The Money Questions
The questions of salary and benefits strike fear into the hearts of job seekers young and old. But handling the inevitable money questions doesn't have to be difficult, and the more you think about them in advance, the easier they'll be to answer.
First, never try to negotiate salary or benefits until you've gotten an offer. At that point, don't worry about the recruiter withdrawing her handshake and showing you the door if you dare ask about flexibility in the company's offer. The worst case might be that the salary is set by company policy and the recruiter or hiring manager has no power to negotiate. He may not be able to give you an immediate answer and will have to get back to you.
To learn about the opportunities for advancement within a particular company, you can ask for some statistics. Inquire about which members of upper management came from the lower ranks of the company. Does the employer promote from within? Find out what happened to other people who held the position you've been offered. Have they moved up, or have they moved out?
Before You Get the Offer
When it comes to buying a car, you can pretty much bet that the price the salesman gives you is negotiable. You are going to have to bargain. The same can't be said of a job offer. Before you even get an offer, you should have some idea of what salary to expect. That way, when an employer makes an offer, you will know how to respond. You will only know that if you do your homework.
Learn About Salaries in Your Field and Industry
Before you decide to ask for a higher salary you must know what the going rate is in your field. Just how do you know how much you should expect? The answer is the same as in every other step of your job search: Do your homework. Read the trade journals for your industry. Read the newspaper help-wanted ads. If possible, talk to current employees.
Salaries vary by geographic region. For example, a teacher in Wisconsin may earn a lower salary than a teacher in California. In addition to finding out what the average earnings are in your field and industry, you must also find out what those jobs pay where you plan to work. There is generally a relationship between the local cost of living, the salary, and the supply of and demand for workers with a specific set of skills.
There are many salary surveys available on the Web. Using your favorite search engine, type in the term “salary survey.” Use your network to find out how much others are earning at the same level. Talk to alumni of your college or university in similar positions (or employed by the same organization). They may be an excellent source of information. By doing this research, you will get an idea of the salary level you can realistically expect.
Know Your Own Worth
Setting realistic expectations is especially important for the entry-level job seeker or recent graduate. If you don't have a lot of professional experience, you don't leave the employer with much hard evidence on which to base a decision to offer you more money.
Instead, you're asking her to take a leap of faith based on potential you've demonstrated in classes, internships, volunteering, or extracurricular activities. Without a track record of professional experience, your arsenal is missing a powerful weapon. Even so, that doesn't mean you can't give negotiating your salary a try.
On the other hand, if you have some experience under your belt and are looking for a mid-level or executive position, your negotiating power might be much greater. For a lucky (or unlucky) few at the top of the heap, salary and benefit negotiations can be as complex and painstakingly slow as watching the grass grow. Whatever your level of experience, your task is to try to figure out just how high the employer is likely to go.
Deciding to Negotiate
Once you have decided to negotiate salary, you can approach your prospective employer with the confidence of knowing you are presenting a reasonable request, or at least one with which you are comfortable. The idea is to first assure him of your interest. Then give reasons for your proposed increase rather than just saying you need it or want it.
Your financial needs are not a good enough reason for an employer to negotiate with you. They have no reason to offer you more money just because you have bills to pay. Everyone has bills to pay. The employer should be willing to pay you more because you are worth it and because you are asking for a fair salary based on what others doing the same job are earning. An employer may simply tell you they can't negotiate the salary, and then you must either be willing to accept their offer or walk away.
Some salaries are truly non-negotiable due to contractual constraints. In union shops, for example, salaries are set through negotiations between the union and the employer. The employer cannot offer a higher salary to a new employee than he is paying his current workers.
If you can negotiate, this doesn't mean you name a figure and the employer either matches it or doesn't match it. It means you're ready to listen to what she has to offer and give it consideration. To succeed in negotiation, both parties have to reach an agreement with which they're happy.
If you succeed at winning yourself a bigger paycheck but antagonize your future boss in doing so, trouble lies ahead. If, on the other hand, you set realistic expectations and realize that you may not get everything you want, you'll probably do just fine.
How to Negotiate
If, after listening politely to the specifics of the offer, you're left hoping for a higher salary, greater health coverage, or something else, it's okay to (calmly) say so. Find out if the offer is firm. If it seems there may be some room to negotiate, make sure you have a figure in mind, because if the recruiter does have the freedom to barter, she will probably ask you pointblank to supply a figure.
When you're asked that question, rule number one is as follows: Don't tip your hand by giving the interviewer a specific number for which you're willing to settle. You don't want to take yourself out of the running by naming a figure that's absurdly optimistic, and you certainly don't want to risk naming a figure lower than what the employer is ready to offer.
Instead of naming your price, say something like, “Based on my experience and skills and the demands of the position, I'd expect I'd earn an appropriate figure. Can you give me some idea what kind of range you have in mind?”
When considering compensation, don't forget to look at the entire package. That includes health insurance, vacation time, sick days, and personal days. If the actual dollar amount you are being offered seems somewhat low, is it being made up for with very generous vacation time or with a paid-in-full health insurance plan? Don't forget that these things are valuable, too.
Of course, the recruiter may come back with “Well, how much were you interested in?” There's a limit to how far you can take this without antagonizing the other person, so if you can't get her to name a range, give in graciously and name your own.
Be sure not to make the bottom number too low (because you may be stuck with it) or the range too large, and give yourself enough room at the top without being unrealistic. If you name a range of, say, $25,000 to $30,000, it may be that the company was considering a range of $22,000 to $28,000. Therefore, you should receive an offer in the mid-to-upper end of your range, depending on your experience and qualifications.
When Negotiating May Not Be a Good Idea
Perhaps the salary the employer is offering is fair, based on going rates and your experience. Should you still ask for more money? Your answer depends on what you feel comfortable doing. If you ask for more money even though you think the initial offer is fair, are you willing to walk away from the job if your request isn't met? Worse, are you willing to possibly create tension between yourself and your future boss?
Get It in Writing
If you're somewhat content with the distribution of funds but haven't discussed health insurance and other benefits, like a 401(k) plan and vacation time, do so immediately. Then request everything be outlined in writing, especially if you'll be leaving a job to take the new position. You have rights, and if something looks amiss, it's time to go back to the bargaining table — that is, if you're still interested. Regard with suspicion an employer who won't give you confirmation of the position in writing.