Despite how important fair pay is to most of us, effective salary negotiation is an often misunderstood and avoided topic. Current research indicates the average duration of a position today is 3.8 years. Over the lifespan of your career, how well you negotiate raises or starting pay will have an enormous cumulative effect on the quality of your life.
So why does this skill remain elusive for many career professionals?
Most of us do thorough research and prepare extensively for a job interview. We create the perfect resume, slave over cover letter drafts, and rehearse answers to anticipated interview questions. We make sure we’re dressed right, have references, and are on time. But all too often, only cursory attention is given to thinking through how, when, and why we’ll end up being happy with the terms of our pay.
One problem is that cultural taboos in our society make talking about money a no-no. Many of us regard money negotiation as inherently unseemly, or we feel guilty about not accepting what’s been offered so nicely. Isn’t haggling supposed to take place if you’re buying hand-made rugs somewhere in Turkey?
We want to believe that the first offer we hear should be the highest dollar figure possible; moreover, we don’t want to “rock the boat” and potentially ruin our chances of landing that great job. That voice inside of us whispers “Everything in this interview has been going great! Don’t wreck it now!”.
Like it or not, though, you’re a negotiator. You can’t get off this ride. Negotiation routinely takes place in dozens of ways in our daily lives. Given the fact that you will make or lose several thousand dollars in the span of a few minutes, learning how to respectably negotiate your pay is vital! Notice I say respectably.
Unfortunately, I see countless candidates who either come off way too aggressively, or much too meekly, for their own good. This is often because of a lack of self-preparation and practice. Many candidates also fail to realize their position in the marketplace and the position of the employer. Not good!
The good news is that salary negotiation skills can be learned or improved upon. Here are seven key tips to being paid what you’re worth while maintaining a healthy respect others have for you:
• Don’t believe that effectively negotiating your salary means that you must have the mentality of a used-car salesperson! You aren’t being slippery, out of line or ungrateful to not accept the first figure that’s tossed out. Most employers value candidates who clearly possess self-respect and confidence in themselves; these qualities are revealed through the skill and poise in how you negotiate your pay—they are aso revealed if you do nothing.
Think about it: Doesn’t it make sense that if you demonstrate effective negotiation capabilities for yourself, that in turn you’ll negotiate smartly for your employer, too? Hiring managers pick up on this.
• Do remember that your value is far more important than a number somewhere on a spreadsheet. Yes, this is true despite common cries that “payroll budgets being fixed, this is the best we can do” or “in this economy, you must be realistic.” Employers by and large are not searching for “cheap bargains” but want value in their employees.
A common misconception is “I’ll have a better chance of getting the job if I don’t ask for much money—I won’t cost as much as other candidates.” Don’t go there! Concentrate on the value you bring, not how little you cost. By the way, if you do this properly, the question of “previous salary history” should be much less relevant. This means you will have a better chance at jumping to higher ranges faster in your career.
• Don’t (and I mean never) accept any form of benefits before you negotiate your salary. Why? Once some form of compensation other than salary is accepted by you, the employer has leverage in justifying why your salary should be lower. Remember to always get agreement on the starting salary first. Then negotiate non-salary benefits and special considerations afterwards.
• Do delay talking about compensation; try to discuss your value, and the specific benefits you can bring to the table, for as long as possible. The employer should perceive you as a valuable, one-of-a-kind resource—not an off-the-shelf good with a price tag.
Think of those high-end infomercials that delay revealing what the price of the offer is until the very end (if at all). The whole point of the infomercial is to draw your attention to the value of the good or service and its many different uses and applications.
Certainly something that clearly validates a gain or cost-savings of $25,000.00 would be attractively valued at $2,499.99. But would you really pay attention to an ad that immediately said its cost was $2,499.99? Probably not! The same psychology applies to salary negotiation. The longer the interview process continues, the more likely you will be regarded as a valuable resource obviously worthy of upper-range pay.
• Don’t accept any offer, no matter how lucrative, on the spot. Instead, express your continued interest in the position and how you clearly see yourself making contributions (specify them one more time again). Then always ask for 24 hours to consider the offer. Certainly a day will give the hiring manager time to find any necessary “wiggle room”, if need be.
Be passionate and excited, but don’t lose your objectivity—any position that will be the center of your daily professional life for years to come won’t melt in 24 hours. Right?
• Do remember the old axiom “he (or she) who speaks first loses.” Wait until an offer has been made—but don’t respond immediately. Remember that in many cases, what is initially offered to you may be the lowest figure the hiring manager dares to put forward.
This is mission critical territory: Often, even casual remarks made by you constitute implied acceptance of the offer...Which can quickly become explicit acceptance as the conversation moves on. Don’t let this happen! Instead, intentionally steer the conversation back to the responsibilities of the position. Who will you be supervising? What are some tangible, specific contributions you see yourself making? Where do you picture yourself in the organization in the future?
The greater long-term picture you create, the greater the likelihood you will negotiate more effectively. You can only really begin to negotiate after you have clearly brought to life realistic present and future scenarios.
• Don’t over-negotiate. How do you know when to recognize what is too little or too much? By researching your market ahead of time. Don’t just go to www.salary.com and think you “should” be earning a certain dollar figure without taking into consideration the unique opportunities every employer possesses. This is not really true research.
A salary is compensation paid for services performed. Your salary should be commensurate with your skills and experience built yesterday, but negotiated for the work you will be doing today and tomorrow. Remember, you don’t get what you deserve in life...You get what you negotiate!
Would you like more help? Check out this month’s HireWorks Recommends for some great resources.
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Biography: Lucia Apollo Shaw is the President and CEO of HireWorks, Inc. HireWorks is a professional search firm specializing in the Life Sciences. HireWorks offers research services, contract staffing, and permanent placement services.
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