Negotiating the best salary

As I said last week, I’m on vacation, so I’m reposting some of my earlier advice. The following was originally published on June 25, 2013.

As discussed in the previous post [both in June and during this vacation reposting period], one of the hidden dangers of the job search is determining what a reasonable salary might be for any given job. Most employers are going to have a number in mind—typically a salary range. The employer usually wants to hire the best candidate for the lowest salary, while the applicant wants to get offered the job and get the highest salary possible.

So how do you, as the applicant, make that happen? Yahoo! Finance posted an article from U.S. News & World Report that has four suggestions, but what it really boils down to is doing your research and then using that research in your negotiation.

The first suggestion is only helpful to those of you who are well into your career, have a lot of experience, and can discuss your current compensation to provide a framework for what you think you should be offered. If this will be the start of your career after college graduation, or if you’re changing careers, it can be a bit trickier. Basically, the first suggestion is to avoid talking about salary until you’re actually offered the job. That’s good advice, up to the point when you’re asked the question. Once it’s been asked, you’re not going to make a good impression if you deflect it or avoid answering.

The second suggestion fits perfectly with what was discussed in my previous post: use solid evidence to support a reasonable offer. If you’ve done your research, you should have a pretty good idea of the compensation others are getting for comparable jobs in comparable cities. When you provide that type of evidence, you not only demonstrate specific knowledge, you also demonstrate skills pertaining to persuasion, thoroughness, and preparation that are important in every job.

The third suggestion asks you to calculate what they call your Zopa—your Zone of Possible Agreement. If you have done the research discussed in my previous post and calculated the minimum salary you can live with, then you have the bottom edge of your Zopa. The research on comparable salaries should tell you where (or if) your minimum fits within what is reasonable and how much “wiggle room” you have to ask for more than your minimum.

I confess that the fourth suggestion sounds to me an awful lot like the second: “Talk about creating fairness and finding common ground.” What they are really saying is use your research to show that you know what a fair salary is!

There are lots of other sites that offer suggestions about negotiation, and you can find them easily by typing “How do I negotiate salary” into a search engine. Just keep in mind two things: You have to negotiate from strength (strength comes from  knowing what the job should pay and the skills and experience that you can contribute to the organization) and you have to have the confidence to speak up for yourself (and that comes from the same sources!).