Looking for the right job is stressful enough. Add to that the anxiety associated with the salary negotiation phase, and it’s a wonder anyone ever changes jobs. But the truth is, career transitions are happening more often and at shorter intervals than just a few years ago. Still, no matter how many times you go through it, salary negotiation can be challenging. In the worst-case scenario, you leave the table wondering if your employer just got a bargain and if you’ll spend your tenure at your new job pondering if you should have asked for a little bit more.
Avoid having salary conversations too early
If you’ve been in the job market recently, you’ve probably been in a conversation with a recruiter who asked you, “What is your current salary?” …or, “What were you making in your last job?” When this type question comes out of the blue, and so early in the conversation, many people panic and blurt out something they wish they’d kept closer to the vest until later in the process.
Keep in mind that the recruiter is doing her/his job to screen for fit using the salary question as one of many criteria. They sincerely do not want to waste your time or their team’s time in advancing a candidate to the next round, or to an offer stage, only to find that both parties had very different ideas of what the salary should be for the position.
While the salary screening question is currently a fairly common practice, it is becoming illegal in some states to ask specifically about prior or current salary earnings. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of those states, you’re off the hook. For everyone else, there are a few things you can say to re-frame the salary conversation and put-off talking specifics until you’re prepared to ask for fair compensation that reflects your role and responsibilities.
Here are some ways to re-frame the salary conversation. The strategy in every response below is to always lead with appreciation first, and then redirect the question with a question:
- Thank you for asking. I’d like to discuss the details of the jobs first, so I can understand exactly what you need.
- I appreciate you asking. This role is not exactly like my last one (or current one). I’d like to understand what my roles and responsibilities would be here and then we can determine a fair salary for this job based on the market rate.
- Thank you for bringing this up. I’m most interested in finding a job where I’m a good fit and can make a positive impact. I’m confident that whatever salary you’re paying is consistent with the rest of the market.
- Thanks for asking. I’m looking for a position that matches my experience and abilities and pays a fair market rate for those skills.
- Thank you for asking. Can you tell me the salary range that you’ve set for this role? I will be happy to let you know if we are in the same ballpark.
Make the offer stage work for you
At every stage of the job search process, you get out of it what you put in and salary negotiation is no different. Preparation and research are the keys to knowing where you stand and what you’re worth to an employer. There are plenty of places where you can go to get an idea of what people in your industry, and with your experience level, receive in compensation.
Begin your research by looking in a few of these places:
- Recruiters – ask recruiters you know, or ones who have contacted you in the past to share the typical salary ranges for your industry.
- Employer review sites – places like Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale.com, com/salary and Indeed.com/salary are good places to find salary ranges by role and geography.
- Salary surveys – check out annual salary survey data published by well-known organizations such as Randstad (https://www.randstadusa.com/workforce360/2017-salary-guide/), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://salarysearch.blr.com/Consumers.aspx), and The Society of Human Resources Management.
- Networking – check in with people in your professional networks, schedule informational interviews, and ask around. As long as you aren’t asking for personal information, most people are willing to share.
Once you have salary data in hand, you’ll need to decide where you fit in the continuum. What is your happy dance number? This is your high-end number that you would be so thrilled to achieve that you will feel compelled to do a happy dance once the offer is final. If your happy dance number is near the top of the spectrum, you’ll want to be able to make a business case for requesting more than the average salary for your role. What is your walk away number? This is your absolute lowest but still fair number at the bottom of your range. Anything less than this number, you would need to walk away or negotiate some other parts of your package to increase the value of the offer.
Present hard numbers and evidence of how you’ve impacted the bottom line of employers in the past and how your performance will benefit the company. Be sure you can support your request with actual statistics and measurable benchmarks that demonstrate how you affected change, improved a team, and added value to an organization.
The tone of the conversation is as important as the content. Make the conversation collaborative and listen to what the hiring manager or recruiter is saying about the position and the salary range they’ve set for the person filling the role. Giving an ultimatum has never been a good negotiation strategy, and it won’t endear you to a new employer – in fact, it may make you seem argumentative and difficult to work with. In the end, you want the salary negotiation number to be a win-win.
New laws changing the game
In cities and states like New York City, Massachusetts, and Delaware, lawmakers have started banning employers from asking about salary history during the hiring process. While the genesis of these decisions came from advocates for equal pay for women, all job seekers will benefit from the new norm.
Women, in particular, are at a disadvantage in salary negotiations, punished both for revealing their current salary and for refusing to share their salary history. On the one hand, since women are typically paid less than men for the same job, revealing their current or past salary history puts them at an immediate disadvantage to remain underpaid. On the other hand, when women refuse to discuss their salary history, they tend to receive offers 1.8% lower than women applying for a similar job at the same company who did disclose previous pay.
Changing the narrative and using some of the suggested responses above may be one way women can re-frame these types of questions. Another way, may be simply to educate more people in our professional circles that having to reveal this kind of salary data during the interview can put some candidates at a disadvantage. We can also all be part of setting a new norm with our hiring practices by being transparent and sharing salaries on places like Glassdoor, and having recruiters divulging salary ranges for a position up front with candidates.
Counter-offers and the current employer
Sometimes, when you least expect it, a job offer comes through a recruiter, or someone in your network that bests your current salary and benefits. Do you take it? Do you use the offer to leverage your current employer? Before you make a move, you have some decisions to make. First, ask yourself if you love your current job and employer. Do you have purpose and feel satisfied with your daily work? Would you be willing to give all that up for more money?
Sometimes the value of our jobs exceeds the salary we receive for doing them. That’s not to say that you should stay in a position where you are far undercompensated for your contribution without approaching your boss for a raise. However, before you approach your current employer with an offer from another employer, take inventory of your current position, including:
- How is your relationship with your employer?
- Have you built trust?
- Are you a valued employee – are you sure?
- What will it take to make you stay?
- Are you ready to leave if your employer wishes you well without a counter-offer?
Entering into salary negotiations, whether with a potential employer or a current one requires planning and preparation. Never enter into a conversation about salary until you have done your research and you’ve conducted a personal inventory of what types of compensation will make you the happiest.
Consider the other perks
Salary isn’t the only way companies compensate their employees. There are other things to consider when looking at a compensation package. Before you get stuck on a hard and fast number for salary, look at the other perks your employer, or potential employer, offer and weigh them against what you need to be happy coming to work every day.
Some other financial compensation items to consider during salary negotiations include:
- Bonuses and incentives
- Insurance benefits
- Stock options
- Retirement plans
- Paid time off
- Severance plans
- Professional development funding
- Flexible and telecommute schedules
- Free lunch
Most importantly, be realistic. Regardless of your past salary history, your worth to a company is based on the market rate for someone with your skills, experience, and background. Come to any negotiation armed with the statistics and your business case for why you deserve the package you’re requesting.
Lisa is a Senior Transition Coach at RiseSmart. She is a Board Certified Coach and holds a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. Lisa has 20+ years of experience in human resources and organizational development working within municipal, non-profit, corporate and higher education institutions.