Sorting out the advice you find online about salary negotiations

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is help you sort through all the advice that’s available on the Internet. Some of it is great advice, some is not, and some is great advice for some people, but not for all job seekers.

Here’s a case in point: On May 15 (2013) an article from U.S. News & World Report was posted on Yahoo! Finance. The title of the article is “5 Things Employers Don’t Want You to Know about Salary and Benefits.” Most of what the article contains is common sense, such as the first point, which is that all things being equal, an employer will hire the candidate whose salary expectation is lowest.

Their second point is one that new job seekers may need to think about, but that more experienced employees will accept as normal: Your “base salary” isn’t just your pay, but also includes what your employer is laying out for your benefits. When talking about salary with an employer, be sure that you’re both on the same page so that you’re not in for a surprise when you get that first paycheck.

“Internal equity” is the subject of the third point, and the article reminds readers to be aware that many organizations are going to be mindful of what they are already paying for comparable work. It can be bad for morale to hire newcomers at a higher compensation rate than current employees. While this is common in some areas (for example, higher education in some disciplines), most employers are not going to want to pay a new hire more than they pay current employees.

The fourth point goes back to what I would see as common sense: If the job is complex or requires highly specialized skills, the candidate who has those skills has a better chance of being able to negotiate a higher salary than candidates with less specialized skills. This is the traditional rule of economics—supply and demand. When the supply of skilled individuals is limited, you have a better chance of naming your own price if you have those skills.

The last point is that applicants should “Read the benefits booklet.” But the really important information here is buried in the second paragraph: If the benefits are good, you’ll hear about them in the interview process. If they didn’t come up, they aren’t a selling point, so you will need to be sure you know what you’re getting before you agree on salary (and on taking the job).

As you can see, there’s nothing wrong with any of this advice. . .it’s just not all equally valuable, and it’s not all equally valid for all readers. Thus what you need to do when you reading advice is figure out just how relevant the advice is for your situation and use the relevant bits to your advantage.