How to negotiate salary mid-career?
December 3, 2013 8:05 AM   Subscribe

I am interviewing for a new job. I'm a mid-career professional with 15 years of experience in my field. I've made the second round of interviews at three different organizations. I expect a job offer from at least one, possibly two of these places. I have NO IDEA how to negotiate a salary offer when it comes, and most of the advice I've found is geared to new college graduates, not people with more experience. How do I do this?

So far, I've dodged the salary question when it's come up with variations on "I'd prefer to focus on how I might be able to satisfy X need your organization has REASON WHY I'M AWESOME." But once I get an offer, that will no longer be possible. I'll have to accept it or negotiate. I would of course always prefer more money.

Some snowflakes:
--My visibility in my field has increased in a significant and meaningful way in the last 3 years.
--I have unique knowledge about an issue that has recently become central to my field. This won't last more than 3-4 years before others catch up with me, but it's huge right now. I'll keep learning, of course, but won't be so far ahead in a few years.
--I've tried and failed to negotiate a raise and promotion with my current employer based on the first two points above. I've come to realize that my employer doesn't really get the field, and I'm better off moving on. So I'm not all that interested in getting a counter offer from my current employer, unless it might help me get a counter-counter offer from a new employer.
--I have reason to think I'm seriously underpaid, even without my visibility and unique knowledge, and based on my research into these organizations and my field in general, I expect any job offer I receive to exceed my current salary by 35%, if not more, and for most benefits to be comparable.
--My current compensation package includes my salary and an annual bonus that's equal to about 10% of my salary. The organizations I'm interviewing with don't have bonus programs.
--I also get insurance, stock in an employee ownership program, a 401k contribution (separate from my employer match), 4 weeks a year of vacation, and a bunch of sick leave.
--My field is research. Advanced degrees are required, and I have one.
--The field is populated by a mix of universities, for profit companies, non-profit orgs, the government, and foundations.
--The offers I'm anticipating are from for-profit companies.

I know I'm in a really weird position, especially for someone my age. I've spent my entire career with one employer, which few people do any more. I've literally never negotiated a job offer before. When I got this job, my boss offered me more than I asked for, so I didn't even try negotiating then. I know that was a mistake, and I want to be better prepared this time around.

So when I get an offer, what do I do? How do I say I want more money? And if I push on that and fail, what other things can I ask for (like more vacation or something else) and how do I do this?

I'm really flailing. I need some help imagining what these conversations will be like, and thinking through both strategy and tactics for how to approach them.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, figure out what you want to get from these folks.

A job offer isn't just salary, it's the entire compensation package, this includes:

1. Salary
2. Health, vision, dental Insurance
3. Disability, ADD insurance
4. Tuition Aid Plan
5. Bonus
6. Stock Options
7. 401 (k)

You know this already, so you're ahead of the game.

So, when they call with the offer, they'll float a Salary number. Let them tell you what it is, and then pause. No matter what, say, "Gee, that's less than what I was expecting. Is there any wiggle room on that?"

Sometimes, they'll come right back with a better figure, sometimes, they'll turn it around on you. "Well, how much were you thinking?"

This is where you say, "I'd have to evaluate the entire package, but I expected to be at least at $$ for Salary. (Pick a number 10% higher than what they quoted. If it's really low, tell them your desired number plus 10%.)

Let them get back to you.

If they won't budge on the salary, but it's in the neighborhood of OKAY, ask to see the entire offer package. At that point see if you can get extra vacation days, or one professional conference annually, or flex-time, or 2 days working from home, or some other intangible item that you would enjoy.

The good news is that it's rarely the person you'll be working with who will extend the offer. It will be the HR person, and they have NO skin in the game, so they're more than happy to negotiate with you.

FWIW, I played this game, and they didn't budge at all on the salary. But the whole package resulted in a 40% increase in my pay, so I didn't really care too much. But I did try.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Excellent advice from Ruthless Bunny, except for one small detail:

This is where you say, "I'd have to evaluate the entire package, but I expected to be at least at $$ for Salary. (Pick a number 10% higher than what they quoted. If it's really low, tell them your desired number plus 10%.)

Don't just make it a 10 percent bump from what they offered -- that tells them, "I don't really have a number in mind, so I just added 10 percent." So add the 10 percent to their offer, but then round it up a little or do something else that fudges that you're just taking their number and squeezing them to see what falls out.
posted by Etrigan at 8:21 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, just clicking through the top hits on this Google search gives you all the basics.

Think about your total current package, including the quality of the healthcare, the vacation, soft perks, and try to translate it into a number. So, 100,000, plus your 10,000 bonus plus the 401K match, stock etc, and you come up with, say $130,000. The new place offers $115,000 in comp with a better healthplan, another week of vacation, but no stock plan and no 401(k) match--and all told, you think their package is worth $125,000 to you--though the hours will be better.

Review their offer letter for a couple of days, then call back--It's a good offer, but you were expecting comp to come in at at least $125,000 to cover the loss of the stock plan and the lack of 401(k) match. And you think that's certainly reasonable given your offer from the other company. Can you get back to me? Etc.

As Ruthless Bunny notes, you may not get movement on salary, but you could get a better title, more vacation time, etc.

Personally, I think you must physically practice these conversations. With a partner role playing is best, but at the very least, practice saying out loud "It's a good offer, but I was expecting more along the lines of $140,000" or whatever.

Good luck and congratulations on getting this far.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:21 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like the idea above of practicing saying it out loud because unless you are negotiating salary regularly in your line of work it is a very infrequent conversation.

Someone years ago put it to me this way: The $10k difference you are negotiating means a lot more to you than it does to them. There is always wiggle room and at the end of the day it isn't like they are going without something because you get paid a competitive wage, whereas your standard of living will be different. Feel bold and empowered.
posted by dgran at 12:23 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have twice in my career successfully negotiated for a significant pay rise. In both cases I took a very methodical approach to it. I did a lot of research prior to coming up with the figure I thought I was worth by visiting all the employment listing sites I could find and finding jobs with the same profile and experience level to see what kind of compensation was typical. I also contacted friends in the same industry, friends in HR departments and any other sources I could find until I felt like I had enough to be able to determine, with confidence, what the low, middle and high ranges were for my position.

When I went to the negotiating table, I did so in writing, via email. I prefer this to face to face for a few reasons. Firstly, if you are a good writer, words can be very persuasive and you can make a compelling argument. In my case, this was easy because I simply listed all of my qualifications and "sold" myself and then presented all of the data I collected regarding salary ranges. Another reason is that it lets the other party carefully consider your proposal without having to offer any knee-jerk rebuttals that are expected in a verbal negotiation because, well.. its human nature to want to save face.

To make a long story short, I think what you want to do is come up with something in writing that basically achieves the following paraphrase "I am valuable to you because of this, this, this and this and I would like to be paid X, which based on careful market study from this source, this source, this source and this source, is well within the fair meat of the curve for someone with my qulifications"

Most of all, don't be shy, be outspoken and confident but without being cocky.

Good luck!
posted by postergeist at 3:28 PM on December 3, 2013

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