Negotiating Salary

Many companies (probably in an effort to avoid potential protests of unequal pay) have a strict policy of only offering fixed salaries for each position they staff.  In these cases, potential employees in the midst of an interview process have no choice but to take it or leave it.  But lots of other companies instead budget a range salary, which gives them some flexibility in what they can offer their candidates; “commensurate with experience” they might say.  In those instances, you are almost expected to negotiate and to make your case for higher pay.

Negotiation is a game.  Just like in poker or chess, you’ve got to have a good strategy in order to get the most desirable outcome. 

The first universal rule of negotiating is never go first.  Never bring up salary before your interviewer does—it’s just not tactful.  But also, if at all possible, forego being the first to offer a specific wage.  Being the first to present an offer sets the standard and the tone of the interaction.  Suggest an income lower than your employer intended to give you and you are not likely to end up with competitive compensation.  It’s doubtful a company would voluntarily pay you thousands more than you requested.  Furthermore, it gives the impression that you don’t value yourself or your work.  Suggest too high and you may seem high maintenance, delusional, or simply the wrong “fit” for the job.   If you are pressed for a response, always give a salary range, and aim slightly high, unapologetically citing your credentials and the value you can bring to the company as justification for that salary. 

An appropriate salary range is best decided two ways:  by your own personal finances and by the typical salaries of others who share your job title.   The lower extreme of your range should be the minimum amount you can comfortably accept given your personal expenses.  The higher extreme should be what you would really like to make (it’s ok to aim high here).   You can also use web tools, like PayScale.com, to research the average income of others who have your aspired title.  That way you have a general idea of what is normal in your field and what is reasonable to ask for.

The second rule of negotiating is never negotiate with yourself.  Be unapologetic in your income request—they asked you what you wanted to make, after all.  Just be sure that the salary you request has been well researched and is realistic.

Finally, when making your case, never discuss your personal problemsKeep it strictly professional.  Commute, number of dependents, student loan repayment, relocation, cost of living, rising food prices, taxes—none of these should be reasons you cite for requesting a higher salary (note: this is only true during your first interview process with a company.  If requesting a raise after being employed with them for some time, there is a little more leeway).  Instead, focus on the value you can bring to their company.  Mention your excellent grades in school or the caliber of your alma mater.   Remind them of your strengths and the accomplishments you’ve had in previous employment.  Emphasize what you can bring to their company.  Just don’t bring up your personal expenses—it’s not their problem.

By Abena, Wall Street Services Reporter