The hiring process is chock full of potentially awkward moments. But no subject causes more dread and anxiety than salary negotiations.
Most of us aren’t used to talking about money, let alone negotiating. Combine that with discussion of our professional expertise and work experience, and the whole thing can feel intimidating.
But, preparation can make a huge difference. When you embark on the interview process, it’s critical that you do your homework. Below, we rounded up questions to help guide your negotiation process, so you feel confident in the value you bring to a position and know how to communicate what that’s worth.
Research the Industry From the Bottom Up
There are a lot of different ways to gauge a fair salary for an industry and role. Online tools like Glassdoor and Payscale, which help aggregate information, can be helpful. But don’t rely on online data alone. Your best bet is to talk with other people in your industry. Set up some time to chat about compensation with friends and contacts. If you feel uncomfortable asking for help, phrase it this way:
It was great to catch up last week. I’m re-entering the job market, and it’s been a while since I’ve had to tackle salary negotiation. If you have a few minutes, I would love to hear about how you negotiated your role and any insights you may have into the industry standards.
Is there a time I can give you a call or buy you a cup of coffee?
Through these conversations and online research, you’ll want to be really clear on the answers to a few essential questions:
How competitive is the job market for this role?
What’s the market range for this kind of role in the industry?
Where do I fall within that range?
Does compensation vary geographically?
What organizations pay more than others?
Does this company have a reputation for paying above-market value?
Understand the Expectations of the Hiring Company
When it comes time to speak with the hiring company or a recruiter, the conversation should start with the job, not the money, because compensation should match the responsibilities of the role.
What are the expectations and responsibilities of this role?
What value would your ideal candidate bring to the organization?
What’s the growth trajectory for this role?
If recruiters ask for your salary history or an estimate of your ideal salary from the get-go, you can really put your research to the test by stating it boldly. If you don’t feel as confident about where your background lines up with the marketplace, then politely deflect the questions back to them to learn more about the opportunity.
Depending on where you live (New York City, California, and Massachusetts to name a few examples), asking about your salary history or past compensation may even be illegal. So, here are a few ways to go about the salary question, should you not want to disclose what you're currently making:
I’m open at this stage of the process because I really value the role itself and growth opportunities. Are you comfortable sharing your company’s range for this position?
Since my past roles weren’t exactly the same as this position, I’d like to learn more about the expectations and compensation range for this role. Can you tell me a bit more about the job?
Calculate Your Current Value and Goals
Now that you have a sense of the market and the range the company is considering, take a deep dive into what you want, what’s important to you at this stage of your life, and what you bring to the table. This requires an honest assessment of your experience, skills and potential, and can be deceptively challenging.
And women, beware! According to Stanford professor, Margaret A. Neale, women tend to undervalue their own worth and have systematically lower expectations.
So, start by putting yourself in the recruiter’s shoes and try to understand their motivations—this will help you position your skillset in the best way possible. And if you struggle with owning your strengths, imagine that you are talking about your best friend. Consider the following questions to better understand your valuation in general, and for a particular company and role.
What is important to this company and why have they posted this role?
How can I help solve their problems?
What expertise do I bring to the table?
Do I have any niche skills they can’t live without? (We know you do.)
Is this job a stretch for me, or am I more than qualified?
Am I willing to take a pay cut to make a strategic career move?
Pull out a notebook and write some answers to these questions as practice for the negotiation.
Analyze an Offer
A lot of people mistakenly think that once they receive an offer, they need to give an immediate answer. That couldn’t be further from the truth—just as you do your homework and analyze the job market, you need to bring that same level of detail to a role and compensation package. Here are some questions to ask yourself (and possibly your recruiter), if the offer is not completely clear from the offer letter and interviews.
By when does the company need a response to the offer?
What kind of benefits are included in the package?
Is this a base offer?
Is there a sign-on bonus?
Is there an annual bonus?
Is there any equity involved?
Does this meet my goals?
What would a good counter-offer look like?
Be Clear and Concise
When you respond to an offer, be as clear as possible. Because salaries are so important, it’s more effective to have conversations about compensation over the phone or in-person. That way, you can capture any nuance in the interviewer’s voice and vice versa.
Instead of going line by line, assess the entire compensation package. Share a counteroffer, and take a few mindful breaths afterward. Allow the awkward silences to sit instead of backtracking or qualifying your statements. (This is the best piece of advice anyone gave me about negotiating.) If they draw a hard line on salary, get creative about other aspects you can negotiate—from time off to flex time, bonuses, and equity.
As uncomfortable as job negotiations can feel, they'll always be a part of your professional life—and it's worth practicing now. Preparing with these questions will empower you to feel more confident when you're in the middle of any negotiation. Even if you don't have a new job in the pipeline, start practicing this life-long skill. A little bit of time will result in major dividends.
This article is provided for informational purposes only. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of City National Bank.