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“Show Me the Money!”

The Finer Points of Salary Negotiations

salary 2This is the moment you’ve been waiting for — the job offer! After months of research, studying the job market, hours of introspection and days and weeks of networking, you finally have what looks like the job of your dreams. Wait a minute — wasn’t it Yogi Berra who said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”? Until you’ve negotiated salary and agreed upon a number, the game isn’t over yet.

For some people, this is where the fun begins, and for others, this is the part of a job search that they dread. Either way, it’s part of the process, so here are some tips on the finer points of salary negotiations. Put on your poker face (a real plus when you’re playing the negotiation game) and consider the following:

  • Do your homework. There are plenty of resources that will give you the inside scoop on how much a job should pay. The Internet is a wonderful resource (www.salary.com is just one of the sites you can visit to learn about what jobs pay). You can find all kinds of information about what a job is worth based on your chosen occupation, your years of experience, your industry and the region in which you live, all variables in the formula for salary. Also, your professional association is a good resource to consult to get some idea of what jobs pay. Often a national association will do a salary survey and make it available to its members. Just another benefit of belonging to an association!
  • Pick a number, any number. Once you get an idea from your research of what the range is, have a number in mind before you go “to the table” for your final interview in which salary will be discussed. This number should be within the range but high enough that you have to swallow hard and take a deep breath before you say it! You want to have some room to negotiate, so start at the top of the range. Aim high because once you’re locked into an annual salary, you have limited negotiating power to change it unless you get promoted. Even then, people who are promoted “from within” are often limited to a certain range of salary adjustment that nets out to a lower than a figure someone from “the outside” might be offered. So push the envelope and ask for the moon — you may just get a star.
  • What’s “need” got to do with it? What you need and what you deserve are two different things. Never bring up “need” in a salary negotiation. Salary is based on many things, none of which are personal or have anything to do with you or your situation at home, your financial state of affairs, your need for automobile repairs or the bill for the baby-sitter. Of course, all these things figure in for YOU, but they are not pertinent to an employer. Your paycheck is based on your skills, your experience and the level of knowledge, education and performance required for the job itself. When you mention need during a salary negotiation, you put yourself at an immediate disadvantage. It’s not what you need; it’s what you’re worth.
  • The one who mentions money first, loses. This age-old adage was taught to me by a former boss, a man who was an attorney by training, a former labor-negotiator- turned-vice-president-of-human-resources. I’ll never forget his sage advice, which had held me up through many a negotiation — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — since. The point is that if you as a potential employee throw out the first number and you’re too low, you’ve done yourself a real disservice. Once hired, your raises are incremental based on that starting salary, so if you start too low, you’ll never recover. Play it cool and see if you can get a number, or at least a range, out of your interviewer. This may take nerves of steel, but it’s worth the effort. Your mission is to get a number out of them first, then negotiate UP.
  • Remember to count the “bennies.” Benefits are a huge part of any salary negotiation, but they often get overlooked during the heat of battle. A total salary package should include pay as well as medical and dental benefits, profit-sharing, 401K or its non-profit equivalent, a 403(b), a pension plan, tuition reimbursement and a host of other benefits that you should consider in order to fairly consider the job opportunity. The role of the human resource person is to wow you with the entire package, not just the annual compensation. Health insurance is very costly, so make sure you understand the value of their policy, as well as the particular health plan or plans the employer offers, before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Get it in writing. Most companies send an official offer letter once the salary has been agreed upon. This is usually a standard letter and it’s great to have so there are no miscommunications about what you discussed. If they don’t offer, you can ask for a letter confirming your agreement.
  • Celebrate your victory! Once you’ve agreed on a number, shaken hands and settled the deal, celebrate! You got your job and hopefully, you got a salary you are happy about (if not, don’t take the job). Now, do something to celebrate and acknowledge your job offer for the milestone this is. Throw a party, go out to eat, buy a new outfit or something that will remind you of this victory… a “talisman,” so to speak, that will remind you that you did it. Bask in the glory and pat yourself on the back.
  • Don’t look back. To quote yet another baseball great, Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.” Once you’ve accepted a job at the salary offered, don’t second-guess yourself. If you did your due diligence &mdash: researched the market, consulted with people in your industry and did your very best to gain as much intelligence as you could about the salary range — then you have reason to celebrate your victory (see preceding bullet). If you asked for, and received, the salary you think you’re worth, resist thinking “Hey, if they gave me what I asked for, I should have asked for more!” This is not a zero sum game — both parties, employer and employee, should walk away feeling like winners.

Salary negotiating is a lot like interviewing — practice makes perfect. Use these points of negotiation to practice with a trusted friend or a job coach and you’ll find that when the moment comes to discuss salary with a prospective employer, the process can be fun.


About Vicki Austin

Career coach Vickie Austin launched CHOICES, a career coaching and business development practice, in 1997. Austin works with people to develop strategic plans that help clients with career transitions. A writer and lecturer, Austin has published articles on career development in newspapers, magazines and on the career Web sites of the Wall Street Journal.


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