Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our weekly column to give you career and workplace advice/coaching. Please write in and tell me about a career challenge or frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
What am I missing in salary negotiations? I think I left more than a little bit on the table here. But how do you know what you should be getting paid versus what you are offered and if it is a good deal?
I was working in a consulting firm. At the time (about 10 years ago), I was making $80K/year + benefits + unlimited expense account. I had a Master’s degree and a good amount of work experience. I thought I was getting a decent deal at the time, especially since I negotiated up $20K from my previous position.
I was in a management role on the project, identifying staff we needed for better delivery, assisting with requirements as needed (we had teams to do that, but I was reviewing for gaps), managing deliverable timelines, writing proposals, helping communication between members occur – all of that.
A colleague who had an MBA was making 3x what I was – and her role was to lead a team for requirements gathering. That was it! She didn’t have more to manage or deliver. Needless to say, I was shocked and annoyed at the difference in our pay – and work expectations.
But what do you do in a situation like that? How do you ask for additional compensation? Do you wait for the next review cycle? How does that work? – Underpaid in Memphis
As I was reading your note, I was thinking, “Yeah, $80,000 is too low…” and then you hit me with the whopper of your colleague’s salary. She had an MBA, which will often put a bump into anyone’s package, but 3x is not all due to her degree!
Here’s the thing about salary: your employer has incentive to pay you as little as they can. Even when they want to be “fair,” they will more than likely look for the lowest “win-win” number they can when you’re negotiating. There are a lot of reasons for this, and this truth is not likely to change, so you have to do the changing and get into a smart salary negotiation mindset.
First recognize that whatever is a “win-win” number for you when you take the job probably isn’t going to be your “win-win” number after you’ve been there for a few years. When you get the offer is the time to negotiate because that’s when you have the most negotiating leverage,* but take a longer term view, based on what you want to be worth when you’re working for them, not what you’re worth now working for your old employer.
When you’re negotiating a job offer you need to think about the job you’ll do for them for the next 3-4 years and ask yourself what you want to be worth when you’re ready to move on. Start the negotiation from there.
But how do you find out if even that number is in the right range for what they’re willing to pay? The best thing to do is (1) do your research on the web and put your ask in the “above average” range of what the average salary range survey tables tell you, and (2) ask around to friends and colleagues who know you, the type of job you do (or want) and the type of companies you want to work for. If you talk to 6 people who know the industry, your discipline and your geography, you’ll start to zero in on a good salary range. And always think in terms of salary range! This gives you and the employer wiggle room to move up while negotiating.
*Can you negotiate a major raise by threatening to leave your employer after you’ve been there a while? Of course you can, but this strategy is fraught with risk and you can easily find yourself out of a job. Don’t ever negotiate anything without a “Plan B.”
You have more to negotiate with than just salary. There are many aspects to a benefit package, both official and unofficial, and when you think about what’s important to you holistically and what you bring to the table confidently, you’ll find it easier to get what you deserve.
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!