Job Seeker Saturday: Salary Negotiations

A friend recently asked if I could do a post on salary negotiations… and that is one of the few things that I have nearly no idea about when it comes to job hunting. As a recruiter, I work on sales positions where the salary is not negotiable. And while you would think that, as a former job-hopper, I’d have a lot of experience on the candidate side, let’s look at my jobs throughout the years…

First job out of college: successful negotiation! More on this in a moment.
Second job: contract position through a staffing agency – no negotiation possible.
Third job: I asked, “Is this pay negotiable?” and my scary boss glared at me, crossed his arms, and said “NO.” Right.
Current job: offered exactly what I wanted and I was so grateful for the job and the great salary that I didn’t feel any need to ask for more.

So looking back at my first job, my only successful negotiation, there’s a lot I could have done differently. As a recent graduate, I’d decided I needed to make at least $30,000 a year. I don’t really know where I pulled that number from, other than an older friend of mine had gotten her first job for $31,000 and it seemed reasonable – and like a ton of money at the time. However, when I applied, I wrote that I was willing to accept $14/hour, which I was making at my current job helping a friend of the family with her small business.

Of course, I was then offered $14/hr, leaving me in the awkward situation of trying to negotiate. With nothing whatsoever to back me up, I called and said something along the lines of, “I’m actually looking for closer to $30k, is that possible?” Lo and behold, it was, and I got my $14.75 an hour.

Now, what would I have done differently? I would have, first of all, put down the pay I actually wanted, or at the very least a range. And when I called to ask for more, I would have come armed with reasoning: comparable salaries in comparable jobs and why my skills were worth a bump in pay. In the real world, you can’t ask for more money just because you want it – there needs to be value in it for the employer. I also wish I’d been a LOT less awkward about it (and that I’d done the math right – I won’t get into what I actually asked for hourly, but it was definitely NOT the right calculation for $30k). So, with that said, what are my suggestions?

Research is key. You have to know what other people are making in a similar role with a similar company, so do your research! Networking with people in similar roles helps, as does the internet. While sites like Glassdoor.com may not always be 100% accurate, they’re a good place to start.

Be careful how you discuss salary. Don’t bring it up before the recruiter/interviewer does. You just don’t want to get into that territory before you have to (or make it seem like you are only in it for the money). If an application requires it, try to put a range – or better yet, a note that you will discuss it when appropriate. Whenever I’ve been asked about salary in interviews, I prefer to counter by asking what their range is – sometimes they still want you to answer first, but it’s always worth a shot to try and learn the range before throwing out a number.

Base your request on what you bring to the table. We all want six figures a year, but we don’t all deserve it based on our qualifications. If you’re interviewing for a position that’s kind of a stretch for you and you’d be grateful and excited to be hired because you really don’t meet the qualifications, it may not be the best time to try and get more money. If you could knock the job out of the park and be better than all their previous employees, you may have more of a leg to stand on.

Consider other benefits. If they can’t give you more money, maybe they can give you more vacation days. Maybe they can pay for COBRA until your new insurance benefits kick in. Maybe they are offering a lower salary than you make now; try asking if they can put in writing that they’ll have a performance review in six months to give you a raise once you’ve proven yourself.

Practice! As with interviewing, if you feel awkward and haven’t practiced what you’re saying, you’ll come across as just that – awkward. Figure out what you want to say and practice saying it with confidence. When you’ve done your research and are confident in what you’re worth – and what you can bring to the table – it’ll come easily!

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