The last taboo? How to negotiate a salary you deserve

Feb 24, 2020

5 mins

The last taboo? How to negotiate a salary you deserve
Andrew Craig

Writer, editor and digital content specialist

Speaking about money—even in situations where it’s entirely appropriate, such as a job interview—is rarely easy. Despite it being a normal and necessary part of any professional job application, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and intimidated at the prospect of arguing in favour of the salary you feel that you deserve.

We get it: talking about money can be difficult. Especially if you’re a candidate and go underprepared into the conversation. This can make the subject more difficult to discuss than it should be. Moreover, it can harm your long-term earnings potential. So, let’s get some facts straight.

Why money talk is so important

No matter how uncomfortable the discussion may be, it’s imperative to take the initiative. The immediate and most obvious reason to do so is, quite simply, to have more money, but it goes a little deeper than that. Here are a few more reasons you might not have considered:

  • The promotion ladder. Once you’re hired for a role, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see any large salary jumps from then on in, unless you’re promoted to a significantly higher position. Even then, a seriously major salary hike is unlikely. Any raises are most likely to be modest, and tied to the original salary you negotiated, so you’d better make it count.
  • Your mental health. It may not be something you’re thinking about every moment of the day, but salary can have a major impact on how you feel about yourself and your place in your company. Feeling undervalued, day in and day out, is no way to work, or to live.
  • The long-term effects. Every salary negotiation sets you up for better success in the future. Increasing your salary now will increase your salary range at your next job, and so on. It also gives you more disposable income that you can use to contribute to retirement funds, with their compounding interest. Negotiate now, and you’ll thank yourself later.

Why is it so difficult?

Talking openly about personal and professional matters is far more accepted than ever before, yet money still feels a somewhat taboo topic in the US and beyond. It can be extraordinarily uncomfortable to assign a stark monetary value to yourself and your efforts, especially in the context of a negotiation where the other person is trying to barter for the lowest possible salary.

One part of the solution is to be confident, direct and not to say any more than you have to. The right approach is to remove any stigmas from the conversation altogether and approach this discussion in a purely practical, businesslike way. Once you take an emotionless stance, negotiating becomes that much easier.

Another key consideration is that you don’t have to finalise anything on the spot. While you need to be prepared enough to make your case clearly and succinctly, you don’t need to be prepared to give an immediate “yes” or “no” to whatever response or counter-offer you receive. When in doubt, thank the employer for their offer, and tell them you’d like a little bit of time to consider it. Then ask when they need an answer by. Just like that, you’ve removed the stress of a back-and-forth, and bought yourself some time to go home, do some thinking and decide what you want.

The three key traits

“Being transparent, consistent, and thoughtful are my biggest recommendations for candidates when preparing for salary questions,” said Katherine Safar, a recruiter at a large tech company.
“Transparent because your hiring manager is getting to know the person who will be a potential employee. Consistent, in your responses and attitude, to show that you have done your research and also know your worth as a potential employee. And thoughtful in how you approach this. Salary conversations and negotiations are important to your career, so do your homework and be prepared before kicking off a conversation.”

When to discuss salary

This can vary greatly depending on the industry, company and hiring manager you’re speaking to. Generally, there are two schools of thought:

  • It’s best to bring up the topic of salary right away, usually towards the end of the first interview or phone screen. That way, the candidate and the hiring manager will know immediately whether their expectations are somewhat similar. If they’re not, neither party wastes time on further rounds of interviews.
  • It’s best to delay the conversation for as long as you can, politely declining to offer a salary range if asked to give one early on in the process. You can ask to learn more about the position before you attach numbers to the role. This can be helpful because the role might involve more work, for example, or specialised skills, than the job listing initially indicated. This can affect both the salary range available, and the range you would be comfortable with. Delaying the conversation also gives you more time and more rounds of interviews to establish your experience, setting yourself up as a worthwhile candidate before salary is broached. This allows you to negotiate from a much stronger position.

Which approach you take is up to you. According to Nicole Drummond, a career development coach, in either case, “It’s always ideal to get the company to talk compensation first, and many companies will ask during the phone screen to assure that any perspective employee/interviewee financials align with the company’s budget. If you haven’t had the conversation by the second or third interview, don’t hesitate to open up the conversation by asking, ‘What’s the salary range you’re budgeting for this role?’”

How to prepare for the conversation

Remember, knowledge is power. When negotiating salary,you should have several data points in your head to either reference internally, or use to negotiate. Additionally, this is a normal part of any hiring decision. A recent survey found that only 55% of job candidates attempt to negotiate for a higher salary, despite 70% of hiring managers expecting it, so go in with the confidence that this is all part of the process.

Here are some concrete ways in which you can prepare for this conversation.

1. Research salary ranges

Use websites like Glassdoor for your research on both, the relevant title across different companies and industries, and different positions at the company you’re applying to. This will give you an idea of the industry average, and how well or poorly your target company seems to be matching those averages.

2. Speak to trusted sources

This includes friends or mentors who have or have had jobs similar to the one you’re applying for. First-hand knowledge of the industry rate and any personal experience you can glean about negotiating for your role are terrific points of reference.

3. Give yourself a salary range

After you’re done researching, give yourself a firm salary range that you’re comfortable with. It needs to be a range that you believe is fair, achievable and suits your ambitions. Once you’ve established a range you think is fair, you should also know your “personal range”, according to Drummond. Ideally, this would be the same as your projected range for the role, but it may be slightly lower if the job is one that you feel extremely passionate about, and you’d be willing to accept it even if the rate isn’t quite in line with industry standards. However, Drummond said, “Know that there might be times you have to decline an offer because it doesn’t fit into that range.”

4. Consider how you value benefits.

You should consider how valuable benefits are to you and how much they’d affect the minimum salary that you require from a new role. Drummond said “Don’t hesitate to ask if they offer other things that might mean more to you when looking at an overall package, such as personal development funds, a sign-on bonus, the ability to assess salary after six months on the job rather than the traditional one year, more PTO vacation days, a gym stipend, the ability to work remotely or flexible work hours.”

Once the groundwork is done, all that’s left to do is get down to brass tacks and negotiate! While it’s never a relaxing experience, if you’ve done all your homework and have a handle on your preferred approach, the whole process will be a lot more manageable.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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