Negotiating a new job salary and benefits is played like a high-stakes poker game, with some cards right out on the table and others played close to the vest.
The experts say come prepared: know your own market worth, and what benefits are negotiable and valuable to you. Further, always approach the conversation in good faith, with a positive tone.
The important thing is that you do negotiate, said Shravan Goli, president of Dice, a leading career site for technology and engineering professionals.
“Hiring managers tell Dice that more than half of tech professionals accept a first offer without negotiating either starting salaries or hourly rates,” he said. “Almost half [49 percent] of hiring managers say they raise their offers on average of 5 percent when a tech candidate doesn’t take the initial salary. What that means is tech pros are leaving money on the table.”
Tech professionals average an annual $85,619 salary. Those who don’t haggle upon hire lose out on an average of $4,300, he said.
Everybody Play the Game
Like poker, the negotiation game has rules. For example, the salary range should be clear early in the interview process, so no one is wasting anyone’s time. But when it comes to stating the specific salary amount, “It’s critical that the employee is not the first one to give the number,” said J.R. Samples, chief executive officer for Accountability Partners, a Chicago consulting firm. When a potential employer asks for your salary requirements, you’re essentially competing against yourself. “I would politely decline to answer the question and keep the onus on them to tell you the parameters, asking, ‘What are you looking at in terms of the worth of this position within the organization?’”
When it comes to salary, know — don’t estimate — what you should get paid, according to Waffles Pi Natusch, president of The Barrett Group, a Warwick, R.I.-based career management company. “You should go in with full knowledge of what you are facing: what the deal is, what you are negotiating for and what your chances are to get it.”
Do your salary research. Online resources like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com chart pay rates across lots of companies. Dice has a map detailing average tech salaries in popular state and metro areas. You can also ask career coaches like Natusch for advice or have discrete conversations with current employees of your potential employer. Talking to similar companies can also garner some insight.
“Factors to take into consideration when looking into what salary you deserve are demand for your particular skill set, unemployment by your profession and unemployment in your region,” said Goli. “If you know managerial-level folks at other companies, you can try to get info from them as well. Use your social network connections and seek their input.”
It’s Not (All) About the Money
Although salary is often a key focus, benefits carry value and ought to be included in your negotiations, said Natusch, who uses a 111-line spreadsheet to help clients analyze negotiable benefits.
Your title, for example, can add value to a job. “Sometimes the title is more negotiable than salary is,” said Natusch, “and the title might get you farther in your career.”
Telecommuting is another topic worth discussing, “especially in tech hubs with heavy traffic congestion like Washington, D.C., or Silicon Valley,” Goli said.
Benefits and other compensation that can be negotiated include:
• Paid time off.
• Flexible working hours.
• Performance bonuses.
• Mid-year reviews.
• Quarterly bonuses.
• Signing bonuses.
• Relocation expense reimbursement.
• Stock compensation and other equity.
“I’ve even seen technology professionals negotiate their own personal technology needs for a new job,” said Goli.
Know the ‘Bullets in Your Belt’
Before you start negotiating, have specifics in mind and know what’s valuable to you. “If you think about all these things ahead of time, you’ll be in a far better position to assess an offer,” said Samples.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, but keep tone and style in mind as you negotiate, Samples said. “Very aggressive requests can be made and can go over well — even if not approved — if the appeal is done with a smile and in a friendly fashion,” Samples said.
Accepting the offer, be it at face-value or after some haggling, is a very personal decision, driven by your own needs and goals, Natusch said.
“If you have a certification, and you’re looking for an opportunity to use that certification so you build your resume, then by all means you want that job,” he said.
Be prepared and know the “bullets in your belt” — Natusch’s term for the negotiation cards you’re holding.
“You don’t want to talk yourself out of a good opportunity, and you don’t want to leave money on the table,” Natusch said.