Kim Blumin
By Kim Blumin,
Senior Recruiter, Regional Director East Bay

How to Negotiate A Salary That Works For You

Miniature 2 people shaking hands negotiating salary. (shutterstock)

Let’s face it—not everyone is a master negotiator. The type of conversational artfulness that we watch on real estate reality shows and read about in the Wall Street Journal is carried out by people who’ve honed their negotiation skills day-in and day-out over the course of years—even decades.

But, for many, that’s not the norm. Most of us have only had the opportunity to negotiate a contract or salary a few times during the entire span of our careers—if at all.

So when it comes time for you to negotiate your salary, it’s important to know how to navigate the process and receive the compensation you feel you deserve while setting yourself up for future success. Let’s dive in.

  1. Expectations

    When interviewing for a new position, it’s vitally important to set realistic expectations for yourself, your employer, your financial requirements, and your lifestyle. But in order to successfully set those expectations in a way that gives you both an advantage and a chance, you need to research and find out what your specific job title is pulling down in the local market.

    There’s two ways to go about your research.

    First, research online sources like Salary.com or GlassDoor.com. A simple search can highlight similar job titles with visible salaries that can give you a solid understanding of your pay range. With just a few quick searches, you’ll know exactly what to expect as well as what’s feasible when the conversation eventually comes up between you and your future employer.

    Secondly, you can reach out to friendly, successful colleagues in your industry who have a similar job title and ask for a ballpark figure. If they’re willing to discuss their salary with you on a personal level, ask them about their previous negotiations to better understand what employers are expecting to pay and what kind of back-and-forth occurred to get to their desired salary. This can give you firsthand knowledge you need to confidently negotiate a package that’s fair to both sides.

    Remember though—your experience and previous success greatly influence your ability to negotiate as well as the possible salary you may receive.

    As a recent college graduate, a high-paying job right out of the gate may be completely unrealistic. That being said, a 15-year veteran of the industry shouldn’t be settling for less than what their counterparts are receiving.

    Once you’ve factored in your experience and found your salary range, it’s also important to ask yourself whether or not the job is right for you. Bigger markets like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles may offer more pay, but come with a higher price tag on housing, food, schools, and commute times. By weighing your options and understanding what you personally need to generate an optimal lifestyle, you’ll put yourself in a position to ask for what you need without settling for less than what you want.
  2. The Number

    Now that you have a number in mind, what do you do with it and when do you share it? It’s a question that has no right or wrong answer and one that’s been asked for years. The truth: Read the room.

    But before negotiating your salary, it’s important to lay the groundwork for why you deserve the salary you have in mind. That’s why throughout the interview process its important to find points in conversations, emails, or Zooms to state your value and experience in a way that validates your financial expectations.

    Most salary conversations won’t come up in the first or even second interview—so do your best not to bring it up, unless your future employer asks.

    If you’re on a second or third interview and the subject comes up, feel free to ask your employer what their range is. And if your interviewer asks you for a number first, then lay out your salary range in a polite and conversational tone and be prepared to back it up with your value-adds.

    Worried your number is too high? Don’t be. As long as you’ve properly positioned yourself as someone of value to the company, they will be willing to pay you what you deserve as long as it’s within reason. And, if you receive any pushback or negative comments about your previous experience or expectations, take that as a red flag. Maybe that particular employer doesn’t value their team as much as someone else—and that situation can lead to a stagnant job that offers little upside or upward mobility.

    It’s also important to note that California law restricts employers from asking candidates what their previous or current pay was/is. But that doesn’t mean they won’t ask. If you think laying out your previous salary will help you climb the pay-scale ladder, feel free to share. But keep in mind that exaggerations can price you out of the competition if your value prop, experience, and previous interviews can’t back it up.

    And if you don’t feel comfortable with a question relating to your previous salary, simply avoid it by saying “I’m looking to remain competitive in my new role,” or send it back over to the interviewer by saying “I look forward to discussing the total compensation package when we reach that stage.”
  3. The Perks

    When it comes to negotiating your salary, its not just about the number—it’s about the full benefits and perks. Additional benefits like medical, dental, paid time off, parental leave, vacation time, meal delivery services, cafeterias, company cars, commuter compensation, and remote or hybrid work opportunities can not only significantly affect your total annual net income, but also provide you with the work/life balance you need to take a job that may not have the highest salary.

    Lunches, coffee and commutes alone can cost the average employee $15,000 per year. And when you consider the average raise in California currently sits at 3%, that $15K can make a monumental difference in your net income. And let’s not forget the old adage, “time is money.” Today’s hybrid work environments empower many employees to explore timesaving options that enhance their social lives, improve physical wellness, and help maintain mental health. In fact, in today’s job market, 2/3rds of employees are putting their health and wellness before salary in order to generate an ideal work/life balance.

    During this stage of the negotiation process, it’s also wise to ask about the total compensation package beyond salary, including bonuses, annual reviews, company transportation, and stock options. If you know you have the growth opportunities that could expand your salary every year or so, you can strategically map out exactly where you’ll be in the future—and if your ideal future is only a year or two away, then perhaps that’s a powerful perk to consider.
  4. The Dilemma

    In some instances, you may find yourself in a situation where the job you’re applying for is the job you’ve dreamed of—but the salary is far from ideal.

    You love the job, you’re not in love with the pay. You are not able to move, but you may not be able to afford the lifestyle you desire. You want the experience and the prestige, but you’re not sure if it’s worth a couple years living off instant ramen.

    The most important thing to ask yourself is this one question: What are you settling for?

    If you’re considering taking a lower paying job, you need to understand what it does for you not only in the present, but also in the future.

    Perhaps by taking the lower paying position you’ll gain greater experience from a mentor or executive who can help take your career to the next level. Perhaps this position gives you the opportunity to learn more, expand your capabilities, and move up to higher paying jobs within the organization. Or perhaps this position gives you new skills that can help you move laterally and vertically into a different job position that demands higher pay.

    But know this—if you can’t see yourself moving in an upward trajectory, be it financially, spiritually, personally, or professionally—then don’t settle, and always aim higher with your number and financial expectations.
  5. The Offer

    Congratulations! You’ve researched, you’ve interviewed, you’ve laid out a number, and you’ve received an offer!

    Now get it in writing!

    Offer letters are vital to protecting what you’ve agreed upon during negotiations. Oftentimes, talking points, concessions, perks, and numbers can get lost in phone conversations, Zooms, and email chains. Make sure to keep note of what your employer has agreed upon and get it all from them in writing. If they value you, they’ll take the time to make you an official offer. If they don’t, you may be staring at a red flag.

Certified is always happy to help our candidates find and negotiate the salaries they need to create a beneficial lifestyle and improve their upward mobility. If you’d like assistance before your interview or during the salary negotiation process, we’re glad to give you the tips and reassurance you need to get what you deserve.

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