Here is the question:
"Many people in industry, including the people with whom I did the contract work, and some family members, have told me that I should "always ask for more money". What is your perspective on this? And if you agree, do you have advice about how to do this? Does asking for more money impact your working relationship with the manager? And does one have to have a competing offer in order for asking for a higher salary?
I got my PhD in December and I just accepted a position as an industry postdoc. I didn't end up asking for more money, but immediately after pushing accept I felt like a bit of a sucker and thinking that maybe I should have. "
As I said, I struggle with this. It is very, very tangled up in gender- women in general don't ask for more money or ask for less than the men do. We are conditioned to try to make people happy, etc., etc. But- as I discuss (OK, rant about) in this old post- this is not an area in which women can just "be more like men" and expect to get the same results. We are penalized when we are seen as too aggressive.
But it is also true that the fact that we don't negotiate as much on our starting salaries contributes to the pay gap. Raises are almost uniformly given as a percentage of your pay, so if you start at a lower number than a male peer, you'll still end up making less money even if you get the exact same merit increases. Also, it is true that everyone expects people to negotiate when they are being hired, so it is your best opportunity to try to directly maximize your pay.
What to do? Well, I haven't really figured that one out. One piece of advice I picked up in Lean In was to frame the negotiation as a problem you need to work together to solve, thereby neatly sidestepping the perception of being aggressive. That strikes me as a good strategy, but I have not yet had the opportunity to try it out.
Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, by Lois Frankel, also has some good tips on handling negotiations- along with a lot of other good tips and things to think about for ambitious women, so it is definitely worth a read.
But... you've already accepted the position, without negotiating. Stop feeling bad about that. There are lots of reasons you didn't negotiate, some good, some probably not so good. But it is done. You can read resources and do some role playing practice with a friend to get ready for next time, but for now, just let it go and concentrate on getting the most out of your postdoc. An industry postdoc is a great way to break into industry, but only if at the end of it, your more established colleagues will say things like "she really understands how industry works" and "she made useful contributions to projects." I know someone who contacted a friend or an informal reference on a postdoc who had worked with him, and heard "he's smart enough, but he treated this postdoc like an extension of his academic career." That candidate did not get the job. I'm not 100% sure what constituted treating the industry postdoc as an extension of the academic career, but I suspect it was focusing too much on getting publications and not enough on helping to advance the company's goals.
On the flip side, I know someone else who was hired on the strength of the fact that the colleagues she worked with during her industry postdoc thought she brought unique skills to their projects and really helped to advance them.
So, I say stop worrying about your salary in this postdoc. No one gets these tough gender minefields right every time, and you actually picked a pretty good one to flub. Everyone knows that postdocs are paid less than equivalent regular positions, so you essentially get to "reset" your salary when you land your first non-postdoc position. Switch your focus now to learning as much as you can about how your chosen industry works and finding ways to help contribute to projects, so that people will see you as someone who "gets it." Also read Frankel's book and try to stamp out a bad habit or two. As Frankel says in her book, you don't have to be perfect at overcoming the detrimental conditioning we get as girls to benefit. Every little bit helps. The book is a quick read, and is divided into short sections, so you can squeeze it in when you have the time. Some of the advice isn't all that relevant for my particular industry, but most of it is fairly universal.
OK, readers- what other advice do you have for our correspondent? Any stellar negotiators out there want to give us all some advice? Anyone do an industrial postdoc and have words of wisdom on how to get the most out of it?
On rereading my post I realized I failed to directly answer the questions. Sorry- it has been that sort of week and I am apparently having some sort of bad karma with this post. Earlier I posted an incomplete version without realizing it. Here are the direct answers that are hiding in the rest of the post:
1. Yes, you should generally negotiate a job offer. It doesn't have to be on salary- if you're thrilled with the salary but want more time off, you can try to negotiate that, although a lot of companies have policies they won't change in that area.
2. Yes, it can impact how your manager views you, and research shows that this is more problematic for women (see the linked post in the post). That is why it is such a tricky area. And here's the really sucky thing- it can impact how your manager views you if you DON'T negotiate, too. This is a true minefield.
3. You don't have to have a competing offer, although that gives you a stronger negotiating position. You just have to have a reason you're asking for more money (or whatever) and a knowledge of what you'll accept and what you'll walk away from. Also- be careful playing two companies off of each other. It really, really pisses people off to think they are just being used to get more money from your current company. That creates bad will, and can come back to bite you, particularly if you are working in an industry with a small world vibe- like drug discovery.
And in case it isn't clear from my main answer, I have personally flubbed this many times, so much so that I have a pattern of getting hired in and then getting a big raise in my first review. My current job is the first time this hasn't happened- this may be because if I compare my salary to what my HR contacts tell me is average for my sort of position, I'm a little above. So don't sweat it. You can recover from this one.
Readers- rescue me and give some good advice!