Salary should never be the primary reason why we take a particular job but it often is the primary reason why we look to leave. Easily the most sensitive issue surrounding staff acquisition and retention, salary negotiations and re-negotiations need to be handled carefully with arguments that are based in fact. Discussions regarding compensation usually arise in two parts of your relationship with an employer – during the interview process and during the formal or informal performance review. Today let’s discuss how to approach salary negotiations while you’re being courted by a potential new employer.
There is a reason why seasoned recruiters use the term “opportunity” when discussing a particular role as opposed to “job.” The pursuit of money only serves to cloud one’s judgment and is a superficial motivation to discuss when an interviewer asks about the reasons for a move. In the initial stage of an interview process, either the phone screen or the first round in-person interview, it is best to steer away from any discussion regarding desired compensation. Letting your interviewer know what you are currently making is enough to provide the context surrounding your skill set and how well you fit their open position. If pressed about “coming up with a number” that you are looking for, make clear to the interviewer that your reason for seeking other opportunities isn’t tied solely to money:
Mr. Interviewer, I’d prefer to keep today’s discussions focused on my qualifications and the role you have open. I’m happy to talk about what I’m currently earning and as to what I’d be looking for, I simply hope that if I’m the right candidate for this opportunity, I’d be fairly compensated for my work.
By placing a hard salary number out in the open or, even worse, providing a range, you’ve set an expectation too early in a process without any leverage or rapport with the hiring manager. Giving a range to a potential employer can separate your desires with the hiring manager’s expectations even further apart – you’ll be thinking that they can offer the high end of the range and they’ll certainly only hear the low end. When you tell an interviewer that you want to make the best use of their limited time by focusing the conversation on your skills, experience and interest in their firm, you’ll come off as concerned mainly about how the job can help your career and not your wallet. Enthusiasm should be derived from the opportunity and not the paycheck.
The appropriate time to discuss compensation during the hiring process is after a relationship has been established and mutual interest exists from both sides. Knowing the right time to have this discussion isn’t enough to ensure that it goes well – you as a job seeker need to be well-prepared to best represent yourself when discussing wages. There are two main ways one should ready themselves for this negotiation:
- Set your expectations appropriately. Nothing puts a hiring manager off more than an individual with a greatly inflated sense of their value on the open market. According to the 2011 edition of the Conference Board’s annual salary survey, salaries will increase by an average of 2.5% this year. Not 20%, 15% or even 10% – an average increase barely outpaces the 1.5% inflation rate from 2009-2010.* Approaching an interview with blazing guns and the expectation that simply by changing jobs you’re entitled to a 20% salary bump is unrealistic and will be off-putting to the interviewer. In order to set your expectations realistically, additional preparation and research is required and that brings us to our next point.
- Research and inform yourself of what the market bears. Use fact to guide your negotiations. Understanding where your current compensation falls in context of the market as a whole will allow you obtain, within what’s reasonable, the best offer possible. There are several ways to gather competitive salary information. The most reliable source would be individuals who you work with, have worked with in the past or those you know through networking who perform similar work at competing firms. Since most people prefer to keep their salaries private, we have to look outside for additional sources as well. Agency or third-party recruiters have the breadth and depth of experience to assist with your research. Speak with a recruiter you know or have worked with in the past or ask for a referral from a friend. Recruiters will typically have multiple openings for similar jobs at various firms and can give you a good sense of the salary range at your skill level. Finally, various websites like Glassdoor.com and others exist to provide anonymous salary survey information on positions that run the gamut. Since the data from these sites comes from individuals and lacks an independent method for verification, these sites should serve only to confirm what you’ve gathered from other professionals. Having concrete data will allow you to “price” yourself towards the high end of a known range without asking for too much or selling yourself too low. Assume that HR for the hiring company has access to similar data and they are very aware of what market rate is for your position.
With your expectations reasonable and a good knowledge of what individuals in similar roles make, you can confidently discuss what you’re looking for and have the competitive information you’ve gathered at hand to back up your wishes.