How to Negotiate a Better Salary Before You Take the Job

Published on June 2, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
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Before I began my work in the cannabis industry I worked briefly in corporate tax law, where I had a great salary but not a lot of personal fulfillment. This story is familiar to a lot of people—only about half of all Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Many of us labor at jobs that may pay us well, but there’s something lacking if we’re not passionate about the path we’re on. It didn’t take me long to realize that working in marijuana legalization was my calling, so I made a career change to focus on drug policy.

I found a position that was a perfect start in the right direction. The listed salary was a significant pay cut for me, but I figured that was the price of fulfillment. It never occurred to me to negotiate a higher pay rate, until one day somebody accidentally sent an all-staff email containing everyone’s salaries. That was the day I learned a hard lesson about negotiation. Because I hadn’t negotiated, I was being paid significantly less than my equally or less qualified male colleagues.

I decided the most productive use of my feelings of betrayal was to learn everything I could about how people, men in particular, negotiate and promote themselves.

As a woman of color, I sit on a distinct intersection of race and gender, and this comes into play when we look at how the wage gap operates in America. I didn’t realize that I could negotiate my salary. I thought that whatever salary was listed was the final line.

Today, as a recruiter and co-founder of THC Staffing Group, I’ve learned that knowing how and when to negotiate is paramount to getting the salary you want. Here are a few tips that we tell our job candidates:

1) Arrive Armed with Data

The first step to effectively negotiate is to have data. People who are negotiating need to be armed with information about comparable wages and salaries in order to accurately calculate what they can contribute to a company.

There’s very little hard data available about wages and salary in cannabis, though. To remedy this, THC Staffing Group has launched a salary survey for people in the industry. Taking our cannabis employment survey will help us gather this essential data and push forward a more inclusive, equitable cannabis industry. We expect to publish the results of our survey in the coming months.

2) Never Name a Number First

In the cannabis industry, this is important because employers can be as in the dark as you are. We usually recommend to our employer clients that they do whatever research they can and list a salary range in the job description, so that they and their potential hires don’t waste each other’s time. If you are asked to divulge your current salary, you don’t have to answer. In some states, like Massachusetts, it’s illegal to ask that question. Look this up for your own state. If it’s illegal, it’s entirely likely that the employer doesn’t know that.

3) Don’t Negotiate Until You’ve Been Offered the Job

If you’re asked about salary expectations beforehand, you can stall with an answer like, “I’ll consider any reasonable offer.” Once you know they want you, you can begin negotiating your salary.

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4) Practice the Exact Words You Want to Use

If it’s your first time negotiating, it won’t come naturally. Talking confidently about the value you bring, or the salary range you’re expecting, can be hard for many people. Look up scripts, or write one yourself, and practice saying them in the bathroom mirror until they feel natural. Try recording yourself and playing it back to bring your speech up to a strong cadence and rhythm.

5) Understand the Employer’s Constraints

Particularly in the license application or pre-opening phase, people who start cannabis businesses are exhausted and stretched thin. They’re often not being paid themselves. Be confident and know your worth, but also have compassion. If working in the industry is your passion, try to see the commonality between you and your potential employer. Empathy is the key to successful negotiation.

Please take our salary survey and send it to your friends and co-workers. If you want to see a more fair and equitable cannabis industry, and if you could use more information on salaries yourself, help us take the first step to collect the data.

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Shaleen Title
Shaleen Title
Shaleen Title is a drug policy activist and attorney who previously served as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission. She is currently the Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioner in Residence at The Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.
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