Getting the Salary You Want During an Economic Downturn
Editor’s Note: This was the feature article in this month’s TechCom Manager newsletter, reprinted here with permission. Click the previous link to subscribe to the newsletter.
by Aparna & Doug Datta Walker
During the economic downturn our country is facing today, it is very difficult to be unemployed and ask for the salary range you want (or need) when you know the next candidate could easily ask for less. And being discredited for your salary needs can be quite devastating, too. Although it’s an employer’s market these days, there are actually several strategies you can follow to obtain your desired salary.
Ideally, you’re ahead of the game when you know up front what salary range a prospective employer has in mind for a specific position. That way, neither you nor the employer wastes each others’ time tip-toeing around the issue during the interview process. Should you be lucky enough to obtain this information, it will certainly help expedite your negotiations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite seem to work out this way in most cases. Moreover, it is a well known fact that whoever blurts out a salary range first often puts themselves at a disadvantage.
Bottom line: If you don’t know the employer’s salary range up front, if at all possible, try to avoid salary discussions until the employer is ready to offer you the job. If the employer asks what salary range you require, try to avoid the subject by asking what the job entails, what the benefits package includes, and so on.
Penelope Trunk’s informative blog, Brazen Careerist, provides some good advice on how to stall the salary-range discussion, and even how to persuade employers to give a range first! Although this is good advice, keep in mind it doesn’t help when the employer requires a salary range or absolute dollar figure prior to an interview.
Preparing for Salary Negotiations
The key to salary negotiations is knowledge, specifically:
- Find out what the average salary is for the type of position you want based on location (region, etc.).
- Know what you are worth based on your education and experience.
- Know as much as you can about the company with which you are applying. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!!!!!
You can start by visiting web sites such as www.salaryrange.com, www.payscale.com, and www.salary.com. Collectively, these sites can give you current information regarding pay ranges, experience expectations, and so on. For example, a recent inquiry for a Technical Writer I position in San Francisco showed a base salary of $49,779 – $64,434. With benefits and bonuses, the range jumped to $79,990.
After you have a solid salary range in mind, you can apply a guess-work figure for potential candidates with whom you are competing. Presently, employers are selecting only what they consider to be the best candidates for interviews. So if at all possible, check with recruiters and job boards to find out approximately how many applicants have already applied for the position. You might even be able to find out how your qualifications measure up compared to other candidates. Then, if you feel you’ll place at the top of the applicant list, you might ask for a higher salary. But be careful: Employers are likely to compare your asking salary to a critical analysis of what they feel you are actually worth.
Evaluating Your Worth
At some point, you may need to step back and take a very close look at your experience and education. Ask yourself:
- Do I meet ALL the listed job requirements?
- Was my education top notch?
- Did I go to a good enough school?
- Can I show evidence of continuing education?
If you are deficient in one or more areas, perhaps you should lower your salary expectations.
After you have looked closely at your experience and education and have determined the appropriate pay range for the position, you should be able to pinpoint where you fall in the range.
In good economic times, it’s usually always good to aim a bit higher than what you feel you’re worth. This allows some wiggle room in case you have to negotiate down. In bad economic times like these, however, it’s best to target what you’re worth and negotiate from there. The key is to not price yourself out of the market. It’s also crucial not to undervalue yourself. Generally, most employers have a fair-market salary in mind, which they usually base on previous employees in the same or similar positions. If you ask for a salary that is too low, the employer might think you’re totally unqualified for the position and/or just plain desperate. Above all, DO NOT appear desperate; instead, try to look comfortable, confident, and ready to work for this company — not only for the pay, but also for other intrinsic reasons.
As negotiations commence, always state how flexible you are. Generally, employers will respond positively to higher salary requests — especially if the candidate has priced his/her skills and experience realistically. This will provide a good starting point for later negotiations.
Whenever you do get an interview and the salary issue comes up, always make sure the employer knows you’ve done your research and you know the average or fair-market salaries for the position. The more you appear to know and understand about pay ranges and, more importantly, about the company, the more impressed they will be.
Know What You Want, Need, and When to Walk Away
Always be prepared to negotiate. Know what you want and what you can do without. Also know your walk-away point. Clearly, you do not want to apply for jobs that pay below your survival needs. Many job advertisements do not state salary ranges; however, if a position sounds like a perfect fit, it is sometimes good to wait until salary is discussed. While this may seem like a waste of time to many people, it is a sign of the times right now, and, UNFORTUNATELY, a game you must play.
Earlier in the article, we quoted a salary figure that included a bonus and benefits, such as health and dental. But what if the company does not wish to pay for these things? What if they require weekend work but are not willing to pay overtime or weekend rates? What should you ask for? These are questions you need to think about before an interview. You need to have some bargaining chips in mind during the negotiation process.
For example, let’s say the prospective employer isn’t offering a healthcare plan. You could ask for flex days where you can work from home or a slightly higher salary to offset healthcare costs. If you require certain time allowances for childcare or other activities, you could offer to stay extra hours on other days, or to take a slight reduction in salary. It is important to be flexible in what you will accept and what you can offer.
Remember, companies that are unwilling to negotiate salary are often not good companies to work for. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a job because the company won’t negotiate. In reality, it’s probably in your best interest to keep looking for another great opportunity, which could be just around the corner.
About the Authors
Aparna and Douglas
Aparna Datta Walker is a professional Online Marketing Manager who offers a variety of Online and Editorial services through her own professional services business. Douglas Datta Walker is a professional Technical Writer and Environmental Manager who specializes in the Environmental and Educational fields.
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