Discussing Salary: Minefield or Jackpot?

By Ignite Career Center

Most job applicants wonder about when and how to bring up the sticky question of salary.  Some candidates are afraid to approach this loaded subject or do so very gingerly.  Others will go straight to the point and ask an employer what the job pays, without first inquiring about the nature and details of the position.

Big mistake! If you bring up salary immediately, you have effectively just short-circuited what should be a gradual process.  But you might say, “Why should I not ask first and find out what the job pays so I can see if it meets my minimum requirements?”  For one thing, asking prematurely makes it look like you are interested only in the money, and not in the position.  Just as importantly, you haven’t even given the employer a chance to talk with you about the parameters of the position.

On the other hand, many applicants are eliminated before they get a chance to be interviewed because employers often use salary as a way of pre-screening candidates.  These days, many job postings specify that they will consider applicants only if they send their salary history and requirements. In this case, you will have to address salary in your cover letter if possible.  It’s usually better to give a salary range rather than stating that “salary is negotiable.” (Learn more in the tip below about using online salary guides to choose an appropriate salary range.)

If you get to first base and are invited for an interview, think of it as your opportunity to learn about the job, present yourself and your qualifications positively, and give the interviewer time to get to know you.

  • Don’t fixate on the salary right away.  Salary is often not discussed in a first interview for a job.
  • It is up to the interviewer to bring up the subject of salary.  That may occur only after a second or third interview.

Getting the salary you want

Once the subject of money has been raised, how should you proceed?  The reality is that salaries are sometimes negotiable.   Employers know this, and you should act on this assumption.

  • If you did not have to state a figure in your application or cover letter, and if the interviewer asks how much you are looking to make, be ready to give a salary range, as opposed to a specific amount.  You want to avoid backing yourself into a corner where you cannot negotiate your way out.
  • Your salary negotiations are more likely to be successful if you do advance research and preparation.  Research the numbers by going on the internet and using salary guides and calculators, such as salary.com, www.payscale.com, and Nace Salary Calculator, that will tell you the value of your skills and talent in the local marketplace.  Using the online guides, try to find a salary range that will keep you in the running and also garner the salary you wish to make.  The availability of these salary calculators has leveled the playing field somewhat between the employer and employee.
  • Most experts agree that, if possible, you should get a firm offer of employment before you divulge the salary range that would be acceptable to you.  Knowing that the employer wants you for the job puts you in a stronger position to negotiate a good salary.
  • Ask about the benefits that come with the job, and weigh their value as you decide what salary would be acceptable to you.

Don’t undervalue yourself, but do have realistic expectations.

Many job seekers will accept the first offer made by the employer.  But often employers leave room for negotiation in their offers, expecting to get a counter offer.  So, this is absolutely the right time to go ahead and ask for what you know your skills are worth.  And remember that your counter offer may include more than base pay.  You may ask for perks like bonuses, stock options, vacation time, flexible work schedule, telecommuting and other benefits.  Too many people rely on the employer to determine the fair remuneration for the job.  True, the employer is in the driver’s seat, but you certainly can and should advocate for yourself.

So, take the time, do the research, and polish your negotiating skills.  Then be confident and go for the salary and benefits you know you are worth!

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or contact us through our website.

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