How to handle salary negotiations

2017-01-16 10:46

Salary negotiations are not difficult, but rather somewhat tricky.

Get the most from your salary negotiations

Every interview process, if successful, allows you a small window for negotiating your salary, where the precious minutes of the negotiation can literally change your lifestyle for many years to come. You could end up earning 20% more than you currently do, allowing you to live differently, save more and have a more fulfilling life in general - don't let the chance go by!

Mentioned in many places elsewhere online and by recruiters, the basic steps of a salary negotiation are:

  • Don't talk about salary, don't bring it up, do nothing until you're offered the job.
  • Let the employer name the first figure or make the offer. (If in person, when told the number, repeat the number and stay silent for a while. Let the employer talk.)
  • Counter the offer with a higher figure, but why this figure is fair must be supported by facts.
  • Confirm the main figure and then talk about the benefits/perks - these are negotiable too.
  • Get the full final negotiated offer in writing

When to negotiate salary

While most recruiters agree that bringing up salary early in the process, or rather before the interviewer does, is taboo, you only really have bargaining power if you know that the company likes you or wants to hire you. Therefore, simply don't mention salary at all unless your interviewer does. And if they do so in the first interview, it's best to deflect the questions with something like: "I am looking for a job and a company that I can settle down in and make a meaningful contribution. If I am the right person for you, the offer you make me will be a fair one."

How much do you want to earn? This is the question most people don't know how to answer. So what do you say? Two options come to mind after many years of dealing with both job seekers and companies (line managers or human resource professionals):

  • "I would like to receive a salary which is fair and in line with other employees in comparable positions within the organisation and the industry." After all, who can argue with you wanting a fair remuneration?! Also, this leaves figures out of the picture, as if the company wants to hire you, they must make the first move with a formal offer. If the interviewer really pushes you for a number, ask them if they are interested in offering you and if so, what they would like to offer.
  • A headhunter in the 1980s called Noel Smith-Wenkel used a three-phase approach ending with: "You're in a much better position to know how much I'm worth to you than I am." I like this and it is especially strong when you are being pressed for a figure.

Many also face the question: "How much do you currently earn?" This is fine to answer truthfully and directly, however I always advise throwing in a return question first: "What is the reason you ask for my current salary?" Employers sometimes want to gauge your career level or base their offer on your current salary - this is not really fair in my opinion. That said, after answering, follow up with another question: "What range does this position offer?" It's best to know right away that you and they are both on a similar page regarding salary expectations. Any sign that the potential employer is trying to "get you on the cheap" is a red flag.

When salary negotiations get tough

The key thing to remember is that salary negotiations are forgotten 5 hours after you sign the contract. You simply have to conclude them directly, clearly and without too much back and forth. No company likes a haggler. Many companies in fact like someone who is prepared and knows what they are worth.

Therefore, do your research about what people earn in the industry. Websites like Adzuna* give statistics on what the average salary is for all job searches in every location. Ask around and find out which companies and industries pay what and learn a bit about what's out there! Once you have facts giving evidence to the salary you feel you are worth, you will feel quite confident in securing the salary you want.

*Disclosure: I currently (2017) work for Adzuna. This post first appeared on interviewer.co.za.

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