Talking about money is a dreaded subject for most people. Add to it the stress about landing a new position or securing a promotion, and most people have a difficult time clearly and calmly asking for what they want without coming across as either too aggressive or too soft. The good news is that with thoughtful communication, you can excel in salary talks. Here are tips on how to handle the most common salary negotiations.
Scenario 1: New or Returning to Career -- Not sure what to ask for? Start with research. Use tools like Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and even the Bureau of Labor Statistics to get some ballpark ranges for your targeted role. If you are truly a novice for that position, assume you are likely to be at the low end of the range. Also, make sure you factor in if you are in an expensive labor market, like San Francisco, or a more affordable one, like Pittsburgh. Once you have a range, now you are ready for salary talks.
If asked "What salary are you looking for?" Calmly reply with "Can you tell me about the typical compensation you offer for X in the first year as well as in subsequent years?" If given a range, you can clarify with, "What criteria is used to determine where someone would fall in the range?"
The answers to these questions give you both what you are likely to expect as well as a road map for how you can increase compensation. They also communicate to the interviewer that you are thinking about more than just the immediate rewards -- but the longer-term advantages of staying with the company.
Another option is to say, "I am looking for the right opportunity and am open to the market rate for the role." Remember, you do not have to accept a role if the pay is too low. However, if you throw out a salary number first, it's likely the employer will offer you a wage pretty close to that number, even if it is much lower than fair market compensation. Realistically, how many of us would really pay more for something if the seller expressed that they were happy with a lesser amount than it was being sold for elsewhere? If you are a relatively uninformed negotiator, find a tactful way to get the other party to give numbers first.
Scenario 2: You want more than what is being offered. Most of the time, you will find yourself in this scenario because you have not previously discussed the intended range and how specific pay is determined. Here are some questions to ask if the proposed compensation is too low: "Do you ever make exceptions to the target salary?" "Are there any factors or qualifications that would warrant something higher than this salary range?"
Be prepared to answer why you are worth more than the discussed range. This could mean going over the research you have done that shows the offered pay may be "20 percent below market" or "slightly less than similar roles in the market." If you are a very competitive candidate who doesn't need to make a move, your response could be a polite, "I'm very intrigued by the role you have described. I am targeting a salary of X. I would welcome a continued discussion about the opportunity if that is an option for you." If the company has a hard line on compensation, you will quickly know and part ways. If the conversation continues, you have been clear about your needs and are less likely to have last-minute lowball compensation surprises.
Scenario 3: You really want the role, but immediate salary is under your target. If you have been unsuccessful negotiating exactly what you want, but are close, you can ask for a 90-day or six-month performance review. This works well if you plan on working really hard to demonstrate your value and if the company can (and will) actually pay the increased amount. You could say, "I am very interested in the opportunity. The salary we discussed is still a little less than my goal but I am happy to prove that I am worth the increase. Would you be open to an increase to X if I am able to accomplish certain tasks by 90 days?" Or you can say, "I am very interested in the opportunity. The salary we discussed is still a little less than my goal. What could I accomplish or contribute in the first 90 days that would warrant a salary increase at that time?"
If they agree to the "stair-step" approach to your compensation, make sure you get the details of what is required, what the increase will be and what the date of the review is in writing on your offer letter. Management changes in companies frequently, so you want to make sure the commitment is in writing.
In short, negotiating does not have to be painful if you take a knowledgeable, polite and professional approach. Compensation is based on market value for your contribution -- but employees do need to be their own advocates. If you can show a way that you can contribute at a higher level than others, most managers will try to make a reasonable salary request work.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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