Knowledge is power in salary negotiation
From Career Services - May 4, 2013
You’ve done it! You networked effectively, customized a perfect resume, crafted an excellent cover letter, and knocked it out of the park during the interview. And now comes the moment you have been hoping for: you receive an offer. What if it is lower than you expect? Is it appropriate to ask for more? How much more? What if it is higher than you thought you’d get? Do you accept on the spot?
Salary negotiation can be a tricky business, and is the source of much angst among job seekers.
Let’s back up a little bit, and review some of the steps you can take earlier in the process to increase your level of comfort with salary-related issues. One soon-to-be public health graduate recently encountered this question during the telephone screening interview: “How much would you expect to earn if you were offered this position?”
Because she called by the recruiter within just a couple of days after submitting her application, she hadn’t looked up what salary ranges might be for the position. She was so surprised by the question, she blurted out a rather low range. The human resources representative told her that the salary being offered was actually about $15,000 higher than the top end of her range, and asked if that was acceptable.
Of course, the answer was “yes,” and the door to future negotiating was effectively closed.
To avoid finding yourself in a similar predicament, take the time to research the salary for the position title even before you submit the application. This can be as simple as Googling the position title. For instance, if you Google “epidemiologist salary” you will see within seconds that the average salary is about $65,000. You can then dig a little deeper on sites such as indeed.com, glassdoor.com, bls.gov, and salary.com to learn further details, including variances according to geographic regions, which is important to know during negotiations.
Sometimes, the application instructions will ask that you provide either salary history or salary expectations in the cover letter. DO NOT IGNORE THIS REQUEST! When they ask for this information, they do use it as a screening tool, and if you ignore it, your materials will be moved to the “do not interview” pile. And think about it – if you describe yourself as “detail oriented” and then you ignore a simple request, you have basically contradicted your own resume.
So, how do you handle this in the cover letter? If the question is salary history, and your prior work experience has been part-time or relatively low paying, toward the end of your letter, you can say something like: “Your position description requests salary history. While I worked throughout graduate school, my position was part-time as a graduate assistant at an hourly rate of about $17 per hour. Obviously, I hope to be considering more than that as I assume a full-time professional position.”
If the position description requests salary expectations, in the final paragraph of your letter you could write something like: “Your position description requests salary expectations. Given my education, experience, and research on the market rate for this type of position in this region, I would expect to be considering a salary in the upper sixties (or whatever makes sense for your particular position). Naturally, I would have a better sense of this once I have learned more about the position, and this is negotiable.”
Again, in order to come up with an appropriate range, you can use such sites at indeed.com, glassdoor.com, bls.gov, and salary.com. CAUTION: do not mention salary in the cover letter if it is not requested.
Remember hearing that “knowledge is power”? This is certainly true in salary negotiation. When you do receive the offer, it is always appropriate to ask for some time to think about it. Express enthusiasm and confidence at receiving the offer (“Thank you so much! I am delighted to be offered the position, and know I can make a strong contribution here! May I just have a few days to think about it?”)
If the offer is lower than you were hoping, you can ask “Is there any room to move on that?” They may ask what number you are hoping for, and you can respond with a similar statement to that recommended for the cover letter, reiterating that with your education and experience, and knowing the market for the region, you were hoping for something in the XYZ range, where XYZ is based on your research, and is no more than about 10 -15 percent more than their offer. The caveat here is that if the original offer is really low, you can go higher, or you simply have to weigh the other benefits of the position, including how strongly you want the position.
If the offer is what you wanted or higher, you can still ask for a few days, and respond with an inquiry about the other benefits or perks – or even ask for a little more. We worked with one individual who was offered more than anticipated, but decided to use the “How firm is that offer?” question. He was actually told by the hiring manager that they had anticipated he would negotiate, and was immediately offered a $9,000 increase!
Remember, whatever you negotiate could literally cost you or make you thousands of dollars over the course of your career. With rare exceptions, it is always okay to try to negotiate (it is very unlikely that an offer will be retracted because you ask a negotiating question), and in the worst case, the answer will just be no.* In the best case, you will start your new position at a higher salary.
*By the way, if the employer does refuse to go higher with the salary, it is acceptable to request other things – the option to telecommute, a merit increase after 90 days if you are meeting/exceeding expectations, a computer, extra vacation, or another benefit that is important to you. This will show that you willing to be flexible while at the same time demonstrating that you believe in your worth and what you have to offer the organization.