By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist
Q: I've been unemployed for over six months, and finally got a new job offer that I want to accept. But the salary is a lot less than what I used to make, as well as what the job market says I'm worth. I'd really like to try some salary negotiation so that my pay is more in line with my experience, but I don't know how to do this – or what the consequences might be. This job is a really interesting job opportunity, and I could use the money, but I'm afraid that without engaging in strong salary negotiation at the beginning, I'll wind up being underpaid for years. On the other hand, how can I be sure that attempting a salary negation won't cause the employer to withdraw their job offer and choose someone else? What should I do?
A: For most job seekers, salary negotiation is akin to a four-letter word. They are uncomfortable asking for the compensation package they want because:
These are all valid fears, and there are plenty of circumstances where attempting salary negotiation isn't a good idea. Sometimes, however, you have to try or you risk hurting your long-term career prospects. Here are some examples of what could happen if you don't go after what you want now:
If you are unhappy with the pay you've been offered, you are certainly entitled to enter into a salary negotiation for more money. Keep in mind that if you've already been offered the job, you are the number one candidate. So despite how it may see, you actually have a lot of leverage. You could walk away from the offer if the salary negotiation goes poorly, forcing the company to go through the candidate evaluation process all over again. Plus if you don't negotiate now, your next opportunity will be a year or more down the road.
So how do you execute a successful salary negotiation? Start by figuring out exactly how much money you want. Consider both what you've made in the past, as well as what the average salary is in today's job market for someone your background and level of expertise. Using this data, write down a comprehensive list of the compensation you're looking for, including things like benefits and perks, in addition to money. We'll call this list Plan A.
Remember: If you really want the employer to accept your demands, be sure to make the Plan A request reasonable and well-documented. If you get the feeling that the employer will try to haggle with you no matter what you do, you can also optionally add an extra 10 - 20k to your request so that you have some room to negotiate. But if you do this, be warned – you will need to be able to justify any numbers that you present, and asking for too much is a surefire way to fail your salary negotiation entirely.
Next, take this offer to your potential boss. Try to avoid HR if possible, since they're typically less invested in bringing you on board. The one exception to this is if you're working with a commissioned recruiter, since they have a financial investment in your decision.
When you bring your Plan A numbers to the boss, try to present using the Sandwich Approach: good news, bad news, good news to state your case. Explain that you're very interested in the offer, and give specific reasons why you want the position. Then say that based upon your research, you think (the numbers in Plan A) would be a more appropriate salary. If the company agrees, you'd be delighted to come on board.
Now your salary negotiation has begun in earnest. Your boss may say yes to your Plan A, or make a counteroffer. A strong counteroffer will typically be somewhere between the original salary and your Plan A request. If you're happy with the compromise proposal, don't hesitate to take it. You will have managed a successful salary negotiation in the middle of a weak job market – an impressive achievement.
However, if this counteroffer still isn't enough, it's time to go to Plan B. Your Plan B proposal should be something in between his counteroffer and Plan A. If possible, stick with the items most critical to you, and cut things that you don't care about. For instance, you could stick with Plan A's base salary, but cut back on vacation days or the structure of your performance bonus. This is why your original Plan A should include other items besides just salary. Paying your own professional organization's dues may also seal the deal.
The employer may agree to Plan B, or make a counteroffer again. At this point, your options will be accepting the new counteroffer or coming back with Plan C, which will probably require a decrease in some of your most critical elements. If the salary negotiation goes this far, however, you may not wish to continue. Prolonged haggling isn't a great sign of how things will be working for this new company. Would you want to go through this scenario every time you ask for added staff, a new computer or payment for an important industry conference, etc?
Whatever you do, don't offer or agree to anything you honestly don't want. It's better to walk away from a salary negotiation than start a new job with a chip on your shoulder.
Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.