Is 25-30% above industry average too much to ask for in a salary negotiation?
July 4, 2012 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Salary question: I'm aware of the industry average, but believe I have more to offer, and the employer seems very eager to have me as well. Is it out of the line to suggest an amount that I know is 25-30% above the average salary for the position in question?

Shortly after graduation, I was aggressively propositioned by two professors who formerly taught at my department to join their boutique-sized firm in where I'd consider my hometown (I had been abroad for the past 8 years.) After some email exchanges, a long-distance phone call, and finally an in-person meeting, I was offered a position, and was asked for my salary expectations.

After doing some research on forums and plain ol detective work, I have some idea of what the typical salary for someone in my position would be. However, the firm in question does a lot of international business, and I happen to be perfectly bilingual in the two of the three languages (and proficient in the third) that they operate in on a daily basis. I know for a fact that most current employees in the firm only speak one of the three languages, so my fluency in both is a great asset. Additionally, I am one of the top students in my small department, and my professors are very aware of the fact as well (they in fact even brought it up themselves in the meeting.)

So I guess the question is, giving consideration to all factors aforementioned, would it be a turn-off to my prospective employers if I suggest a figure that I know is at least 25% above the industry average? And how likely is it for them to retrieve the offer solely because they think that I'm being, well, "audacious" with my salary suggestion? Or is this just how a typical salary negotiation works?
posted by 01080591 to Work & Money (22 answers total)
I would absolutely do that. They can shoot you down if they like, but they will probably still offer you a job at a lower salary. I also find that new graduates do a pretty bad job of estimating what the "average salary" for people in their industries is, at least based on my experience in software development. People graduate expecting to make $75k/year and are excited to get that until they realize everyone else is making 50-100% more than that and it's going to take them 3-5 years to get to that pay level because it's harder to ask for raises than negotiate a higher salary and nobody wants to switch jobs six months after starting.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 6:50 PM on July 4, 2012

You can absolutely ask for more, and then negotiate down. However, does that average include people with years (decades) of experience? If so, you may find that being relatively inexperienced comes at a lower price.
posted by Houstonian at 6:54 PM on July 4, 2012

Normally I'd say hell yes ask for it, they can only say no. However. You are a graduate. I know you're all like, "My marks are so great!" - that's an incentive to get hired, not a vocational job skill, I'm afraid. People don't pay for more students with good marks.

Additionally, fluency is great, but people typically get paid more for actual experience than skills. They have no idea how good your fluency is, nor how much value it will add to the business; and when it comes to the latter, neither do you.

So, if you do decide to ask for a raise, no way in Hell would I be asking for 25%-30% more - that's taking ballsy a little too far, and as a sometime hirer myself, it would turn me off and if there was another viable candidate (which there may be, you don't know), I would choose them instead.

Ask for between 2-5k more, or around 10%. Ask about prospects for advancement and salary increases, and how you can build that into the position, or bonuses for work performed well etc.

I know what it feels like when you're young, you've got this big uni debt and you're like "mooonnneeey yeah!", and you think you're pretty hot shit. But you've got your life to earn the big bucks. This, your first job, is the first step in a career, you've got to think about that and realise that the other things you get out of it (experience, mainly) will absolutely eclipse money in the long run. Likewise, a well-paying grad job is not necessarily a good foundation for a future career.

Also remember, that employers - and professors especially - see inexperienced bright students who think they're the hottest shit since Vulcan took a dump every year. The reality is these students never live up to the potential in their heads, and don't always leave up to what an acceptable level of potential may be, so there is a stigma around hot shit students that you are already fighting - regardless of the actual temperature of your own shit.
posted by smoke at 6:57 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if it's in the states, you're dealing with a super competitive job market and a depressed economy; they could probably hire someone with around 5 year's experience for whatever they are offering you. Think wisely; someone with 5 years experience looks a lot better than you on paper, I guarantee it.
posted by smoke at 7:00 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do not think it's excessively ballsy to ask for 25% more than the average salary, because what you have to offer is clearly above average. Additionally, the way the salary game is generally played includes people asking for more than they are willing to accept. Everyone understands this and I seriously, seriously doubt you will be penalized. If anything, you will be seen as confident.
posted by parrot_person at 7:03 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not listen to the naysayers! Do not start your career based on a scarcity mind-set. It doesn't matter what the average experience is; you only need one job, and that job can be above average.
posted by parrot_person at 7:04 PM on July 4, 2012

Thanks for the insight so far. I am here after all to hear all kinds of opinions! I guess to give everybody here onward a better idea, yes I'm a recent graduate, but I also have one solid year of experience (because everybody in the program had to take a year out to work as an apprentice to fulfill the degree requirement) under my belt if that makes any difference.
posted by 01080591 at 7:09 PM on July 4, 2012

(I was also told that they're looking to fill 2 essentially identical positions. How many people they're interviewing though, I have no idea.)
posted by 01080591 at 7:11 PM on July 4, 2012

Go for it! It's so important to negotiate a good salary up front, because often future raises are incremental. Accepting a lower salary now can influence what you get paid for years.

They've already decided that you're the best person for the job, right? And you have some hard-to-find skills ... it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by Ostara at 7:12 PM on July 4, 2012

In recent experience at thetarium HQ (UK-based), negotiating salary - particularly when it is clear you have specific skills etc to offer - is imperative.

I can see the rationale behind posters' remarks about the depressed economy, employing graduates etc. However, I have seen that it is the savvy employee, one who has been headhunted no less, who negotiates wages. And often, there is the possibility of an increase. I have been surprised multiple times over the past few months with tales from friends about negotiating higher, even during a recession, and even with having relatively little experience in the given field/industry.

I think going in with the 25 per cent figure might be a disadvantage: you simply don't know how they quantify things, even after looking at industry equivalents. It will make you seem, perhaps, overly arrogant and perhaps even ignorant of their company etc. Having said that, you can and should suggest an alternate higher figure- "I was thinking more along the lines of X", or even ask if there is "room for some movement" on the offered salary, which is a softer approach. Be clear in your mind what you will and won't accept - would you take the job with the current, non-negotiated salary? - and try not to appear like that graduate know it all or like you have an inflated ego. Be careful to make clear along the line that you want the job, and if they decline your attempt at negotiation ensure as best you can that you can still work for them if you want to.

Be confident, and assertive but warm, accommodating at a basic level and willing to work with the HR on this, as you SO SO want to have this job etc etc. Good luck.
posted by thetarium at 7:12 PM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I also think that women are often less likely to negotiate than men -- the fact that you can be strong, confident and demand a higher salary for yourself would make a good impression.
posted by Ostara at 7:15 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

holy crap of course you should ask for it, and with a straighter than straight face. this is no time to be low-balling yourself. given the facts as you've laid them out, there is no frickin way they're going to withdraw an existing offer because you came in at the top of their range. if you ask for 200%, then, yeah, they'll think they're something wrong with you - 25%, and they'll think you know what you're worth.
posted by facetious at 7:16 PM on July 4, 2012

I negotiated pretty hard right out of school, and it cost me an offer. That just meant for me that it wasn't the right place. My advice to you would be to be more cautious if you only have one offer on the table. Also, it makes more sense to go 25% higher than the beginning offer than 25% above industry standard.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:19 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not lowball. They can always counteroffer with other incentives if cash flow is an issue. You seem to understand that you have more to offer than someone just starting so why price yourself so low? Just be sure to know what you want and are willing to compromise. Also, be very calm and use silence as a tool in the negotiation.
posted by jadepearl at 7:58 PM on July 4, 2012

I tend to side with smoke's opinion here. I have definitely seen multiple people not get job offers because their salary requirements were considered ridiculously high.

30% seems excessive. Maybe closer to 5-15% here.
posted by gnutron at 8:52 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Normally I'd say hell yes ask for it, they can only say no. However. You are a graduate. I know you're all like, "My marks are so great!" - that's an incentive to get hired, not a vocational job skill, I'm afraid. People don't pay for more students with good marks.

Multiple, relevant, fluent languages, however, are a massive job skill and definitely something that firms will pay a premium for. Go for it - and don't hold back from highlighting your potential development in the 3rd language and what that could do for the firm if the chance arises.
posted by protorp at 12:31 AM on July 5, 2012

Here's how this has worked with me on the very small number of occasions it's been tried in the past:

"I'd like $[avg + 25%]."
"That seems high for a graduate with no experience."
"I have awesome skills."
"And we're an awesome place to get valuable experience using those skills in the real world."
"You're really eager to hire me."
"Did I mention I'm quarter Toydarian on my mother's side?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:14 AM on July 5, 2012

Filling two identical positions could be an issue. They likely will want the pay to be roughly the same for both positions.

I would ask for more than the average but I would also try and make it easier for them to say yes by doing it in two stages. Ask for say, 10% more right away with a guaranteed 10% raise in 9 months.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:25 AM on July 5, 2012

Yeah, the two positions is not going to get you 25-30%, even with your language skills.

You're a grad with little experience - they want two people who are fairly cheap so that it keeps costs down and so that you both gain experience that you'll take somewhere else. So, you're awesome, but you're awesome alongside someone else and you're young. Don't shoot yourself in the foot here.

10-15% above average because of your language skills.
posted by heyjude at 3:27 AM on July 5, 2012

Ask for the money!

Say "Thank you for offering me the position. I really want to work here. I am hoping for a salary that's something like [+25-30%], because of [X, Y and Z reasons]." Don't apologize, don't be embarrassed. Just say it. Don't talk about the industry average because you can't be really sure what it is -- just say "I would like X amount, and I think I'm worth it because of [these skills and characteristics]."

They may agree, or they may make a much lower counter-offer. If they laugh and protest that your number is ridiculous, that may or may not be true, but either way it doesn't mean you made a mistake -- they will almost certainly still end up giving you more money than they were originally planning to. If you like the counter-offer, take it. If you don't, you can try to push them up one more time. I would do it by naming a different new awesome skill, not by restating your original argument, because restating could make you seem inflexible.

I am surprised by the people here saying they lost offers due to negotiating too hard. I've never heard of that happening and I can't imagine myself withdrawing a job offer because someone asked for too much money. In my experience, the worst thing that can happen is the candidate gets a reputation for being self-interested and cluelessly entitled. But they can overcome that easily in their first weeks by working hard, and being good at their work :-)
posted by Susan PG at 5:36 AM on July 5, 2012

All you're really doing here is selling yourself. You've already spent the last X years presenting your product and showing quality - and you've clearly gotten the attention of the professors. Now all you have to do is finish up the sale.

Go ahead and go for +25%. Then be ready for a counter-offer, and get ready to drop down some.

Keep in mind that "industry average" is not the same as "industry standard." I'm sure you've done your research, but I want to add that it's important to keep in mind your location when looking at the expected salary.

I don't believe that new graduates should be prepared to expect less money for the same work. You have the most up-to-date knowledge about your field, and your year of experience should have prepared you for the field. Anything else is just training specific to your job - which anyone would need. Don't sell yourself short just because you were a student more recently than someone else.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:17 AM on July 5, 2012

I have seen, especially recently, people have their offers yanked because they asked for too high of a compensation or for some sort of dispensation (like a title) that the company just wasn't going to go for. So yes, that's a potential risk.

But the fact that they approached you initially makes me think that it's more likely they won't just unilaterally yank it. Probably how you give them your expectations and negotiate will determine that. It's also hard to tell if this would be entry-level or not, but if it is, I've found that those positions have the least amount of wiggle room for various reasons.

I think it's fairly unlikely that you will get that big of a boost unless they had the foresight or have the authority to funk around with the budget. But you might be able to get some other type of compensation/perks that would still be indicative of the skills you are bringing to the party.
posted by sm1tten at 9:44 AM on July 5, 2012

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