I have given a name to my pain, and it is: Salary Negotiation. It is the most painful form of pain that there is. Root canal? No problem. A dislocated shoulder – hey, bring it on. Listening to politicians during the current election campaign? Slightly more painful, but I’ll survive. But salary negotiation? Pure torture; a fate worse than death, death being quicker, and only occurring once.
Salary negotiation is one of the final phases of the job hunting journey. You’ve determined what it is you want to do and where, updated your résumé, networked with others, researched companies, perhaps approaching some of them directly, applied to various jobs, and survived the interview. You’ve reached the POP: the Point of Pain, the point of negotiating your income.
To help make this a less painful process, I offer the following tactics, adapted from “What Color is Your Parachute?” Note that unless you are a car salesman, negotiation is a very tough skill to master, and takes much hard work and practice.
So, if you really want to learn how to negotiate, stop reading this article, go to your TV and watch the “The World Poker Tour”. You will not find a more engrossing or educational show. Salary negotiation is the ultimate poker game. And like “The Gambler” says, you got to know when to hold, when to fold, when to walk away and when to run like hell.
Tactic #1: Avoid Talking Salary Before an Offer
Ideally, you should not discuss salary until you have received a firm job offer. Now, I know that this is a very hard thing to do. Most employers, quite rightly, will want at least a rough idea of how much you’ll cost them before they hire you. In fact, given that they may have several qualified candidates to choose from, often the choice will come down to salary.
However, from your point of view, the best thing you can do is not talk about salary until there is an offer. If the interviewer raises the issue of salary before then, a good reply would be something like: “Until you’ve decided you definitely want me, and I’ve decided that I would be able to help you with your work here, I think it’s too soon to talk about salary”
What if that doesn’t work and they still want to know your expected salary? You go to your second response, which is “I’ll be happy to discuss salary, but first can you help me understand more what this job involves?”
After that, if the interviewer still insists on knowing your salary (can’t you just feel the pain?), you can state a range, for example, “I’m looking for something in the $NN,000 to $NN,000 range.” More about ranges later.
Tactic #2: Avoid Being the First to Mention Numbers
The general rule is: whoever mentions a figure first loses. So another strategy, if you are asked to state your salary (either before or after a job offer) is turn the question around and say “What kind of salary did you have in mind?” You can also say: “Since you created this position, I assume you’d have a figure in mind, and I’d be interested to know what it is.” It can take nerves of steel to do this, which is why it’s important to practice this with friends or family if you can.
Tactic #3: Research Your Range
Before you can state a range, you need to have a good idea of what other people at your level are making. Fortunately, the STC produces a very detailed salary survey for both Canada and the U.S.
If you look at page 6 of the last survey (from 2003), you’ll see the average salary figures based on a variety of factors: employment level, education, sex, age, and years of experience. The most important factors are employment level and years of experience. You can use either of these as a basis to determine your salary range. The employment level is probably the most relevant and useful, and has the most number of ranges.
Let’s say you are applying for a mid-level, non-supervisory position. This has an average salary of $51,490. The average salary of the next level up is $58,200. Therefore the range is $51,490 to $58,200.
But you would never state such precise numbers in a range – generally you would round to the nearest thousand, or in some cases, the nearest 5,000 or 10,000. So you could restate this range as $52,000 to $58,000 or, for even more flexibility, $50,000 to $60,000.
Other sources for salary ranges include business publications, want ads, the STC job bank and fellow writers.
Tactic #4: Hone, Hone in the Range!
What you want to do is “hook in” your range to the one that the employer has in mind. If the employer is expecting to pay $45,000 to $50,000, the range you’d want to give is around $42,000 to $53,000. The lowest end of your range is lower than their lowest number, but the highest number in you range is higher than their highest number.
Now, if you can get the employee to state a number (or range), it will often be at the low end of the range you had in mind, or even below it. This is where the tough negotiating skills come into play. You need to state your range and explain it is justified because:
- you are so productive
- you’ve always improved the quality of the projects you’ve worked on
- you’ve streamlined processes and procedures
- you’re such a wonderful human being, a great humanitarian, and you smell nice
That is, you need to say you deserve more money because you’ve lowered costs. As tech writers, we may not be able to increase revenues much (at least not directly) but we can have a direct effect on cutting expenses. That’s why it’s critical to list your cost-savings accomplishments, and, if possible, show them through your work samples.
Tactic #5: Close the “Sale”
If the stars align and by some miracle you and the company can agree on a salary – great! But don’t forget all the other things that make up your employment package:
- vacation time (usually negotiable)
- medical and dental insurance (less negotiable – companies often have fixed plans)
- training allowance (some companies will offer to pay for training course)
- flextime work schedule
- telecommuting options
- stock options (believe it or not, these still actually mean something in some places)
You want to get as much of this in writing as possible, in a letter of agreement or employment contract. As Sam Goldwyn said: “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” The road to hell is paved with unwritten promises.
Tactic #6: Evaluate the Offer
Once you’ve received an offer with all the details listed above, it’s time to do some hard thinking. Don’t be afraid to say you’d like a couple of days to think about it in order to discuss it with your family or colleagues.
You need to ask yourself:
- Do you like the work this job involves?
- Do you like the company and corporate atmosphere or culture?
- What do you think of your potential boss? Are they someone you can work with?
- Is the job challenging enough to meet your needs, but not so overwhelming that you would burn out?
- Is the total compensation they are offering enough?
And most importantly: Are you sure you want this job? If not, don’t be afraid to turn it down. As long as you persevere in your hunt, it won’t be the last job offer you’ll ever get.
Tactic #7: Follow the Job Hunter’s Philosophy
Evaluate the offer, make your decision, accept it and never look back. Nothing is more tragic than the words “I should have…” Don’t put yourself in a position where you later say: “I should have taken that job” or “I should have turned down that job” or “I should have asked for more money.” Regret and second-guessing will crash your mind as badly as an old hard drive.
Your career path will reflect the sum total of the choices you make. This is a view that must permeate the management of your career. Job hunting is one of the hardest, most stressful, most draining and most depressing things we have to endure. But it doesn’t always have to be. More important than what happens to us in our job hunt, and indeed, in our lives, is how we respond to it. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning”:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.
***Have a great summer. When this column returns, it will take on a new form. What will it be? You’ll have to wait until the fall to see…