Salary Negotiations

Preparation

(For information about when job announcements ask for salary requirements, see the cover letter section.) There are many factors that go into salary decisions: your education, experience, skills, and negotiating approach; benefits offered; sector (i.e., nonprofit, private, public); the specific organization; the economy; and more. You should always have an idea of your salary range before going to an interview. First, you have to know your bottom line. What is the absolute lowest salary you could accept? This is a combination of survival, pride, etc. (Although you don't want to get too caught up in the pride factor.) What do you NEED to live on? What do you WANT to live on? (Two different things.)

The next step is to research the salaries in your field. Good sources of salary information include contacts in the field (e.g., alumni, friends, family), professional associations, and websites (see a list of links later in this document). However, keep in mind that each person brings a unique "package" to the various jobs they accept. Talking to people about salary can be a sensitive thing. You never want to ask what salary they received. Instead, you could ask what a typical salary range might be for someone with your degree(s) and X number of years experience. Or you could ask about salary ranges for certain types of positions (e.g., entry level, mid level, etc.) in a specific sector. All of this research should be done before accepting an interview.

While negotiating is a bit uncomfortable for some people, keep in mind you must look out for your own best interest and know how much your education, skills, experiences, and knowledge are worth.

When Negotiating

When an offer is made, make sure you express gratitude, interest and enthusiasm but hold off on giving a definitive answer until you are sure you are satisfied with the offer. This gives you time to think about the potential position and do research into the average salary for that position in that location.

Don't be the first person to bring up salary and try not to mention any numbers. You want the interviewer to mention it first, and you want to be in the strongest position possible when negotiating. Rather than give a number, ask the employer the possible range. Or say that you are confident the offer will be competitive. The ideal time to talk salary is when an offer has been made. You are in the strongest position when you know that the employer wants to hire you. If you talk numbers before that's the case, you could be weakening your position or helping the employer discount you as a top candidate.

When evaluating an offer, don't forget to consider your entire compensation package. What will be included? To what will you have to contribute (e.g., health coverage), and what will be paid for you? You may also negotiate for other things such as vacation time, professional development opportunities, coverage of moving expenses, personal days, etc. Negotiate the base salary before moving into these areas.

Your pitch should always talk about what you bring to the organization, not why you need more. You could start by saying, "Based on my research and the fact that I have [brief summary of your experience, skills, knowledge], I was hoping for something in the X-X range." Then don't say anything else. Let your pitch stand on its own merit. Too many people want to fill the silence with words and then weaken their own case.

You might also consider negotiating performance evaluations. If you're not excited about the starting salary, could you negotiate an earlier review (three months, six months?) that could lead to an increase? If so, how much of an increase could you hope to receive? Make sure any mid-cycle increase would not affect your potential annual increase.

ALWAYS consider an offer for at least 24 hours. In some cases, you can ask for a few days, a week, or more. It all depends on the employer, the position, the time frame, etc. You need to take the time to think through the offer.

When negotiating, keep an upbeat attitude. Even if you want to ask for more money, you can still say that you're excited about the opportunity but were hoping for more. Using words such as "hoping" and "expecting" can facilitate negotiations rather than creating tension. It's also important to realize that the person extending the offer might not be the same person who can authorize more money or a change in benefits.

Remember that once you have agreed on a salary you may no longer negotiate. Get the final offer in writing.

When you accept the offer, be sure to let the company know of any upcoming vacations/plans that impact your work time. Letting an employer know before you start in a new position is much more tactful and ensures that the employer accepts/is aware of that plan before you begin. At this point, the company is invested in you and consequently is ready to make a few sacrifices to get you on board.

Multiple Offers

If you have an offer and are waiting on another, you may utilize that information to see if the latter company can speed up its decision-making process, particularly if the first company has set a deadline for your answer.

If you have multiple offers, make it work for you. If you've received an offer from one employer and are expecting to hear from another, you can use that to ask for more time. If you have two offers on the table, you could mention to the lower offer that another employer has offered you X amount and use that to negotiate for more. If the lower offer is from your first choice, mention that to the employer as you request more. It can't hurt for the employer to know that you're sincerely interested.

Beyond salary, potential things to explore (and some to negotiate) before accepting a position:

  • Personal leave (including vacation and sick leave)
  • 401k/403b/pension/retirement plans
  • Health, dental, vision insurance
  • Profit sharing
  • Professional development
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Parking /transportation
  • Flexible schedule
  • Telecommuting
  • Cell Phone/blackberry/laptop
  • Travel duties
  • Holidays
  • Life Insurance
  • Disability coverage
  • Stock options
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Compensation Time
  • Signing bonus
  • Company car
  • Relocation cost coverage