Let’s get one thing out of the way at the start, almost no one likes negotiating salaries – not HR people, not hiring managers, and certainly not job seekers. The process can be embarrassing, time-consuming, heart-breaking, and very costly if not handled well. In my 25 years of search experience, I’ve found that the best strategy is for all parties involved is to say what you mean, mean what you say, and back up your words with your actions.
Before you begin looking for a new position, it is a good idea to do some research into how tight the job market is in your field, what other people with comparable experience in your industry are making, and cost of living factors if you are considering relocating to a new city. This research will not only give you a good idea of what a fair offer will be, but can be accomplished with ease using the internet.
Once you have this information, you have to decide on three realistic numbers: the dollar amount that you would absolutely turn down, the amount that will make you satisfied, and the amount that will make you ecstatic (keeping in mind the value of benefits, bonuses, stock options, and other perks a company might offer).
You’ve made it through several rounds of interviews, you’re excited about the opportunity the company is offering, and the company is excited about you and makes an offer. If their offer meets your “ecstatic” number, take it! Companies like to see employees who have done their homework, know a good offer when they see it, and don’t make the process into an adversarial one. If the offer isn’t quite what you’d hoped for, pick it apart. Determine what’s acceptable and what you would like to change. List all the things on your mind and go back to the company and let them know what you desire. If the company has a rigid salary structure, you may not be able to get a bigger base, but a sign-on bonus, relocation expenses, more vacation days, or an accelerated review schedule might be attainable.
A few words of advice on counter-offers: Don’t take them! It’s flattering to believe that your current company can’t get along without you, but in reality it is very expensive to replace a current employee, a cost that most employers are reluctant to pay. Remember why you started looking in the first place? Your boss is terrible, the pay stinks, whatever – your boss will still be there, and if they’re willing to give you a raise now, why weren’t they paying you what you were worth before? In addition, they will remember you perceived “disloyalty” with all of the ramifications that implies.
Negotiating a salary doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Be honest with yourself and with your prospective employer and you’ll both end up with what you desire.