10 Steps To Negotiating Your Best Salary

By Kate Smedley

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For exhausted candidates who have undergone a rigorous, challenging interview process, there’s nothing more disappointing than receiving a job offer which fails to meet your expectations. It’s quite normal for your initial response to be one of frustration, rather than elation.

If you find yourself in this situation, resist the temptation to call the employer and rant; it won’t achieve anything except for a disgruntled hiring manager.  Take a deep breath, count to ten and consider the following to negotiate your best salary.

Review your notes : Take a look back and review the whole process, from your application through to your interview.  Was the job advertised?  If so, did the company give an indication of salary on the advert?  If you secured the role through a recruiter did you discuss your expectations and your ‘bottom line’ on salary? At what point was salary mentioned and who by?  If there is a lack of internal communication between HR and your future line manager it may result in an anomaly in the final offer which will need to be redressed.

Check the small print : Compare the salary on the advert against the actual offer you receive.  Job adverts frequently state ‘OTE’ as a way of enticing applicants for a role which can be misleading.  How is the offer structured?  Does it comprise a basic salary plus performance related bonuses?  If so, are these bonuses achievable? If this is an existing role, ask for information on the bonuses earned by previous postholders to enable you to assess whether the offer is realistic.

Do your research : If your intention is to negotiate an improvement on the offer, you need to provide tangible proof of current market rates for similar roles.  An online search will help you to evaluate what constitutes a fair salary. Websites like mysalarychecker.com will provide a guideline but you need to carry out your own broader search, not forgetting your potential employer’s competitors.

Be professional : Once you have carried out your review, write to the employer explaining your position.  First of all express your thanks for the job offer and confirm your interest in the role. Secondly, explain that you have reviewed your notes and feel that the offer doesn’t meet your expectations or reflect the experience and skills you can bring to the company.  This is where your research on current market rates will prove invaluable.  Highlight the skills you possess that are essential to the job and include a list of achievements just as you would in a covering letter to remind the employer of why you are the best candidate for this vacancy (which you obviously are). It is also important to be clear on your preferred salary based on your interview discussions.  You may initially want to have a telephone conversation but it’s important to follow up in writing and have your notes prepared for the call.

Meet with the employer : If the initial response doesn’t meet your requirements, request a meeting with the employer.  It’s often much easier to negotiate a win-win outcome in a face-to-face meeting.  Again, this will demonstrate how keen you are to join the company. Before this meeting it is essential that you know the lowest figure you will accept and be prepared to stick to it.

Alternatives to salary increase : The employer may genuinely not be able to meet your expectations due to company structure or financial restrictions.  If that is the case, what other benefits are available?  For many candidates, it isn’t all about the money. Flexible working hours, extended healthcare, additional holiday allowance, a positive culture and career development opportunities all feature highly in making the final decision on whether or not to accept a job offer below original salary expectations. As an additional option, is it possible to negotiate an advance on performance related bonuses or a pay rise after the first three or six months subject to you meeting agreed – and achievable – objectives?

Review your own position : With the last point in mind, what first attracted you to this vacancy?  Why do you want to leave your current role? Do you have other options in your job search?  If you turn this job down, how easy will it be for you to live with the knowledge that you may be staying with your current employer for a while?  What are the long-term prospects with your new role? Only you can answer these questions and know how tenable your present situation is. Before making a decision you will probably need to carry out an element of soul searching.

Know your limits : If the employer is unable or unwilling to move and the gap between your expectations and the offer is unbridgeable, you may have to turn the job down. If you do, explain your reasons why and leave the door open for future opportunities with the company. Don’t accept it if you are really unhappy with the offer as it is likely that you will be on the job market again within six months – at which time your current job may seem a welcome option. 

Working through a recruiter : For candidates who have secured a job offer through a recruitment agency, your salary negotiations will normally be handled by the consultant who has worked with you throughout the process.  The same principles in evaluating the role still apply, although the recruiter may be able to provide you with more relevant market information on salary.  While it may be in the consultant's financial interests for you to accept an offer, it is not in their interests if you are unhappy and subsequently leave. If you have been consistent with your salary expectations from the outset then your recruiter should not be surprised at your response and will support your decision.

When to say ‘no’ : In the face of an inflexible response from the employer and having considered all avenues, don’t be afraid to turn the offer down. Consider your options, restart your job search and take the positives from the process. You have the proven skills and achievements to offer the right employer and you can use this experience to your advantage in your next application.

Kate Smedley is a freelance writer and career coach.

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