I can’t possibly negotiate my salary now—we’re in the middle of COVID-19 and I should be happy with anything! Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve heard a fellow jobseeker say something similar, or maybe you’ve said these words, aloud or to yourself. But is it correct that we can no longer engage in salary negotiations and should grab whatever is offered? No. We can still negotiate, though we need to keep a strategy in mind. The following are some tips to prepare yourself for a productive salary negotiation discussion with a prospective employer.
1. Come prepared.
Negotiate from a position of strength, which means having a good idea of what you are worth on the job market. There are many tools for checking the salary average for your position in your location. Check several sites, and don’t forget to look at the average benefit package offered as well. Then check the numbers for roles a level or two above your current one, since you may be aiming for a higher title. If you’ve been unemployed for a while, perhaps you simply hope to match your last salary, but the same rule applies—come prepared!
2. Follow the conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom says not to put your salary on your resume or mention a salary in your cover letter. You will stand a better chance of negotiating a more lucrative total benefit package if you avoid beginning a discussion by putting your current info in their mind as the “number to beat.” If you do give a potential employer your current info, they may feel they only need to match it or offer a crumb more and you’ll be satisfied.
3. Home on the range.
The range is your friend. When you are asked what your current salary is or what you expect from a new role, have a range in mind, both in salary and benefits. Tell them you are looking for (not “hoping for”) a salary between X and Y. Naturally, keep this on the high side without being absurd. Same goes for benefits. “I was looking for fifteen to twenty paid vacation days.” Maybe you’re looking for tuition reimbursement to improve your skills and knowledge—75% to 100% covered? Fifty to 75? Know what the market will bear for your industry.
4. Know thyself.
Before you begin negotiating, have your bottom lines in mind. Know exactly what salary you won’t dip below. Are you willing to give up benefits for salary or vice versa? How important is a health insurance plan, or do you have one available from your spouse? Do you have a requirement for a retirement savings plan? What about a signing bonus? The key to excellent salary negotiation is to arrive armed with information. Know your top requirements, other than salary, for you to be able to accept an offer.
5. Understand the process.
Typically, you will have only a couple opportunities to negotiate your package before deciding whether to accept or reject a new role. The first is the initial discussion as described above. The second is when you counter their offer, and why wouldn’t you? The counter should be about 15% higher than their initial offer, giving them a chance to come back with something less but higher than their first offer. The third and last opportunity to negotiate salary is after they respond to your counteroffer and you go over the fine details of your entire package, including benefits.
6. Remember the entire package.
Salary is just one number, though granted probably your most important one. But don’t let a high salary put so many stars in your eyes that you forget to negotiate for all the other benefits, including vacation days, health insurance, pension or 401K plan, childcare credits, tuition reimbursement, et cetera. These benefits can add up and make a mid-range salary much more attractive than you initially thought. Conversely, a lack of substantial benefits can suddenly make a high salary seem less appealing.
7. Role-play is your friend.
Get a friend or family member to play the role of an employer and set up mock salary negotiation discussions. This is important so that your delivery is smooth and confident when it’s time to negotiate for real. You don’t want to stumble over your words, and these practice sessions will help you sound self-assured.
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