On my college’s LinkedIn page, a discussion is going on about salary negotiation.

I start this way to do 2 things:

  1. tell you that LinkedIn is a place for you to get great information and advice from alums from your college
  2. introduce my thoughts about compensation, salary ranges, and negotiating for pay.

Let the employer or recruiter bring up the topic of money.  You raising it sends a signal that your priority is money and not the job.

Basics about Salary and Compensation:

  • Establish your desired salary range so you can respond when asked what your salary requirements are.
  • When asked for your salary range, it’s a good idea to preface the discussion by saying something like: “I’m interested in finding the right fit work for me and am confident that if we all think I’m the right fit for this position, we can agree on a mutually acceptable compensation rate.”
  • Compensation can include bonuses, vacation, commission, benefits, insurance plans or other items.
  • You can always negotiate, as long as you are well-informed about market rate, the job itself, and know a little about the company.
  • The best time to negotiate is after you have a firm offer and before you start. Remember that the only leverage you have is that the employer has decided they want you. So negotiate in a way that shows you want them, too.

Do Your Research before Negotiating

Find out what market rate is.  Glassdoor.com is a great source of information about salary ranges in different industries and for different positions, as is Salary.com.

Make sure you know what the job really is. Titles change based on so many variables, while job responsibilities and desired outcomes often stay the same. The advantage to having your own salary range as well as the rest of a “must have” list for a job is that you decide to apply based on the posting and general knowledge of the market. When an employer says “competitive salary” that usually means they know what the compensation rates are in their particular job market (industry, position, company size, sector etc.). You can say your range, which usually (not always) meets their range. Final negotiations then will depend on your getting much more information about exactly what the job requires – and your request can be that much more informed.

I used information to great effect when I was negotiating for my first Executive Director position. The employer wanted to offer me less than market rate, basing it on my previous salary. My previous salary was way too low, definitely not market rate, so it would have been the worst possible thing for me to agree to a lower salary to start. Because, as I learned, what you start with is what determines your compensation path for the future. I stuck to my “this is my understanding of what market rate is” guns, and did get what I wanted – and more importantly, what the position and its responsibilities warranted.

Sometimes you can negotiate for other kinds of compensation – perhaps more vacation, or the possibility of a bonus based on performance. You might also ask if there would be room for an increase at a certain point along the way – say 3 or 6 months in, again based on performance. I always like to phrase things as “I was hoping to get XXX. Is there room to negotiate?”

Understand the Employer’s Position

I’ve just completed a search and am in the final stages of another search for a client where it became essential to find out what people’s ranges were.

My client, a non-profit, has a fixed budget with almost no wiggle room. One highly qualified person applied, we had a preliminary conversation, and she was still interested as was I, so I raised the money issue on that very first call. She of course had to think about it, but we did have subsequent conversations about the work. Her interest in the job grew and so the money has become less of an issue. Nonetheless, I suspect she won’t take the job simply because of money. That’s sort of too bad but mainly, it’s just reality.

My experience as a CEO of a non-profit is that we can’t afford to hire people based on their needs; we have to hire the best person possible for the budget we have, while also keeping in mind issues of parity across departments and titles. So if you can’t afford to take my job because of your financial situation, it’s just not the “right fit.”

Know Your Own Limits

I suggest to my clients that they come up with a range, with the bottom number being their “I can live with this” number and the top being what they really want. The “live with” number is what they need to meet their obligations AND feel valued and respected. The top number has to be reasonable, based on market and the organization itself.

It’s never a good idea to take a job making less than what you want or need simply because you like the work. I find that doing that means you’ll never really commit to the job and will be looking very soon.