Salary negotiation. It sends shudders down the spine of every jobseeker. Rare is the person who looks forward to wrangling over pay. Much more common: avoiding the topic altogether and simply accepting what’s offered.
For instance, only 38% of recent US college graduates negotiated their job offers, a 2015 survey by personal finance website NerdWallet showed. This is a mistake, since seven in 10 employers say they leave room for negotiating when extending initial offers to candidates, according to CareerBuilder UK. And, one in 10 said they think less of a candidate who doesn’t try to negotiate, CareerBuilder said.
So, how can you make the process easier, less painful, and more productive — particularly if you're not a great negotiator? What's the best way to make sure you are paid fairly at a new employer at just the instant you're trying to make a good first impression?
Let’s say it again: do your homework
Before your interview, research salary ranges for the position by checking websites like Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com, and WageIndicator.org. Global recruiting firm Hays publishes about 20 extensive salary guides as well. And, tap your network.
“Ask around if you can find other people who work or have worked at that company,” said New York City-based consultant and writer Alison Taffel Rabinowitz who teaches a negotiating course to women at adult education school General Assembly. “If they left, they will be more willing to answer your hard questions about what the range really is.” And, this is where networking can really come in handy, said Taffel. Former employees of your target company can give you a realistic perspective on the type of work, hours and compensation that you can reasonably expect if you accept the job.
Recruiters are another source for salary information as they are a direct link to companies and are privy to a lot of salary information, some of which they can share with candidates. "Typically employers ask for salary benchmark information independent of submitting a job requisition,” said Frank Gentile, a director at Boston-based recruiting firm Professional Staffing Group (PSG), in an email. “We have some clients who will call us once a year — either at the end of their year or perhaps at the beginning of their fiscal year — to discuss the range of current market pricing for their positions." And, many of the major staffing and recruiting firms publish annual salary reports that break down by position, geography and year-over-year data, according to Gentile.
If you don’t have access to a recruiter, there are other ways, too. “You could research salary information by asking a group of people in the industry or in the role, such as members of a professional association or society or a LinkedIn networking group, for input,” he said. Just take care with how you approach it since employees from the potential company could be in one of the groups; therefore, individual queries may be better than mass messages.
Inside and out
It’s not enough to just know about salary ranges for the field. You’ll also want to know as much as you can about the specific company for which you are interviewing. For instance, will you be expected to work a lot of overtime, weekends or holidays? If so, is this compensated financially or in another way, such as time off in lieu? And, what about bonuses? Can you expect signing, performance-based, or annual bonuses to round out your base salary?
You should be clear about your own drivers.
“If you want to create the best conditions for a good salary negotiation with an employer, you should first show that you understand the company’s perspective on compensation,” said Philippe Gaud, affiliate professor of management and Human Resources at HEC Paris Executive Education, in an email. Companies usually have three drivers when dealing with salary, according to Gaud. They are: candidate competitiveness (attraction and retention), equity (distinctions between candidates), and cost (both financial and otherwise). “You should also be clear about your own drivers: purchasing power, recognition and fairness,” he said.
With all of this in mind, ask pointed company policy questions. For example: “Where do you position the salary of the job you are discussing on the job market?” and “What do you offer aside from the base salary?” suggested Gaud. “This approach will allow you to avoid the discussion to turn too quickly to a mean negotiation on money only.”
Be smart — no, even smarter
The more you know, the better. “By preparing the ground for a balanced, adult conversation, you will make yourself stronger in your capacity to influence the discussion in your favour,” said Gaud. That means explaining what drives you. “Share your expectations before they make you an offer, but do not just focus on the salary alone. Your expectations should include a salary range that shows where you see your value today, a variable part that shows your ambition to deliver, and a set of other benefits that shows your long-term engagement.”
Be smart, not pushy.
“The company is able to make an exception if it believes you are worth it,” he said. “The quality of your negotiation will tell more about your value than the determination to get more money. Be smart, not pushy.”
Be prepared to talk value
It’s important to “monetise your skills”, said PSG’s Gentile. In other words, when it’s appropriate, frame your work in terms that show real monetary value.
“We often counsel candidates to think about their accomplishments in terms of the problem that they helped solve and the impact of their solution,” said Gentile. “For instance, an administrative assistant who created a new filing system can talk about the initial problem and how their actions created a solution that impacted the business.”
Frame your work in terms that show real monetary value.
Include the details, said Gentile, such as how information wasn’t easily accessible before but with this new system you created, answers to customers’ questions can be given instantly. Or, if you're in sales, talk about how you led the sales team to a 30% increase.
Forget first-mover advantage
Don't be the first person to throw out a number — unless you’re prepared to lose a negotiation. Instead, wait until the potential employer presents you with a number, according to New York-based Kelly Mattice, vice president at The Execu|Search Group. “If you open the negotiation with a suggestion of $50,000, but [the] employer was willing to pay you $60,000, you may have to settle for less,” she said in an email.
Have a workaround
But what if the interviewer asks you your currently salary? Hold tight, according to Taffel. Rehearse the answer to this repeatedly — it’s a commonly asked question. Taffel teaches the following language as part of a negotiation script: “According to my research, for a top candidate with my experience, the salary is in the $X to $X range. I believe I should be at the top of that range because of my experience and proven track record.”
“A lot depends on how much you want the job – and what your motivators are,” said Lynn Sedgwick, managing director of Clayton Recruitment, a UK-based recruitment firm. “If it’s purely about more money, then go for the highest you feel you honestly deserve, but make sure that you have the lowest figure you are willing to accept in your mind before you start.”
If your move to a new firm is motivated by something else, like a better work-life balance or career development, then your approach might be different. “Decide how much of a compromise you are willing to make and find out when the next pay review would be and how you will be evaluated,” Sedgwick said.
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