Tips to Negotiate Starting Salary

Bill Humbert

If you think that acing an interview will ensure that you receive the perfect starting salary, you need to think again. Negotiating a starting salary can be a tricky game, but if you want to be paid what you're worth, it's a game worth playing. Bill Humbert, corporate recruiter and the author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job, shares his insider tips on positioning yourself to earn exactly what you're worth.

Salary Negotiation: Before the Interview

LoveToKnow (LTK): How have salaries and salary negotiations been affected by the slow economic turnaround?

Bill Humbert (BH): Typically salaries and negotiations are driven by corporate budgets and compensation banding rather than the economy. The economy drives the positions that companies decide to open. While candidates may negotiate, the company will be more sensitive to the compensation of others currently in similar positions.

It's important to keep in mind that if someone has been looking for work a long time, he may be so happy just to get a job that he will accept a lower salary than he has to. Some employers feel that they can probably get away with a lowball offer, and many job hunters will grab it just so they can have a job. The truth is there are ways to get the job and still get what you want.

LTK: What are some of the common pitfalls that job candidates fall into when applying for a job?

BH: If they apply online, they are posting and praying. Companies do not have the time nor people to wade through all of the resumes that enter their Applicant Tracking System. Therefore candidates need to network their way into the company - almost guaranteeing an interview. When a person is desperate and applying for everything, the result can be self-defeating. I had one candidate last summer who applied for every single position at every level that I posted for my client. It is hard to take that candidate seriously. A desperate candidate rarely prepares stories to demonstrate skills and attributes. Humans remember stories better than facts.

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LTK: Do you have any other salary-related tips that candidates can use before they get the interview?

BH: Keep these two things in mind when applying for the job:

  • Don't Offer Salary Requirements: When you are asked to include salary requirements with your resume, that is typically a company's first screen and it can be used against you. I've seen people agonize over what to reveal because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of a good job. My advice is to simply put "Open" in that spot. If your qualifications are on target, they'll call you. If in the interview you're asked what you made at your last job, reply by asking about the range for the one you are applying. You'd be surprised how managers or human resource representatives will tell you.
  • Don't Give Away Too Much: In many job applications, an employer will ask for your salary history. It is perfectly acceptable to write "Willing to discuss at appropriate time during interview process" and leave those numbers blank. Writing down those numbers pigeonholes you, and reduces your negotiation power.

Salary Negotiation: During the Interview Process

LTK: How can a candidate position himself to ask for a reasonable salary and receive what he's asked for?

BH: Don't ask for a specific salary. Ask the company what salary range the position is budgeted for at the beginning of the interview process. Generally the company will tell. If the range is what you're looking for, research the company's needs and demonstrate during the interview that you have the ability and motivation to do the job. When an offer is extended, the company has typically done its due diligence. It may go up a few thousand dollars in base pay if you've supplied new information to demonstrate your qualifications for the job. More likely they may be willing to negotiate a sign-on bonus or extra week of vacation.

LTK: Once a salary is offered, what tips do you have for continuing negotiations?

BH: Ask "Do you have any flexibility in your offer?" If the answer is no, the candidate has a decision to make. If it is yes, they need to supply new information that demonstrates they are worth more. Obviously that information needs to have metrics attached. This is the value of writing down the "Wish I would have said's" after the interview. If there were questions that you wished you had answered better, now's the time to revisit those answers and sell yourself with new, more thorough information.

LTK: Do you have any other tips or suggestions for ensuring candidates are paid what they're worth?

BH: Yes, of course:

  • Research the company, position and manager(s) before and after the interview. Look her/him up on LinkedIn to see if there are additional relationships you can leverage.
  • Write a handwritten simple thank you note immediately after the interview. Drop it off or mail it, and make sure you have a separate note for each individual who took part in interviewing you.
  • Act confident (not arrogant) during the interview.
  • Smile.
  • Maintain respectful eye contact (not staring contest) during the interview.
  • Consult with the manager during the interview. Demonstrate that you may be able to bring new expertise to the group.
  • Remember, you may decide this position is not the right one for you. Leave the door open should the right job become available.

Keep in mind that salary negotiation is more art than science, so these tips may not always apply. Many hourly workers don't have as much flexibility on pay, and some companies have policies that would require you to adjust the script a little to fit those situations. The key thing to remember is that you don't have to give them a salary range that would jeopardize your earning potential, and that you don't have to accept their first offer most of the time. Remember that they are interviewing you because they need to fill that position. It's important to the company to have someone in that job, and while they are considering you, they aren't doing you a favor. They need what you have to offer, so you should get the best offer out of them that is possible.

More Tips from Bill Humbert

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LoveToKnow Jobs would like to thank Mr. Humbert for taking the time to share his insights into negotiating starting salaries.

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