Negotiating Salary

This article was written by Patricia Rose, Director of Career Services

Salary negotiation is one of the last steps in the job search process. It should not be an issue until the employer is ready to make you an offer, so don't bring it up during your initial interviews. In fact, in most cases, you should never introduce the subject. Leave that to the prospective employer.

Sooner or later, of course, you will need to be ready to discuss money, and you should be well-prepared for the conversation. First, know the typical salary range for the position you are seeking. You can get this information by checking the Career Survey reports Career Services produces for each graduating class, and, even better, by talking to people currently working in the field. Doing this research will ensure that your expectations are realistic.

Second, determine how much money you will need to support yourself. You will need to estimate rent, food, commuting and clothing costs for the cities or areas you are considering. Add in your loan payments, if you will have them. Make sure you factor in incidental or miscellaneous expenses, such as any costs associated with your social and entertainment activities. Then total everything up.

Armed with a knowledge of the standard salary range, and your financial needs, you are ready to negotiate. If you are being offered a job in a training program, you will be quoted a salary that all the members of your "class" will be receiving, with perhaps a $1000-$2000 spread to reward a candidate with summer experience in the industry, an outstanding academic record, or other special qualifications. You will therefore have very little room to negotiate. Having a competing offer at a higher figure, however, can be useful in getting the organization to come up a little (as long as the positions, industries and geographic cost of living are comparable).

If the employer begins the conversation by asking you what your salary requirements are, try not to answer specifically. Instead, ask what the range is for the position. If you are forced to name a figure, answer with a range, with the low figure the minimum amount you would accept.

Salary is not the whole story. Your total compensation is comprised of salary plus a benefits package. More and more employers are now also offering stock options as part of the package. Be sure to get as much information as you can about benefits: a full employee benefits package can add 30-40% to your base salary. For example, some employers will subsidize or completely pay for your master's degree. Other important benefits to look for are vacation and sick time, health coverage, life and disability insurance, profit sharing or retirement benefits, and dental, vision and prescription plans. More enlightened employers are also providing on-site or subsidized day care and a flexible parental leave policy.

In most cases, benefits packages are not negotiable, and many of these benefits will not be important to you now. But if one is, such as tuition remission or a prescription plan, factor that into the equation as you compare salaries.

What if you have just been offered your dream job, but at a disappointingly low salary? Express your enthusiasm for the job, but ask the employer whether or not he or she has any flexibility in determining the salary. Listen carefully to the response, because it will give you an idea of whether or not it's worthwhile to pursue the issue. If the salary itself cannot be increased, you might try to negotiate for an early salary review at, say, three or six months, when you could expect a raise. Remember, a high salary won't make you happy if you're in the wrong job. Don't make your decision on financial grounds alone.

You shouldn't make your decision hastily. Once you have an official offer, you should be given sufficient time to decide whether to accept. If you are still waiting to hear from other employers, try to negotiate for more time before you make your decision. When you ask for another week or another month, stress your continuing interest in the position, but state that you want to make a careful decision based on full information.

If you are under pressure to decide, call all the other organizations from whom you're waiting to hear, and see whether they are close to making a decision. If they seem unconcerned and inflexible, they may not be very interested in you. Never accept one offer and then later renege if a more attractive one materializes. To do this is unethical, and reflects badly on you and the University. If you have any questions about the timing of a response, ask your career counselor.

Finally, be courteous and professional in all your negotiations. You are dealing with your future boss or colleagues, and you want to make sure you're creating a good impression.

Once the negotiations are over, and you've agreed on a salary, immediately notify other employers who have offered you positions, so that those slots can be opened up for other students. Also, be sure to thank everyone who was helpful in the job search, and inform them of your decision. Don't forget to let the staff of Career Services know what you'll be doing by filling out a Career Plans Survey. This information will help next year's students in the negotiation process.

A number of job search books available in the Career Services library contain sections addressing salary and job offer negotiations. Some of these include:

  • Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed by H. Anthony Medly
  • What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles
  • Smart Woman's Guide to Resumes and Job Hunting by Julie Adair King and Betsy Sheldon