Chances are you’ve not had to negotiate a starting salary for a long time—potentially never if you’ve been rapidly promoted and repeatedly recruited throughout your career. Starting from ground-zero in the salary negotiation process can be daunting for even the most business-savvy executive. This guide will familiarize you with the complexities of the salary negotiation process in today’s labor market.
Money is usually the most sensitive issue in the hiring process. Discussing compensation often causes anxiety for both employee and employer.
Money may seem like the biggest factor in accepting a job, but it can often cloud your decision-making process. Don’t accept a job that you’re not enthusiastic about simply because the starting salary is a few thousand dollars higher than what you’re currently making. It’s probably more important to find a job that lets you do something you enjoy. Ask yourself whether the position presents a career path with upward movement and long-range income potential.
Confidence is important in negotiations. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Negotiate from a position of strength.” Strength comes from confidence. Confidence comes from being prepared (doing your homework), reaching the right decision-maker, having the right timing, and knowing what you want out of the negotiation. One of the best things you can do to boost your confidence is to practice (role play) your salary negotiation with someone. Ideally, practice with someone who has negotiation experience — for example, a friend or neighbor who is in sales, or who is a lawyer.
Even in a “bad” economy, it is worthwhile to negotiate your salary. In fact, in a 2012 survey conducted by Robert Half International, a global staffing firm, more than one-third of executives interviewed said they are more willing to negotiate salary with top candidates than they were a year ago. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, four out of five employers (80 percent!) said they are willing to negotiate compensation.
If you’re getting a job offer — and salary discussions usually don’t happen unless you’re a serious candidate — negotiation is an expected part of the process.
What’s the worst that can happen? You may not get all that you’re asking for. You may only get some — but that’s more than you started with. It’s rare (extremely rare!) that a job offer would be rescinded simply because you ask for more money.
Have a positive attitude about salary negotiations. Negotiation is basically a process which should benefit both parties. Understand your needs and those of the company. It is possible to reach a win/win solution. Don’t be aggressive or demanding when negotiating salary or a raise. Keep your tone friendly, civil, and respectful. Always.
Negotiating a higher starting offer initially can make a big difference in your pay over the long-term. In addition to getting more cash up front, your annual raises will also be based off a higher starting salary.
Let’s say you accept an offer of $200,000 for a job and are given annual pay increases of 3 percent. After five years, you’ll be making $225,101. On the other hand, if you negotiate a starting pay of $210,000 (a 5 percent increase), after five years, your pay will be $236,356. The individual who started at $200,000 made $1,061,826 during those five years; the person who negotiated a starting salary of $210,000 made $1,114,917 — a difference of $53,091.
Salary Research & Due Diligence
When you’re buying any major item (house, car, cottage or boat), it’s important to do your homework and find out the value of the item. It’s also important to do your homework when negotiating a salary or a raise.
Research the salary — for your position, level of experience, and industry. In addition to online salary sites, you can get information from your professional or trade association.
Research the prospective employer and its salary structure. If possible, talk to current or former employees. Alumni of your college or university who hold similar positions or who are employed by the same company may provide you with useful information. (LinkedIn can be a good source of contacts for this.)
One of the easiest ways to find out salary information is online. There are websites that offer solid salary information, including:
The Riley Guide Salary Guides & Guidance
Bureau of Labor and Statistics (Wage Data by Area and Occupation)
Occupational Outlook Handbook (Earnings)
U.S. Office of Personnel Management Salaries & Wages
JobSmart Salary Surveys
CareerOneStop Salary and Benefits Information
National Association of College and Employers
(Annual summary of employment outlook and starting salaries for new graduates)
Robert Half International Salary Guides (accounting, finance, financial services, technology, legal, creative positions, administrative jobs)
You can also do a Google search for “average salary for (job title).” This can sometimes lead you to more specific salary data for a profession.
When using sites like Payscale.com and Salary.com, compare job responsibilities, not job titles. A job title can mean different things at different companies.
Prepare Supporting Documentation
Whether negotiating an initial salary or asking for a raise, provide written materials to back up your salary request. This can include salary data from websites, previous performance evaluations, letters of recommendation, and job postings for similar positions. If you haven’t been keeping a “brag file,” now is the time to start. Keep a journal of your work accomplishments, letters of commendation from your boss, testimonial letters from customers, and awards. Identify what makes you different and/or “irreplaceable” from other candidates or employees.
When asking for a raise, prepare a 1- to 5-page document outlining what you’ve accomplished (including testimonials, either from other employees or excerpted from performance reports or project status updates) and your salary research. When you negotiate with a busy person, make it easy for them. If you come in with a fully fleshed-out document supporting your raise, you make it easy for them to say yes.
If you are relocating, part of your research should include cost-of-living adjustments. You can use the CNN Money Calculator (http://cgi.money.cnn.com/tools/costofliving/costofliving.html) to assess differences between cities.
It can also help to understand what a prospective employer considers when offering a salary. The employer may evaluate:
- the level of the job within the organization
- the scarcity of the skills and experience needed for the job in the job market
- the career progress and experience of the individual selected
- the fair market value for the job you are filling
- the salary range for the job within your organization
- the salary range for the job within your geographic area
- the existing economic conditions within your job market
- the existing economic conditions within your industry, and
- company-specific factors that might affect the given salary, such as comparative jobs, company culture, pay philosophy, and promotion practices.
Timing is critical in salary negotiations. In negotiating an initial salary for a job, you (the job seeker) do not want to be the one to bring it up in an interview. Let the hiring manager be the first to discuss salary. Don’t bring up money until the interviewer brings up money, if you can help it. Remember, they want you to accept the job. The company has put a lot of time and effort into finding the right candidate — you!
If you name a number first, you could be offering a figure below the range the company is prepared to offer — losing money in the process. You could also take yourself out of contention if what you’re asking for is higher than what the company can offer.
The issue of money will likely come up in the interview when the company is serious about you as a candidate. Don’t negotiate salary or benefits until you’ve been offered the job. You certainly do not want to price yourself out of the running, nor do you want to settle for less than you are worth. Employers often have a salary range available for positions, leaving them room to negotiate.
At some point, you will likely be asked for your salary history — or what you were paid in your current/most recent position so they can make an offer close to your current compensation. Do not be deceptive about your current salary. Employers can verify your compensation when conducting reference checks or they may ask you to provide confirmation of salary from your current job. Dishonesty, especially if discovered after an offer is made, may be cause for the offer to be rescinded.
You may also be asked directly about your desired salary. The company may ask for your salary history so that they can be sure they’re not wasting time on people who they can’t afford to hire.
If you’re pressed about your desired salary and you feel you must name a figure, give a salary range instead of your most recent salary. And don’t forget to add, “…that doesn’t include the value of insurance or other benefits.” The bottom of your salary range should be the minimum you’re willing to accept. The top of the range will be dictated by your salary research and your unique qualifications.
Naming a salary range gives you a chance to find a figure that is also in the range the company has in mind. In fact, many companies base their offers on sliding salary scales.
Here are a few strategies for success when an interviewer asks about your compensation requirements:
“What was the compensation package for the individual previously in this position?” and then base your answer on that information;
“What range did you have in mind?” where your answer is always that the high end of the range is what you were considering; or
“What are you willing to pay an individual in this position with this level of responsibility?” and use that information to answer the question.
Suppose you have given one of the above answers and your interviewer responds with virtually no information. He/she again inquires as to your compensation requirements. You must now respond with specific information such as (1) “My requirements are in the $50,000 to $75,000 range”; or (2) “My compensation in my last position was $65,000 and I am seeking to increase that by a minimum of 10%”; or (3) “I am interested in a compensation package including salary, equity interest, and stock options that will total approximately $80,000.”
The more information you can get from the interviewer, the more educated and appropriate your response can be.
If asked for your salary requirements, first ask for the pay range for the position. Then, you can respond with, “That’s in the range I was expecting. Once I better understand the requirements of the position and the value I can bring to the company, we can discuss the specific compensation.”
Don’t tip your hand. If the interviewer asks you to supply a dollar amount that would satisfy you, don’t give a concrete number for which you’re willing to settle. You don’t want to take yourself out of the running by naming a figure that is absurdly optimistic, and you don’t want to risk naming a figure that is lower than what the company is ready to offer. Instead of naming a price, say something like, “Based on my experience and skills, and the demands of the position, I’d expect to earn an appropriate figure. Can you give me some idea what kind of range you have in mind?”
Timing Your Raise Request
When seeking a raise, there are certain times of the year when it’s best to request a salary review. This may vary by company, but — in general — it’s a good idea to time your request to coincide with when annual budgets are developed and/or just before when annual performance reviews are conducted.
Don’t wait until your review to approach the issue of a raise; often it will have been decided by the time the performance evaluation is conducted. Prepare your raise request 4-6 weeks before the appraisal period.
A good time to approach your boss for a raise is when you’ve had a major accomplishment (such as bringing in new business, or finishing a key project), when you’ve taken on significant additional responsibilities, or when you’ve earned recognition for your work.
Another key issue of timing is knowing where your company is financially. If they just lost a huge customer — or sales weren’t what they expected in the most recent quarter — this may not be the best time to ask for a raise.
A bad time to approach your boss for a raise is when he or she is busy or is getting ready to go on a trip or vacation.
Don’t ask for a raise just because a couple other people you work with got raises. Because “everyone else” got a raise doesn’t mean you will too. And don’t compare your salary with other company employees.
Be sure to schedule a time to talk with your boss about the issue of a raise. Send an email or make a personal request (on the phone or in person) for a meeting to discuss your performance.
If your request for a raise is turned down, realize that the reason may not be directly related to your performance. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right. No now isn’t no forever. If the answer to your request for a raise is no, ask what you can be doing to position yourself for a salary increase in the future. See if you can schedule a time to revisit the topic in the future (say, three or six months), and ask for objectives and/or milestones to reach in the meantime.
Know What You Want
You don’t have to accept the first offer you’re given.
Jack Chapman, author of “Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute” suggests responding with a “hmmm” instead of “okay” when presented with a salary offer. (Okay constitutes acceptance; “hmmm” gives you room to negotiate.)
You can also ask if the company’s offer is flexible. The “worst case scenario” might be that the interviewer tells you your salary is set by company policy and there is no room to negotiate.
You should also consider the full value of the compensation package — not just the salary.
Benefits can make a huge difference in your compensation package, so don’t overlook them! Perhaps the most important benefit to consider is health insurance. If the company pays only a percentage of these costs, make certain that you can afford to pay the difference out of your own pocket.
Non-cash benefits can add 30 to 40 percent to your total compensation package.
Other benefits and negotiable items may include:
- Health insurance; Vacation and sick/personal time
- Retirement plans
- Bonuses and/or incentives (including a signing bonus and profit-sharing plans), long-term and short-term incentive plans
- Tuition reimbursement
- Stock options
- Flexible schedule (telecommuting)
- Other insurance (dental, life, accidental death, disability insurance)
- Company-supplied equipment (laptop, cell phone)
- Company car (or car allowance or other transportation expenses)
- Health club membership
- Association dues
- Relocation expenses
- Discount on company products; Expense account
- Child care expense reimbursement
- Salary reviews (negotiating more frequent reviews and/or raises based on merit or performance vs. cost-of-living)
- Space (i.e., an office with a window)
- Overtime policies
- Severance package
- Career management services
- Employee assistance plans
Know what is most important to you. When asked if they’d like more money or a non-cash option like flexible scheduling or time off work, many employees will choose the extra time. If you’re one of those people, keep that in mind when negotiating.
In your current position, if a raise isn’t available, ask about a bonus instead. Or ask for a non-cash benefit — maybe an extra vacation day, or flexibility in your work schedule (like being able to leave early on Fridays). Or you may want to come in early to the office but leave earlier in the afternoon. Maybe they’ll let you telecommute (work from home) one day a week.
Consider alternative compensation packages. Work is not just about the pay. If you are willing to invest your energy, talent, and expertise in a company, don’t you want something more than a salary?
You may also ask for additional responsibility — for example, a chance to lead projects or a task force. This gives you the opportunity to position yourself for a raise in the future, as higher-level responsibilities merit higher pay.
Remember, the point of your job search is about finding a job that you will be happy with, that you’ll grow with, and that will allow you to be yourself. If your salary isn’t the one you dreamed about, but the job offers opportunity for learning and/or growth, think about the possibility of taking the position with the goal of making yourself invaluable to the organization ... or positioning yourself for your next job search. On the other hand, if what the company offers isn’t what you need, you don’t have to take the job. There are other opportunities out there.
The most important thing to remember about salary negotiations is that most salaries are negotiable. That doesn’t mean you name a figure and the company either matches it or not. It means you’re ready to listen to what the interviewer has to offer and give it consideration. Just remember to have realistic expectations and realize that you may not get everything you want.
Evaluating “The Offer”
Once you have a better idea of the salary and non-cash compensation being offered, you can consider the offer. Here are some things to think about:
- How much do you need to earn? How much do you want to earn? What is the lowest salary you’d be willing to accept? What is your salary goal?
- Besides money, does this job fulfill any of your other needs — such as schedule flexibility, the opportunity to learn new skills, or the chance to do interesting work?
- What kind of opportunities does the position offer for training, further education, and/or professional advancement?
- Do you have other job prospects lined up? How do they compare to this position?
- What makes you worth a higher salary? How do you compare to the other job candidates? Do you have special skills that are hard to come by?
To determine your fair market value for a specific job, you should consider the economic, geographic, and industry factors of the job offer.
It’s okay to ask for time to consider an offer — 24 hours, or the opportunity to “sleep on it” — is common.
How to Handle Salary on Application Forms
You may be asked salary information on an application form — or be faced with a “current salary” or “desired salary” field on an online application. The answer you provide may be used in the screening process — answer too high and you may not be considered for the position at all. This number will also likely come into play at the interview/offer stage — it can establish the range for the offer the company makes.
On a paper application firm — or if the online form allows you to type in whatever you want — you can write “Negotiable.” This gives you the opportunity to discuss your salary history and expectations later.
If it’s not a required field on an online form, leave it blank. If the “desired salary” field requires you to enter a figure, however, you have a couple of options:
- Enter $0, $1, or $10 (the minimum number you can) — it will be clear you’re not answering the questions (most employers will know you aren’t offering to work for free).
- Enter $999,999 (or the highest number you can). Like answering $0, this shows you are purposely avoiding the question.
- If you can, enter a range — some online forms will allow you to enter two numbers.
- You can enter your desired salary — but know that it may lead to you being screened out (if it’s too high), or being offered a lower salary in the interview.
Making the Case for a Raise
You’re not entitled to a raise — but, at the same time, you deserve to be fairly compensated for your work. If you deserve a raise, ask for one.
Find out how raises are typically handled in your company. Are they given out at a specific time each year? Are they merit- or performance-based, or fixed cost-of-living raises?
If you work for a company that doesn’t do annual performance reviews (and raises), ask your supervisor for an opportunity to meet one-on-one to discuss your workload, performance, objectives, and compensation. For each of these topics, you need to take the initiative to prepare the questions and information to guide the discussion. Scheduling regular reviews with your supervisor will help ensure you’re on track with your performance — and give you the opportunity to discuss your performance — and compensation — each year.
When asking for a raise, make a list of your work achievements and quantify the value to the company (in terms of numbers, percentages, and dollar figures). This provides concrete data for why you’re valuable to the company. Be prepared (with examples) of projects you’ve completed that generated revenue, or saved the company money, or solved a specific problem. Focus on what you’ve done to create positive changes in the company, manage unruly employees or customers, build relationships (internally and externally), and avert disaster. You need to justify your raise. Also highlight what you’re working on right now (especially the impact these efforts will have on the company in the near future). Outline your goals for the next year — what are your priorities and what will they contribute to the company?
Consider using a free service like Get Raised (http://www.getraised.com) to help you develop your case for your raise. It will help you articulate your value to the company and creates a letter that you can submit as a raise request.
Don’t say why you need the money. Don’t use personal — or emotional — reasons for requesting a raise. Your boss likely can’t justify a raise because your basement needs work or you need a new car. Just because you need the money is never a good reason to ask for a raise. (At least, it’s not a good reason to give to your manager!) What seems to be a legitimate need in your mind might not be for your boss. Keep the focus on your work performance.
And be sure to “dress for success” in your request-for-a-raise meeting.
Finish the Negotiation
Be aware when the negotiation is done. Pushing further when a deal has been set can give a negative first impression on your part.
When accepting a job offer:
- Clarify the specific duties and responsibilities.
- Know how your performance will be reviewed, evaluated, and compensated.
- Evaluate the full compensation package (not just the salary).
- Accept the offer verbally but request a written offer within 2-3 days.
- Follow-up with a thank you letter that includes the job title, annual salary, and your start date.
Make sure to get the job offer — or the raise you negotiated — in writing, either in the form of a letter of agreement or an employment contract. Read the contract carefully and ensure you are provided enough time to have it reviewed by your legal advisor.
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