The Art of Negotiating Compensation
By Terry Pile
“I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need if I die by four o’clock.” – Henny Youngman
Negotiating your salary for a new job can be an emotional issue. When it comes to attaching a dollar amount to your worth, it is difficult to separate ego from the market place. It doesn’t have to be that way if you have done your research and take a strategic approach to negotiating compensation.
The challenge is to save the salary discussion until you have received an offer. With an offer on the table, you know the employer wants you and will be more amenable to negotiating. Mercer Islander Patricia V. is a senior consultant at the executive search firm. Her advice to clients is, “Don’t give them the advantage of knowing your salary. It’s like playing a game of poker, but the employer won’t bet until he sees your hand.”
Easier said than done? Here are some tried and true strategies to delay the salary discussion. I call it the ART of negotiation. Avoid the subject. Reverse the question. Tell a range. The strategies work like this:
Avoid the subject: When asked about your salary requirement, a simple response such as, “My requirements are flexible,” or “My salary is negotiable,” may be enough to move the conversation along. However, most interviewers will push a little harder for a response. You may explain that it is difficult to answer the salary question until you know more about the scope of the job and responsibilities involved. If you are asked specifically what you made in your last job, you might point out that the salary you made in your previous position isn’t applicable to the one for which you are interviewing. It may be the market has changed or the responsibilities are quite different.
Reverse the question: Many interviewers will continue to probe for an answer to the salary question. Don’t fall for the bait. Your next course of action is to get the employer to state a number. Respond by asking, “What is the range you normally pay for this position?” or “What do you consider this position to be worth?” If the interviewer does offer a range, conceal your joy or dismay and simply acknowledge that the range is “within the ballpark.” If the range is higher than you expected, you don’t want to appear too eager. If it is lower, there may be aspects of the job or benefits that you can negotiate to make the compensation package work for you.
Patricia V. reminds her clients that prior to an interview, “Do your research and know what you’re worth in the market. This way you will know if the employer’s first offer is a lowball or fair and well thought out.”
Tell a range: In some cases you will be forced to mention a salary figure first. With the wealth of knowledge floating through cyberspace, there is no excuse for not knowing what you are worth in the marketplace for a specific job. A good place to start online is www.payscale.com which provides labor market information. Other good online resources are www.salary.com or www.indeed.com. Most give you national, regional and local comparisons. Many professional and trade associations conduct a salary survey every year or two among their members and should be consulted as a part of your research. Better yet, call the human resources department and ask for the salary range of the job for which you are considering. Many will give you that information up front. By talking to current and former employees you will also find out whether the company’s salary and benefits are above or below market rate.
Patricia V. advises her clients that, “It‘s not all about money. Take into account the total compensation package.” There are many other benefits that may be negotiated in addition to salary. Consider a signing bonus, extra vacation time or telecommuting one day a week. If you are covered under your spouse or partner’s medical plan, some employers will allow you to waive your medical benefits and increase your base salary. Consider asking the employer to pay for additional training, professional dues and subscriptions or attendance at conferences and workshops. This is not only a generous perk, but will enhance your career. Relocation expenses, a company car, parking, dues to a health club, cell phone, laptop computer are additional items to negotiate.
Most important, consider the job itself and the career potential. Having a job that gives you great satisfaction may be worth more than any employer can afford to pay.