Do you want more money?
What are you worth to an employer? Quick, come up with a number. OK. Now, let’s come up with a realistic number. Negotiating salary is, for most of us, as difficult as getting past phone screens and interviews to the job offer. It can be tough to think of yourself in dollar terms. If you’re not prepared to negotiate, you’re sure to be unhappy with almost any offer. So don’t be caught flat-footed. Especially today – when companies may not have much flexibility with money – getting to the offer, and making sure it’s fair to all, is a necessary skill.
I’ve written at GlassDoor about questions to ask during an interview to help you understand a company’s culture, and ways to figure the real and soft costs of commuting. Those topics also figure into a salary negotiation.
Salary, for example, is one measure of a company’s culture. Employees should be compensated fairly, compensation should be on par with similar companies in the region and the company should have a documented performance review process. If it’s a start-up, compensation may be difficult to benchmark, but for more established companies – say, those in business for more than ten years – it’s a simple matter to check Glassdoor.com, Salary.com, Sales Gravy and similar sites to get an idea of pay scales.
Commuting is also a salary issue. If you are looking at a long commute, for example, there are many associated costs.
In salary negotiations, research, preparation and a realistic attitude will be your best friends. Here are a few things to think about.
- Ask, or find out, what the salary range is. This goes if you’re applying for an advertised job or interviewing for an in-house promotion. Most companies post a salary range with job descriptions. If the salary isn’t posted, do research until you find a baseline range that matches your level of experience. This should be obvious, but it may not be: if the pay range is too low, pass. In this economy, talking to a prospective (or current) employer to up the salary scale is next to impossible – and it’s not the place to start negotiating.
- Ask yourself what you need – what I call the magic number. Know what you need to live, what you need to save, and how much risk you can tolerate. This is especially important when you’re negotiating with a start-up, most of which defer a fair amount of compensation by offering stock options and other non-cash compensation. If you’re not sure, go to salarycalculator.org, plug in the lowest number on the advertised pay range and work back.
- Ask about non-salary compensation. Health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, workmen’s compensation, flexible spending accounts, on-site daycare, IRA matches (remember those?), bonuses (and those), paid training/education, vacation time and employee stock options. Most companies will offer some or all, and depending on where you are in your life, some will be worth more than others.
- Know what the market will bear. You may think you’re worth $100K but if you’ve been out of school five years, are changing careers or geographies, haven’t managed other employees or perhaps don’t have many recommendations, you won’t be in a good place to negotiate. Keep in mind the average national wage as of the 2010 index is a sobering $41,673.83.
- Know when to ask. Few of us want to talk about money, especially in an emotionally-charged setting. So stay on the front foot: ask what the salary is when you ask for the job. Ask before the interviewer makes an offer. Start the negotiation and you’ll feel more in control and better able to handle the conversation.
We haven’t talked nuts-and-bolts here. There are other pointers – rehearse with a friend or partner, do the research, don’t be defensive or aggressive if you don’t like the offer, don’t accept the offer on the spot and ask for a formal offer letter. Make sure the letter includes reference to non-cash compensation such as vacation, sick time and insurance. Find out when insurance coverage starts – COBRA adds up fast. Most important: be prepared to justify the salary you want. Come to the negotiation prepared with a summary of your accomplishments. Show your value to the interviewer. And remember: you’re not just a number on a paycheck. You’re worth more than that.