February 12, 2009

Reader Mail: How to Negotiate a Salary Offer

Each Thursday, I answer one of our reader’s questions on the blog. Today’s question deals with the fine art of salary negotiations.

Dear Job Monkey,

I was laid off from my bank job in October, but thankfully I have been made a job offer from another bank in town. It’s a mid-level position, about the same rank as my past job. We haven’t talked salary yet, but the bank manager set up a meeting with me for next Monday to go over the offer. I’m wondering if there is any room for me to negotiate, and if so, how I should go about doing that.

Thanks for your response,

(Gratefully) employed banker

Dear Gratefully Employed,

Congratulations on your job offer! That must feel good. And in one of the hardest hit industries, to boot.  Way to go!!!

Salary negotiation is an art form. The better you are at it, the higher your salary offer is likely to be. Which is a lot of pressure for your Monday morning meeting, isn’t it?  Here are some tips to make sure your session goes as well as possible:

Research — Your most important asset in a successful salary negotiation is the knowledge of what your skills are worth on the “open market”. You have a real advantage here, since it sounds like you were working in a similar position at your old bank. If you aren’t sure, though, you can always check with salary.com. Of course, many factors influence salary, so you also want to also consider:

Region — New Yorkers earn more for the same job than Southerners; West Coasters do better than Midwesterners.

Setting — Take law: Most attorneys with commercial law firms earn more than their colleagues working for the public defender’s office.

Your experience — Most jobs have a salary range for a reason, to enable employers to make allowances for things like years of experience. If you’ve been working in the same field for a decade, you will likely command a higher salary than someone with just a year or two of experience.

The company itself — You should never accept less than you are worth, but do consider the financial position of the company hiring you.

Wait For Your Employer to Make the First Move — It’s entirely possible that your employer will want to set the tone for the negotiation by throwing out a figure, or, more likely, a range of figures. This is actually good news, because then you get some insight into the scope of salary being considered. Since you will have done your research, you will know right away if the offer is reasonable. If it is, your job is to focus on how your experience, education and skill set puts you at the upper end of that range. If, based on your research, you think the range is too low, you can respectfully share this as well. Try saying something like, “Hmm, the range you described is actually quite a bit lower than what I was earning in my last job. Can you share with me the reasoning behind the bank’s choice to offer a lower than market-value salary range?”

If Asked About Your Salary Expectations, Be Vague — Rather than opening the negotiation with a salary range, your new boss may ask you what salary you had in mind. This is a tricky spot to be put in. You never want to say “I want $x amount per year,” because then you lose all leverage. Your new employer already knows the minimum you will accept — and will have no incentive to offer you more. Rather than throwing out a figure, try a vague response like, “I would like to earn above average market rate, which I believe is in line with my experience and skill set.” If you are pushed to give a number, respond with a range where the lower number is on the higher end of what you would actually like to be earning. That way you have some negotiating room, too.

Never Lie About Past Salaries — It’s easy enough for your new employer to confirm your past salary, so don’t inflate it to make a point during negotiations. If you are asked how much you made in your last job, remember that you are not required to give an exact number. Instead, try answering with something like, “My salary matched my years of experience and education.”

Exude Confidence — These are not good economic times, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you need to grovel for your salary. You already have the job offer — they want you! So there is no reason to come into your salary negotiation reeking of desperation. If you do, your future boss is going to have the upper hand in negotiations. In fact, if you accept less than you are worth now, it is likely that your boss will always undervalue you.

I hope these tips help. If you want more advice, check out this article on salary negotiation from JobMonkey or read this extensive Q&A from the Washington Post with author and career expert Ronald L. Krannich. Good luck on Monday!

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