It’s a hirer’s market, but when it comes to salary negotiation, too often people sell themselves short simply because they don’t know how to tackle the compensation question. Whether you’re moving from one job to another or unemployed and looking for work, there are steps you can take to make sure you get the best possible salary offer, says Charlotte Weeks, Chicago-based career coach and resume writer.
“There [are] a lot of people out there who accept salaries lower than they could have gotten,” she says. “So many people don’t know how to negotiate.”
Here are some of the most common ways you can expect to encounter the salary question when applying for a job and the best ways to tackle the challenge:
Avoid Talking Numbers Early On
It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid answering the question of what salary you’re willing to settle for, whether on your job application or in the early stages of your interview, says Weeks. “Usually the first person to name a number doesn’t have the upper hand when negotiating,” she says. “If possible, it’s best to be a little vague.” On a job application she suggests writing “negotiable” in the space allotted for salary rather than a specific figure.
If you encounter this question in preliminary interviews, don’t be alarmed. “If we are talking salary early on, it means we are interested in pursuing that candidate further,” says Tami Vanderpool, recruiting Senior Manager at Citigroup. “What we want to avoid is putting the candidate in front of a hiring manager and they fall in love with them but we are $30,000 apart in expectations.”
When you hear the question early on, it’s wise to deflect your answer by talking about what you can offer the company instead. “When they are really interested in you, then you can start negotiating on salary,” says
Lynne Eisaguirre, author of the book: We Need to Talk Tough Conversations with Your Boss: Tackle Any Topic With Sensitivity and Smarts.
Remember Where You’re Coming From
Your negotiating power will vary depending on your current employment situation. For instance, if are unemployed and applying for work, expect to earn approximately what your old salary was or slightly less, says Don Hurzeler, author of the book: The Way Up: How to Keep Your Career Moving in the Right Direction.
On the other hand, if you are being hired away from an existing position, Hurzeler doesn’t suggest settling for less than a 20% salary increase unless you are completely unhappy. “Why would you leave a situation you know for one you don’t know unless there is a breakthrough in salary?” he says.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Whether you’re moving from one job to another or unemployed and seeking work, you can expect to be asked about what you were making at your old job, so be ready with an answer.
One common mistake when talking about previous salary is forgetting to include benefits as part of your total compensation, says Hurzeler, an oversight that can hurt you in the negotiation process. For example, if you are earning $100,000 a year with a 20% bonus plus health, dental and other incidental benefits, you should answer the question by saying, “$120,000 plus generous benefits.”
This will prove useful if you find you’re not able to negotiate on the amount of money you’re earning. For example, if you’re coming from a job where you had five weeks of paid vacation to one where you will only have two, negotiating more time off might be easier than winning a higher salary, says Marsha Egan, a Pennsylvania-based career coach.
Have a Range Rather Than a Single Figure