Interview with former Director of Recruiting at Google X on Salary Negotiations

Amy Vernetti was a Director of Recruiting at Google X, Chief People Officer at Zoox, and is currently building a stealth mode startup. We spoke with Amy about her opinions on the differences between how she has seen men and women negotiate in her 25+ year career in recruiting and HR.

How have you seen women negotiate offers differently than men?

The way in which women have difficulty negotiating was driven home for me when I saw my son enter the workforce. He’s 23, got an offer at a startup, and he instantly asked for more money. I was literally like “WTF” he has zero qualifications and I was just amazed. I was glad that my son knows to ask, but appalled that so many more senior and junior women don’t think to ask. I advise women all the time for fun and probably at this point have helped senior women leaders negotiate hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

What is the problem you see women make when negotiating?

Let’s just start with asking for what you want. Although maybe we should back up and a lot of women haven’t even thought through what they do want. We’re in this world where companies are no longer able to ask you what your current comp is, they need to ask you what your comp expectations are, and that’s an opportunity for women, that’s why the law was created, so when a recruiter asks you what your expectations are you really need to think that through because I think our expectations as women are often too low.

You literally need to get them to understand that until they hear no, they haven’t asked for enough. Your goal is to have the company say “No that is too high.” You need to keep asking until that happens and then it will normalize.

What would make this worthwhile to you to join this company, what is important to you, women don’t spend enough time thinking about that. Then the next step is you have to ask, but before you ask you have to know what is important to you and you have to think that through.

This also has to do with setting financial goals. Are you optimizing for cash? Are you optimizing for equity? Do you want a highly incentivized plan with lower base? Or vice versa?

How do you recommend candidates determine their market value?

This is something that is legitimate for men and women. It’s not always obvious where the room is in negotiating. As long as you are respectful, the principle should be it never hurts to ask. If you start out in a general vicinity and then you ask for more and listen to their feedback you are going to learn what the number is but you will never learn that until you ask for more. So let's say you were offered $110K and you think you are worth $120K, then you should ask for $130K.

What women need to realize is as long as they are being respectful and reasonable in the process the company expects you to negotiate and is shocked if you don’t.

How many verbal offers have you rescinded during negotiations in your career?

I have been doing this 25 years, I have never seen a company rescind an offer due to negotiations.

Are there specific tactics or ways of phrasing “the ask” you recommend to women when negotiating?

Yes the uncomfortable silence. When you are negotiating the most uncomfortable part is when you say the number that you want and then just stop talking. I always tell women, get comfortable with the uncomfortable silence. Practice, practice, practice, and then when you ask just be quiet.

Do you have an example of when a candidate negotiated really well against you? What did he/she do?

Yeah I have a very recent example. A candidate had a relocation issue, they had a house that was going to be difficult to get out of financially. So the candidate laid out the scenarios of his life, how he could make it work and came to the conclusion that he needed to work from home or commute because we were not giving him enough money for make it palatable to make his family to relocate. The way he laid out the 3 options was so thoughtful and transparent that it was clear to us that he really does want to join. We just have to help him out more on the relocation bonus so we gave him an additional $100K in a sign on to move.

I guess what he did well was that he got on the same side of the table as the company that was trying to hire him. Offer negotiations don’t need to be an adversarial situation. It needs to be what set of numbers is going to work to get this human and this company to be together.

Assume that this company actually wants you. One thing that is not done that might be helpful in this situation is as you are going through the recruitment process, try to get a sense for the company’s process. How many candidates did they talk to? How many candidates did they then interview? How many interviews does everyone go through? How many finalists were there? Most companies go through a pretty thorough process to arrive at a candidate and knowing that will make the candidate understand that they want me and not just a body.

When a candidate can’t increase their offer from asking, they wonder if they could have said something differently to increase their offer, or if it really is the top of what the company can pay. What do you recommend a candidate do then?

I think the words you use to ask, as long as you are polite and respectful, don’t matter all that much. The tone is more important. Are you a professional who comes across as credible? That’s why I think just practicing is so important. Do whatever it takes to get yourself in a position where you are asking comfortably. You want to come across as calm, thoughtful, and specific.

Thank you Amy!

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