A sane and simple guide to salary negotiation

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Whether you like it or not, at some point in your career, you will have to negotiate your salary.
The best negotiators are able to separate reason from emotion, focus on the goal and get the job done. The more prepared and the more informed you are, the better position you are in to foster a positive outcome.

As a recruiter, in the vast majority of cases I was the one who prepared and presented offers and negotiated salaries with candidates. I often had a say in determining the final salary and my input was valued by my HR teammates, hiring managers and candidates.

My hope is that this article can help you the next time you are negotiating your salary.

When to start discussing salary

In my opinion, salary needs to be addressed from the first conversation between you and the employer. The simple fact is that you have a salary that you are already earning and employers have a budget for the salary that they can offer. If the two parties are nowhere near each other, there is little value in continuing the conversation.

As a candidate, it’s important to remember that you are qualifying the employer as much as they are qualifying you. The employment relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. Before you agree to meet, you need to know that the position is at or slightly above your current level, so that you can grow and maximize the contribution you are making to the company. The salary is one of the indicators that measure position level.

For these reasons, you should know your target salary bracket from the time you decide to look for a new job. This way, you ensure that you are not caught off-guard when the subject is addressed.

How to position your salary bracket

Conventional wisdom says to over-inflate the salary bracket you give to the employer to ensure that you are paid fairly. I am inclined to disagree.

There are several consulting firms that provide companies with surveys and analyses about the market and provide a pay scale for virtually every position. Companies use these guides to evaluate their workforce. In addition, hiring managers know their field well and can ballpark the value of the human resources they need on their team to achieve their objectives.

The responsible approach is to know your market value. If you are a member of a professional organization, they will be able to provide you with the salary range for your profession in your market. If you aren’t, you can find some information online. I will be the first to say that these online resources tend to skew salaries on the high side, but they can serve as a general indicator if you don’t know the market value for your profession.

When stating your salary to a prospective employer, set the low end of your range as lowest salary you are comfortable accepting. This should be at or above your current salary. The top of the range should be approximately five to seven thousand dollars higher. You stand a better chance of getting what you want and, with this bracket, it is easier to close the gap with the middle or the top of your range when you receive an offer.

You can also ask the employer what the budgeted range is but unless you are working with a recruitment agency or a headhunter, you may not get any insight.

Consider the opportunity

Salary is important and there are also other things to consider. Once you know the numbers that you are willing to accept, what other considerations come into play for you? Is there bonus plan? How many weeks’ vacation will you be allotted? Are there any health benefits? Aside from what the company offers, are you gaining any personal benefits? Will you be closer to home? Will this represent growth in your career? Is there daycare offered at the new employer? Is the company growing?

While the number on your pay stub matters, you do have to look at it in context. If you are earning five thousand dollars more but spending more on gas because you have to travel farther, then you’re back at square one. While I would not recommend sharing these kinds of personal details with the potential employer, you need to know this information to anchor your negotiation. On the flip side, if you are gaining significant benefits in other areas, sometimes making a small concession for the greater good is a smart course of action. You need to look at the scenario from all angles in order to make a decision you can live with comfortably.

Always negotiate

Great news! You have an offer! Unless the offer is above the top of your range, negotiate.

Listen to the offer in full. If you are someone who is comfortable speaking right away, then you can open the discussion. Conversely, if you are someone who needs to read through the offer first and call back later, this is also perfectly acceptable. Do what makes you most comfortable and suits your personality.

The way you approach the negotiation is critical to your success. You have to put your emotions aside and negotiate rationally. This is true if you love negotiating or if you hate it.

Successful negotiators show respect, gratitude and a willingness to be reasonable. They state their terms in an assertive and conversational manner. I have paraphrased some examples that I have heard over the years:

“Thank you for selecting me. I am really excited about the prospect of working with you. With regard to the salary, I would really be more comfortable with X. Do you think this is a possibility?”

“This is a really generous offer and the terms look great. The only exception is the salary. I had said my range was X to Y, and I was really hoping for Y. I would say yes right away if you could offer me Y.”

These are a couple of examples of positive and professional requests that can nudge the needle in your favour. If this approach works, then you win and your negotiation was a success. It also leaves the door open so that even if the answer is no, the offer is still on the table. Remember that the offer is a precursor to the start of the employment relationship. In my experience I have unfortunately had to take offers off the table due to overly aggressive negotiations. This is not a situation you want to be in. As I mentioned earlier, an employment relationship has to be mutually beneficial. Short-sighted negotiations can be a deal-breaker.

It is important to note that you will likely have the most control over your salary before the employment relationship begins. This is why you owe it to yourself to negotiate at the time of the offer. Many companies nowadays have strict rules surrounding salary increases above and beyond the annual cost-of-living increase. Even if you transfer within the company, you may not see a significant bump in your pay. Internal transfers typically offer no leeway for negotiation. The only other possibility for a solid increase would be a promotion, and that can sometimes take years.

Salary negotiations are not always the most comfortable situations, but they don’t have to be unpleasant. If you focus on the goal of initiating the conversation in a professional manner, then you improve your chances for a win-win outcome. Remember, these kinds of opportunities don’t come along every day. And as the musical legend Stevie Wonder once said: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”