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Starting salary is critical to a job seeker’s current and future well-being. Not only does it influence day-to-day life, it serves as the base number for raises down the line. Undoubtedly, it is in a candidate’s best interest to seek the highest amount possible.
But in an economy where everyone’s trying to do more with less, employers want to keep their purse strings as tight as possible. To get the starting salary you desire, preparation and successful salary negotiation are vital.
Testing the Waters
Some hirers like to put the issue of money on the table quickly in the interview process to see if what you are expecting is in line with what they can offer. Committing to a figure before you’ve had the chance to thoroughly learn about the position, however, can be a disadvantage, so try to work around the subject.
“The best way to respond is with a problem statement, or with what I call a ‘reverse,’” says Jim Camp, founder and CEO of The Camp Negotiation Institute and author of Start with Noand NO: The Only System of Negotiation You Need for Work or Home. “For example: ‘Well, Ms. Interviewer, the problem is I don’t know near enough about the opportunity or the challenges I will be required to solve to be able to know if this is even a fit, and I am unsure of what I should ask for in salary.’ Or, as an example of a reverse: ‘That is a very good question. How difficult are the challenges I will face? What do you see as a base?’”
Lavie Margolin of Lion Cub Job Search and author of The Roaring Job Search Anthology, suggests a response such as “It is not just about the salary for me but about the opportunity. Did you have a certain range in mind that you are looking to pay for this position?” If you feel that you must provide a number, he recommends giving a wide range with a variance of $10,000 – $20,000.
Evaluating an Offer and Asking for More
Before even going in for an interview, a candidate should have a good idea of her worth. Knowing what others in the same geographic region are making for comparable jobs at similar companies gives you the ability to evaluate if what this employer if offering is realistic and if you’re shooting too high or too low. Professional organizations and people in the industry you know can be helpful in determining figures, as can internet sites such as Salary.com, CareerBuilder’s salary calculator, and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
When presented with an offer, being armed with knowledge can help you make a solid case if the initial figure isn’t suitable. According to Andrea St. James, career counselor for the College of Arts & Sciences at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., providing a specific number shows the employer that you are serious and have done research. She suggests saying something like “Based on the research I have conducted, I was wondering if there might be a possibility to increase the salary by $(enter in dollar amount)” or “I was wondering if we could sharpen our pencils a bit in regards to the salary. I was thinking $(enter in dollar amount).” Then, she recommends reminding the employer of what you bring to the table in terms of skills, knowledge, and experience and the benefit the company will receive in terms of lower training costs.
After an offer has been made, Camp says that the key to raising the bar is to uncover more challenges and difficulties to be overcome. “For example, any new insight that can be gathered from interviews or discussions with others that reveal more challenges can bring concern that the offer, though appreciated, is not sufficient for you to take on such difficulties. In this case, the task will require a higher base.”
Keeping the mood positive and focusing on a solution is oftentimes more effective than appearing contentious or ungrateful. Margolin suggests a response such as “Thank you for the job offer. I am in agreement, in that I feel that I am a good match for this position and I am very interested in coming aboard. I was looking for a higher salary. Is there room to negotiate?” Then, when told yes, you can present your number or range based on your research.
Dealing with a Recruiter
Creating a vision of how you can be the answer to a company’s problems, goals, and challenges is important when trying to convince a hiring manager that you’re worth more money. But what about when you’re dealing with a recruiter rather than directly with the decision-maker?
St. James compares speaking with a recruiter to the game Telephone. “Your passion, the words you choose, the reasons might get lost when the recruiter goes to talk with the hiring manager. As the recruiter is supposed to be a champion for you, you need to make it clear to the recruiter what you would like him to say — the words and reasons why you deserve the increase in salary.”
Adds Camp, “A recruiter is the person to coach you. Allow him to help you with insights and ideas on how best to create vision for the organization. But also realize that the more vision you create for the recruiter of your value, the more vision the recruiter can relay to the company — creating a good, solid vision of your value to them. I call that putting the recruiter and the company in a negotiation they don’t know they are in.”
Seeing What Happens
Sometimes regardless of your best efforts, the initial salary offer will stand. Then, it will be up to you to evaluate whether you want to accept. Some people, however, will jump to that stage too quickly – opting to take whatever is handed to them either because they are afraid to negotiate or they figure their efforts will be for naught anyway. Women oftentimes fall prey to this reasoning, and their salaries can suffer.
“Unfortunately, we are still seeing gender differences in how men and women are paid, regardless of education and experience similarities,” says Karen Evans, director of experiential learning and career development at Albright College in Reading, PA. She encourages women to negotiate in a positive, professional manner using valid information about worth and what the market bears, remembering that “once a starting salary has been decided, there is no erasing that beginning salary.”
Adds St. James, “Women shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate. This shows confidence, direction, and focus, which are all skills that will be translated to the job. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer, and what good does that do?”