Negotiating your salary is one of the trickiest parts of finding a new job. If you haven't been working with a recruiter, you're on your own. But the good news is that at several stages of the process you have a chance to negotiate a good salary, particularly if you've got a few years' experience behind you.
To negotiate effectively, you must do your homework first. Find out what similar jobs pay in your area, and calculate your minimum requirements, considering benefits and promotion potential as well as salary.
During interviews with your potential employer, try to deflect talk about money until you've had a chance to establish how valuable you'll be. Once money comes up, some companies leave more room for negotiation in their offers than others.
"You need to be listening for clues," says Dave Jensen, managing director of Us-based Search Masters International. "If the hiring manager starts saying, 'how does that sound?' there's a possibility of something a little extra."
Finally, remember that the person you're negotiating with is someone you hope to work with every day.
"How you negotiate your salary sets the stage for how you're going to do on the job," says Ron Krannich, president of Impact Publications, a publisher of career-related books. "Don't play games; be straightforward. You expect this to be a long-term relationship."
Before you start negotiating, find out what you're worth.
Before the offer
Don't bring up salary yourself early in the process; it makes you sound more interested in money than in helping the company, and you need to first convince your potential employer of your worth. If you're asked, though, you have several options to weigh.
In answer to an ad
Salary history. It's usually best to provide your salary history if an ad asks for it. If you're concerned that your salary history will disqualify you for the job, you could omit it from your letter, but you risk not getting an interview. And when you do tell employers your salary history, always be honest; it's easy to verify.
Salary requirements. This is a tough one: if you name too high a price, you won't get an offer. If you name too low a figure, you won't get a good offer. At this stage, simply tell the employer you're willing to negotiate and are open to any fair offer.
Early in the interview process
Salary history. Answer the question, but try to anticipate and answer any questions your salary might raise. If your current salary is lower than average, try to turn the discussion to the job's market value, rather than your current salary. If you're making more than the job is worth but would be willing to take a pay cut, let the interviewer know you're willing to negotiate.
Salary requirements. Try to get the employer to come up with a figure first: "What would a position such as this pay for someone with my experience and qualifications?" But don't be too evasive. If the interviewer presses you for an answer, use the research you've done on the market value of the job - and the calculations you've done regarding what salary you could afford to take - and suggest an appropriate salary range.
After the offer
Negotiate. When you have an offer, start negotiating. At this point, you've already demonstrated to the company's management how valuable you will be.
Say you're making $60,000 in your current job and would like to make $70,000 to $75,000 in your next job, although you'd settle for $65,000. The interviewer offers you $65,000.
Show appreciation for the offer while building your case for a higher starting salary.
Emphasise your value to the company; you can also mention special circumstances: "I'm very excited about working here. Your offer is close to my range, but I was hoping for more like $70,000 to $75,000. That's the average for this area for people with my experience and background. Also, my spouse will have to find a new job if we relocate to this area." Now you'll find out if the company has made its best offer first or is willing to negotiate.
If there is room for the employer to negotiate, the interviewer will respond (most likely after consultation with others) with a new offer - say, $69,000.
The employer may say, "We always make competitive offers. Our average for someone at your level is $67,000, and we bring in people for less than that."
You have most likely got the company's best salary offer. Now is the time to negotiate other parts of your compensation. Ask for a performance review in three or six months; it shows you're willing to be judged on your performance. You may also be able to negotiate a hiring bonus, relocation expenses, or holidays.