Make the Most of Negotiating Salary and Benefits Package

A new job offer is cause for celebration -- but don’t let your excitement get in the way of a bigger paycheck. You should consider negotiating your salary and benefits package any time a new opportunity comes along. There is probably wiggle room when it comes to your total compensation, including base pay, bonuses, stock options, vacation time, and other benefits. A prospective employer expects desirable candidates to negotiate their salary with a counter offer.

 

To get a satisfactory offer, it’s important to brush up on how to negotiate your salary and benefits package. Learning what questions to ask and who to negotiate with can go a long way. Don’t sell yourself short: With a few salary negotiation tips, you can realize your full worth on the job market.

Why Should I Negotiate My Salary and Benefits Package?

Many people don’t even realize that they can negotiate a salary after receiving a job offer. A study from the staffing firm Robert Half found that just 39 percent of workers negotiated their last salary offer. Those who do negotiate get an average of 7 percent more than their original offer, according to the book “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation.”

 

An analysis by Glassdoor found that the typical United States employee is making $7,500 less than their true market value. That means hiring managers are bound to offer less than you’re really worth to them. Of course, it’s in the company’s interest that you don’t realize this -- so the onus is on you to ask for it.

 

If a company is offering you a desirable job, they likely want to you to come aboard as much as you want the position. You’ll rarely have more leverage than you do at the moment of the offer -- especially if you already have a job. Make the most of it.

 

A successful negotiation that increases the salary offer will make you more satisfied in your position. The peace of mind from being compensated fairly can help you get through periods of new job  stress or heightened workload. No one wants to feel undervalued in a job. Don’t end up kicking yourself later for leaving money on the table.

When to Negotiate Salary and Benefits

Negotiating your salary and benefits package is worthwhile in most cases. But there are certain situations in which a jobseeker has particular leverage to successfully increase the offer.

  • When you have an offer in front of you. Don’t try to negotiate the salary before you’ve been offered the job. You don’t want to color the hiring manager’s decision by being overeager or too aggressive. Once you’ve received the company’s initial offer, you can start weighing whether you want to counter.
  • When you can articulate the value you’d bring to the position. Know your worth -- and make sure the company knows that you know it. A big part of negotiation is having firm standing that you deserve what you’re asking for.
  • When you’ve researched salaries and the market rate for similar positions. A hiring manager won’t respond to a counter-offer that is out of line with the typical salary for your role. Make sure you have a sense of what your skills and experience typically cost a company.
  • When you’re unsatisfied with the offer. You don’t have to be unsatisfied to ask for more -- but if you are unsatisfied, it’s definitely worthwhile to negotiate. You don’t want to carry resentment about your wage into a new job. If you think you’ve been lowballed, don’t let that feeling simmer.
  • When you’re willing to walk away. Say you already have a fine job where you’re comfortable. You might be hesitant to make a drastic change if the offer doesn’t blow you away at first. This is the perfect time to see whether the company is willing to up the salary and benefits package. If it works, the decision could become a lot easier.

When Not to Negotiate Your Salary Offer

The cases are few and far between where it doesn’t make sense to advocate for your own value. However, in some instances it might be best to take the offer on the table.

 

  • You can’t make a good case for higher pay. If you’re going to ask for more, you need to be confident that you deserve it. When an offer is comfortably in line with the market rate, and your experience and skills don’t put you above the field for the position, you are not in a strong position to negotiate. Sure, you could always throw out a counter offer, but it’s likely the company knows as well as you do if you don’t deserve it.
  • You’ve already accepted the offer. If you’ve agreed to the number they’ve put in front of you, it’s bad etiquette to double back and ask for more. It might work, but you’ll leave a sour taste in the mouths of your future colleagues.
  • You don’t plan to accept the offer regardless of the amount. Playing the field on the job market is your right, as is using outside offers as leverage with your current employer. But if you ask for a particular salary or benefits package as a counter offer, you should be open to accepting it should the company agrees to your terms. Negotiating in bad faith is simply bad tact, and a waste of other people’s time.
  • The hiring manager has said directly that it is their best offer. If the company is stating outright that this is their best offer, there’s probably some truth in it: A bluff in such uncompromising terms could backfiring, and isn’t worth the risk. If you’re confident you deserve more money or benefits, by all means try to negotiate -- but be prepared to be disappointed.

Is Negotiating Salary Bad and Can it Backfire?

No, negotiating your salary is your right and responsibility. Most potential employers want to offer you just enough to bring you on. You should expect to be the only party looking out for your own best interest.

Most reasons people come up with to forgo negotiation fall into two big camps: 1) You’re uncomfortable with advocating for yourself and 2) You’re nervous about the company reacting poorly. Wipe both of those concerns from your mind.

Salary negotiation is an expected part of the hiring process. As long as you proceed with courtesy and good faith, you don’t have to worry that the offer will be revoked or that your future colleagues will think poorly of you.

Preparation Strategies for Negotiating with a Hiring Manager

So you have an offer in hand -- but you think there’s more in the company coffers for you. It’s time to negotiate. But don’t just leap into making your salary request: This is what you need to do before you start negotiating your base salary and benefits package.

Go in with the Right Mindset

Approaching a salary and benefits negotiation, you should make sure you have proper expectations and perspective. Keep the following in mind during the process:

 

  • Assume that negotiation is expected. Don’t get self-conscious about asking for more. Negotiating salary and benefits is a standard part of the hiring process. If you think of it as normal, you’ll be better positioned to advocate for what you want.
  • Remember that the company wants to hire you. It’s common to worry that asking for more will alienate the prospective employer. But hiring employees expensive -- they wouldn’t have made the offer if they weren’t eager to bring you aboard. A little friendly gamesmanship won’t change that.
  • Don’t think of it as a conflict. Negotiation is a conversation. Both parties are hoping to come to a satisfactory agreement. A prospective employer doesn’t want a new worker to be disgruntled from day one, after all.
  • Manage your expectations. Don’t assume that you’ll get everything you ask for -- or even most of it. That doesn’t mean that you failed in the negotiation, or that the company doesn’t value you. Rather, you’re simply facing the reality that you’re one part of a much larger budget. Prepare for some disappointment.
  • Keep the employer’s point of view in the back of your mind. Your negotiation will be most successful if you appeal to the company’s perspective, rather than describing why you deserve a better package.

Do Your Research on Salary Range and Market Value

Before starting a negotiation, make sure you know your stuff. Use sites like Glassdoor to get a sense of the typical salaries at the company for your role. Glassdoor and sites like PayScale will also let you look up the average salary for comparable positions market-wide and in particular locations.

Also look into whether your position’s market value is trending up or down, another element that you can use to support your case in negotiations. Don’t get stiffed taking a job for less money if the outlook says the position is becoming more and more desirable to companies. You want to get the most out of your skill set and experience, and you can only do that if you have a firm grasp on what they’re worth to employers at large.

Identify your Assets

A big part of a successful negotiation is making a straightforward, simple case about your value to the company. Through the interview process, you should have gathered an idea of the prospective employer’s vision for your position and the company’s overall objectives. With those in mind, take some time to think over what you bring to the table.

Identify the skills you have that are valuable to the market as a whole -- your negotiation should remind the hiring manager what they could be missing out on if the offer doesn’t meet your expectations.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re doing a salary negotiation over the phone or in person, prepare your main talking points in advance, and practice how you’ll phrase them to best convey your value. You don’t want to freeze up or stumble over your words -- confidence and self-assurance is important in a successful negotiation.

What to Say When Negotiating Your Salary

You’ve got your offer in hand, and you’ve done your preparation. Now it’s time to make your first move and start the negotiation over your salary and benefits package. Here are a few salary negotiation tips to help you increase the offer.

Strike the Right Tone

You don’t want to come off as rigid, obstinate, or adversarial in your request. These keys will help your guarantee your message comes through clearly.

  • Re-emphasize your interest in the opportunity. Leave no doubt that you’re thrilled about the offer.
  • Stay positive. Talk affirmatively about what makes your request justified, rather than talking about why the initial offer too low. If you take offense, it will put the employer on the defensive.
  • Use “we” and “our” language when possible. This conveys that you and your potential employer are in this together and share the same goals. Make it sound like a win/win situation.
  • Be gracious. Other candidates for this position didn’t get an offer in the first place -- don’t lose sight of that. Reiterate your appreciation for the opportunity.

Build Your Case

You’re most likely to successfully negotiate if you make a compelling argument for your position. Use these strategies to support your request.

  • Highlight how your presence would benefit the company. Point to specific successes that have benefited past employers, or particular skills and qualifications that are highly in the labor market.
  • Appeal to the company’s perspective. Your case depends on the hiring manager agreeing that paying you more is in his or her best interest. Think about why they want to hire you, and work from there to develop your main points.
  • Show evidence that your request is reasonable. Point to research about the average salary range for comparable positions to demonstrate that your request is well in line with your market value.
  • Read the room. You how you approach the conversation should depend on your rapport with the hiring manager. A formal, strait-laced potential employer might respond to hard facts, while a more conversational boss might respond to less tangible or quantifiable factors such as your fit within the team’s culture or professional development.

Dos and Don’ts of Negotiating a Salary Offer

Now that you know how to make a strong case for yourself, keep these tips in mind to navigate the push and pull of negotiation.

 

  • DO ask for more than your target salary. Negotiation is a back and forth. You should expect the employer to offer you less than you asked for, so start by requesting a slightly higher amount.
  • DON’T apologize for negotiating. Apologizing sends the message that your request is a burden.
  • DON’T give a desired salary range. An employer has every reason to offer you an amount on the low end of the range. After all, you’ve already said that would satisfy you -- why would they offer more? If the employer specifically asks for a range, put your target salary as the low end.
  • DO ask for the most specific number possible. Countering an offer with a very specific number -- say, $53,725 -- can be more effective than using a flat $54,000. The number looks like it’s been landed upon through precise calculation and consideration -- even if it’s not. It carries an air of legitimacy.
  • DON’T make premature concessions. Don’t assume that the company won’t offer something unless they’ve already said they won’t.
  • DO take your time. Don’t let yourself be caught on the spot. Unless the company is agreeing outright to your request, take some time after every offer to think it over. When possible, move the conversation to email so that you can use the most precise language to craft your response.
  • DON’T make demands or ultimatums. Language like “I need” or “I want” casts you against your future employer. Put your points in terms that speak to your shared interests.
  • DON’T focus on your personal circumstances. Arguments that only speak to your own needs will fall on deaf ears.

How Much to Ask for in Salary Negotiation

Most experts recommend asking for 10 to 20 percent more than you currently make in a salary negotiation. However, this is not a blanket rule. There are many factors to consider when determining how much to counter with after an initial offer. Here are some situations in which you might seek more or less than the typical rule of thumb.

 

    • You’ve achieved a recent professional benchmark. If you’ve recently had a major career success or obtained a new certification, degree or other qualification, you could be justified in seeking more than the typical guideline suggests. After all, you’ve demonstrated new value. Ask your mentors or other experts in your field how much of a pay bump you should expect after certain professional benchmarks.
    • The offer is already generous. If the offer is already near or above the high end of the usual salary range for comparable positions, you might want to err on the conservative side to avoid appearing out of touch or oblivious to market realities. Acknowledging when an offer is generous reflects well on you.
    • You have a better offer from somewhere else. If another company is luring you with an even better salary and benefits package, don’t be shy about requesting a comparable salary. It’s worth a try -- you should give the employer a chance to win you over.

 

  • The benefits, perks or circumstances are substantially different. Your salary number doesn’t tell the whole story. Cost of living, health care premiums, commuting costs, and bonus availability all factor into your total compensation. Be sure to weigh those factors when determining whether an offer is fair. The job might, for example, require a move to a new city with steeper rent costs. On the other hand, the company might offset those costs with better benefits such as tuition reimbursement or student loan repayment.

 

  • You’re changing fields. If you’re making a change in your career path, you might not be able to expect a salary trajectory in line with what you had previously anticipated. For example, switching from the for-profit to the nonprofit world could require less money, with the tradeoff of a renewed sense of purpose.

Next Steps When Negotiating Salary

After you’ve gone through the negotiation process, you’ll end up in one of a few different situations. The employer might agree to a number at or above your target, offer a new amount below your desired salary, or refuse to budge. Regardless, now it’s your move.

 

  • If the company agrees to an amount that you’ve indicated you would accept, congrats -- you’ve successfully negotiated. Unless there is new information or extenuating circumstances, you should take the offer. Otherwise, it will appear as though you’re not acting in good faith.
  • If the company won’t meet your target on salary, see if you can negotiate other parts of your total compensation package, such as vacation and personal time, stock options, or tuition reimbursement. This can be an opportunity for the employer to sweeten the pot while staying within budget.
  • Should the company refuse to negotiate at all on an offer you’re dissatisfied with, you have a hard decision to make. It might be best to walk away. You don’t want to begrudgingly start a new opportunity. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

 

In any case, negotiating your salary and benefits package can only improve your chances of bringing in more money for your family. A job offer is an opportunity to get to a new level of earning -- don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.

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