Preparing for salary negotiations
Want to get paid what you're worth -- and maybe a
little extra? Prepare yourself for salary negotiations before you
even get the job offer. Your fiscal future and happiness are riding
When you get a job offer, you are in the catbird seat.
It's your chance to be the sleazy car salesman. All right, skip
the sleazy part since you'll have to work with the folks after the
negotiation. Just remember you have the red convertible they want,
in the form of skills, experience and talent.
Let's assume your future employers are nice, fair
folks, offering a reasonable salary for the job. That doesn't mean
they're always going to offer you the best salary for the
job. It's up to you to make sure you sell your product at the price
Yes, negotiating is scary. However, keep in mind that
current low unemployment rates and a strong economy favor job seekers.
The power lies on your side of the table. Going for a well-negotiated
salary now will pay off for years to come -- not just in self-esteem
and respect but in increased earning potential in the future. Your
starting salary establishes the baseline.
"The higher the base, the higher the bonus or raise,"
says Jack O'Brien, the Fairfax, Va., author of Next
Step: The Real World.
Determine the numbers
At salary negotiations, if you seem to just pull numbers
out of a hat -- "Gee, a hundred thou' would be nice" -- you'll look
like a turkey.
"You're never going to get anything unreasonable,"
says Lee Miller, New York author of Get
More Money on Your Next Job. "They're going to have second
thoughts about hiring you."
Before the interview, research the job's salary range
within the industry, and have an understanding of your value and
your money needs.
"You start getting prepared before even going for
the job," O'Brien says. "Anytime you are prepared, you are armed.
If you're informed and have salary information, it's hard to argue
O'Brien suggests researching salary figures on the
Web. He recommends three sites: Jobstar.org,
Additionally, "All industries have professional organizations. Go
to that organization's Web site. They may have salary information."
Nowadays, younger employees are pretty open about
discussing salaries, O'Brien says. You might actually get direct
information from people at the target company or from those with
similar jobs. This is where past networking can pay off.
Another tip is to ask for a copy of the job description
from the potential employer. Sometimes this will list a salary range.
At the very least, this will list needed skills and intended responsibilities,
and you can use that information when you are comparing this position
to other jobs and salary ranges.
Assess your worth
Now that you know what the position is worth,
find out if you are worth it. Are you justified in asking
for pay at the higher end of a salary range?
"If you have marketable skills and people skills,
a combination of skills in demand, you're going to have a better
chance to negotiate the salary you want," O'Brien says.
You'll probably need to back up your request with
evidence of your experience, skills and future value for the company.
O'Brien says, "Have some logic to base your request on."
You may not be able to "go for the gusto" when you
are changing careers. Though your transferable skills are magnificent,
you might not have the required experience. To get your foot in
a new career door, you can negotiate above their first offer, but
it could be difficult to be firm about getting the top dollar. It's
one of those things you have to play by ear.
Finally, define the lowest salary you'll accept. Be
firm in your demand. If it's not unreasonable, it should be met.
If you accept less than you know you're worth, you'll start the
job with feelings of resentment.
After all this research, you're ready to talk turkey,
right? Not so fast. The timing is as vital as the preparations.
That's correct; when that phone rings with an offer for your dream
job, your wisest answer is "Hmmmm."
Hold on a sec'
He who hesitates is not lost when it comes
to salary negotiations. Try not to discuss salary before the job
is offered. The name of the game here is to delay tactfully.
"The best analogy: The salesman tries to get you in
the car and drive the car. You're sitting in a red convertible,
thinking 'Maybe a few more bucks each month isn't so bad,'" Miller
says. "Like dating, you want the person to fall in love with you
first. Get them to offer you the job."
Your bargaining power doesn't come until this employer
is in love with you and offering their hand in ... employment. That's
when you go for the goods. Stave off money discussions until you're
- If the employer mentions a figure or a range
early in the interview process, don't agree to anything. You could
say the mentioned salary falls into the range you are willing
to consider, then return to discussing the job.
- An up-front way to avoid talking money too
early, Miller says, is to say "It's too early to talk about money.
If I'm right for the job and it's the right job for me, then we
can talk salary."
- Try not to be the one who mentions a number
first. If you are asked to name a salary, say, "What range do
you think would be appropriate for this position?" If they push
it, you can always fall back on a well-researched number.
- OK, they've offered you the job. They want
you. And you want them -- but don't say yes immediately.
Always ask for time to think it over. Even if it's a really good
salary, don't jump on anything.
- Even if you agree to the job, don't say yes
to that first salary offer. You've done your research, you know
what the job is worth and you know what you are worth. Even if
the offer falls at the top end of an appropriate range, this is
your chance to get a couple extra nickels out of them.
Strategy is key
Honesty remains the best policy, even in negotiations.
"The good thing about telling the truth is you don't
have to remember what you said," O'Brien says. This doesn't mean,
however, that you have to reveal everything. Be honest to your advantage.
Their uncertainty is a good thing.
Also keep in mind that more than likely you are negotiating
with your future boss. Don't treat him or her like you would your
stereotypical sleazy car salesman. You have to work with this person
later. Establish a tone of respect and tact now.
More to life than money
A nice, cushy, enviable salary is always nice, but
there can be limits to what the new employer can offer. Be fair
and objective. Understand that there are budget limits and potential
colleague envy. With that in mind, offer other solutions that allow
them to give you a share of the wealth, since you're worth it:
- Salary review -- If the starting salary isn't
quite up to snuff, try negotiating on your salary review. Some
of the issues you can address now are how soon, how often and
how big a percentage you may get.
- Bonuses -- If you're in an industry that
regularly gives bonuses based on salary, see if you can get a
larger percentage if you aren't getting a larger base. Or, if
your industry doesn't normally give bonuses, see if you can work
out a performance goal that would be fiscally rewarded down the
Long-term benefits -- Popular
methods for long-term reward include profit sharing and stock options.
You could make a tidy little profit if the company does really well,
and part of your new job could be to make sure it does.
For most people, money isn't everything. When discussing
fair compensation for your excellent skills, be sure to bring up
benefits. Generally, benefits cost the company 30 percent to 40
percent of your salary. When it comes to benefits, companies are
very flexible, O'Brien says. Many have a cafeteria plan, which gives
you the opportunity to choose benefits.
- Income boosters/savers -- Another way to
make more money is to spend less. If you can get the company to
pay for things that are priorities for you, then you'll come out
ahead. Consider education reimbursements, premium insurance, child
care assistance or relocation assistance. Some of these may already
be benefits at the company, but you can ask for more of them or
- Perks -- Miller recommends talking about
extras such as a company car or a laptop computer; ways to do
your job better.
- Schedule -- If flexibility is a priority
to you, find out whether you can telecommute from home a couple
of days a week, or whether you can set your own hours. This may
not fatten your wallet, but it gives you more control over your
- Vacation -- Another quality-of-life benefit
is time off. This one can be tricky to negotiate because, if you're
not careful, you could end up looking less committed to the job
if you're focused on how much time you'll be spending away
from the office. Miller suggests keeping negotiations about vacation
time to the end of the process. "If they've got the flexibility,
they'll give it. As long as it's reasonable."