studio and design firm that produces grassroots marketing campaigns, consults on brand strategy, and creates events and conferences with a focus on engaging millennial consumers. Though the firm is just a few years old, it’s already gotten major buzz — Zappos founder and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh is a backer, and clients include major names like NPR and W Hotels.

Ahead, Slavin shares her top tips on how to make it to the top of your work game.

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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
“Bottom line, any transaction is just an interaction between two human beings,” explains Slavin on how she fearlessly approaches potential clients. This is the same mentality you need when you knock on your boss’ door to ask for a raise, she notes. “What you need to think about is how you’ll help them in the long run.” If you focus on the reasons why giving you a raise or title change is in your employer’s best interests rather than focusing on why it’s good for you, the conversation will run much more smoothly.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
"Sometimes a no is really a 'Yes, but in a few months,' or it’s just an 'I don’t really know,'" Slavin explains. If you do get a no, it can be good to ask for more information to figure out where you stand. Does your boss think you need to do more work in a certain area? Is there simply no wiggle room in the budget for a raise over the next six months? The more info you have, the more you can strategize on your next move.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
You know what you want — a certain percentage pay increase, a new title, an office with a door, or something else — but how will your work life change when you get it? “Something I’ve observed is, so often, especially with promotions, people are so focused on the end result that they forget that a raise or title change is a process,” explains Slavin, who adds that this mentality doesn’t give you any room to negotiate. Suppose your boss says no to your request; it’s a great time to ask if the company can send you to a leadership course or pay for an outside class that will help sharpen your skills. Having these alternatives in your back pocket demonstrates your commitment and interest, and shows your boss you are genuinely invested in helping the company — not just yourself.
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Yes, you’ve heard this advice before. And yes, it does bear repeating. That’s not to say there’s no place for sadness or hurt — it’s just that you need to acknowledge it, feel it, and move on quickly. “When my team and I have spent a ton of time on a pitch and we’re turned down, of course it’s a blow,” Slavin says. “But then what we do is think about what we’ve learned, what we can do in the future, and a way to be even better the next time.”

On that note, not getting a job does not mean the interviewer hates you. “Even when a pitch is rejected, we still see the time spent as a way to get to know a potential client,” Slavin notes. In other words, even if you do get turned down for your dream job, keeping in touch with an interviewer (and saying positive things about them if they happen to come up in conversation) can only help you in the long run.
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Prior to launching CatalystCreativ, Slavin worked in the hospitality industry. “I knew it wasn’t the right fit, but I also needed a paycheck. But to find the right fit, I started dabbling on the side in things I thought were interesting, like volunteering to help put together a nonprofit music festival,” Slavin says. She didn’t get a paycheck for the festival, but she did get hands-on experience in event management — which she could then put on her résumé and parlay into paying gigs that eventually led her to launch her own company. You don’t have to wait for your boss to add “manager” to your job description to develop those skills on your own. Volunteering or taking on a part-time gig can give you much of the experience you need.
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Slavin found Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski’s career advice book, Knowing Your Value, to be an invaluable resource. “Business skills are just that — skills — and they’re not something people are born with,” Slavin explains. “Reading career advice books, going to leadership seminars, even hiring a life coach are all steps that can help you understand how business works and make you feel more confident.”
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One thing Slavin has noticed throughout her career? How obsessed people are with who people are — and she thinks that can be counterproductive. “I see it all the time at events. If someone starts talking to someone else that they don’t think is important, they’ll rush off immediately, which is a huge mistake,” Slavin says. For one: Even if they’re not “important,” they may have influence with people who are. But on a much less calculating level, not treating others with respect is never a good idea — and it can come back to bite you later. “You have no idea where people are going, and people do remember when they’ve been treated rudely,” Slavin says. You never know: Your intern now could be interviewing you for a job a few years down the line — so make sure you don’t give her any ammo against you.
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Whether it’s wanting an intro or wanting a raise, sometimes it’s just not the right time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cultivate a genuine relationship with the people who may help your career down the line, Slavin says. “When I met Tony Hsieh for the first time, I wasn’t thinking of asking him for financial backing or mentoring, I just wanted to get to know him. I asked a ton of questions, was respectful and polite, and I think those actions go a long way,” she says. Yes, some people in your career circle have the power to change your life — but at the end of the day, they’re still people, and they appreciate being treated that way.
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