Negotiating a Great Salary

After you receive one or more offers for your dream job, you can begin to negotiate a better salary. To learn more about updating your resume, see Update Your Resume This Weekend, an article in the Epiphenie Weekend Series. To learn how to get an offer for your dream job, see Landing Your Dream Job.

When you are ready to negotiate your offers, keep the following things in mind:


Timing can be very important. If you interview at several companies at the same time, you must communicate your timeline with all of the companies. It is in your best interest to have multiple offers on the table at the same time. It helps potential employers to know when they are in competition for you because if they really want to hire you, they don’t want to miss out because you accept an early offer. When the first offer comes in, you need to talk with the other companies, but do NOT tell the other companies the amount of your offer. You can say, “It’s a very competitive offer, above average for my job title and the area” or similar. Keep in mind that job offers often have expiration dates, particularly when the offer includes stock, which changes value daily, and plan accordingly. It’s a good idea to tell all of the companies “I plan to entertain offers during the last week of October.”

Cost of Living

When considering an offer, keep in mind the cost of living differences. CNN Money has a great calculator for learning the difference in costs between two cities.

Author’s Note:  For example, if you make $50,000 in Lexington, KY, then you must make $76,018 in Seattle to maintain your standard of living. According to CNN Money at the time this article was published, housing costs 142% more and groceries cost 28% more. I lived in a single family home in Lexington with 2300 sqft, a 2-car garage, a fenced backyard for the dogs, and a 3-minute commute to work. I paid $1500/mo. In Seattle, in order to live less than 10 minutes from a job downtown, you must pay about $3000/month for a 650 sqft 1BR apartment, pet rent, and garage parking. That’s 1/3 of the space with no yard at double the cost.

Also consider travel costs if you move to another city. Will you need to travel long distances to visit family and friends? Will you be able to attend weddings and funerals? Will vacations cost more because of your new location?

Author’s Note:  For example, a round trip flight between Seattle and Louisville (where my daughter lives) costs about $500. That means I need to clear an extra $2000 a year (about $3200 gross salary) to fly her to visit me every few months.

Salary Expectations

Based on the cost of living difference, and knowing the cost of rent and travel, you can calculate the lowest salary that you can accept to move. Because your salary expectations need to be reasonable, you also need to learn what people in your position get paid. Glassdoor is an excellent resource to learn about salaries.

Author’s Note:  For example, in Lexington my job title was Information Developer III. This job title is mostly used by HP, and the national average is consistent with the title Technical Writer. The average national salary for a technical writer is $58,299. However, a level 3 technical writer can be classified as a Senior Technical Writer, for which the average national salary is $90,989. Because the cost of living in Seattle is considerably above average, senior tech writers make an average of $103,122.  In this example, let’s assume that you happen to make the average national salary of around $90,000 while living in Lexington. In this case to maintain your standard of living in Seattle, you must make $136,832. You also need to be aware of the salary specific to a potential employer. For example, the typical salary for a Amazon Seattle Senior Technical Writer ranges from $85,696-$158,000, with an average salary of $127,598. In this example, it is reasonable to have a salary expectation around $135,000.

Decide the minimum salary that you will accept, and your dream salary (within reason). During interviews, do NOT give a number for your current salary or your preferred salary. Instead, tell them that you know the average salaries for the city and position, that you are currently VERY well-compensated, and that you are expecting a very competitive salary, including a bonus, stock, and benefits package. After all of the interviews, if they believe you will be a valuable and high-performing member of the team, then they willl want you enough to pay you well. Make it clear that you are happy with your current position and that you have a compelling reason for wanting to work at their amazing company. Work hard to get multiple interviews and offers, keeping all parties informed of timelines.

Total Benefits Package

When you are considering one or more job offers, make sure to get detailed information about the benefits package that you would receive. While it can be difficult to find out the exact cost of healthcare premiums or know what your annual expenses are, you can usually get some information about the package. You also need to know what benefits mean the most to you. For example, if one company offers lots of holidays, personal days, and vacation days totaling 30 days a week and another company offers only 20 days, you need to take that into consideration. If one position is in a large city and they pay for a public transportation pass, while another makes you pay for parking (like a university job), then you need to think about that. Benefits typically include medical, dental, vision, life insurance, disability insurance, time away from work (vacation days, holidays, personal days, and sick days), retirement, stock units, and even work hours. Unfortunately, here in the U.S., working only a 40-hour week is somewhat considered a benefit.

Don’t NEED the Job

It’s always easier to negotiate for a great job if you already have a great job. Unfortunately, most people don’t look at the job market until they lose their current position. If you think that layoffs are coming to your current job, don’t wait until the axe actually falls.

Author’s Note:  For example, if you worked for Lexmark in their inkjet division in 2011, a product plan for the following years was noticeably absent. Additionally, every couple of years, Lexmark had previously announced that they were laying off hundreds of people. Finally, in 2012, Lexmark closed the inkjet division and laid off 600 people. After something like that happens, you might feel a little desperate to find a new job.

It is definitely to your advantage to look at available jobs every couple of years. It’s very informative to see what job skills that top employers in your field are looking for. It’s to your advantage to update your skills and resume regularly. Even if you HAVE your dream job, it helps to keep you competitive in your field.

But when you find a dream job and begin to interview, it’s important that you feel relaxed. If you NEED the job, you will be stressed, anxious, and desperate. And your interviewers will pick up on your underlying tension. And being happy with your current job means that there is no loss if you don’t want to accept any offers because they’re not the right place for you.

Accepting the Offer

After you go through all of the interviews and impress one or potential employers, then you have decide whether to accept a job offer. You need to consider the timing, the cost of living, the salary, and the benefits, but also which company is the best fit for you. Even if you take a job for obscene amounts of money, if you don’t like your manager and the people that you work with, you can be miserable every single day, and that’s not worth any amount of money. Neither should you take an amazing job with great people where you don’t make enough money to pay the bills.

When a company is ready to present you with an offer, they usually call to tell you that the written offer is imminent. It’s important that you thank them for the offer, express your enthusiasm for the company, but that you do NOT accept the offer immediately. Tell them you’re really excited about the offer and look forward to talking to them after you have reviewed it. If you’re evaluating multiple offers, then remind them that you need time to review all of your offers and let them know by which date you will respond.

If you are in a multiple-offer situation, you might know which company that you want to join before you receive the offers. By having multiple offers, you can then leverage the salaries and benefits from the other companies to negotiate a better offer from your preferred employer.

As Americans, we consider it to be impolite to bargain. Many of us feel uncomfortable during negotiations. If this is the case for you, you need to move past it. We live in a world where employers are increasingly reticent to give raises and bonuses, and the failure to negotiate a good salary upon your hire could be a cause for regret in the years to come.

During negotiations, remember that usually, all of the aspects of your offer are negotiable. Vacation time, signing bonuses, stock units, the start date, and even your work equipment can be negotiable. For example, if you prefer to work with 3 monitors, that might be something that you can negotiate.

Author’s Note: I have been suprisingly unsuccessful at negotiating vacation days. My last three jobs were with Fortune 500 companies, and NONE of them would increase the new hire starting vacation days, regardless of my years of experience.

When you get your dream job offer, negotiate. After the hiring companies have started negotiations by listing your base salary, you can then talk about numbers. “If you can raise my salary and stock units by 10%, I’ll sign with you today.” “X company offered me $$$$, but I feel that your team is a better fit for me. Can you match that offer?” Don’t bluff or you might not get the job that you want.

After you accept your great offer, work your butt off to show them that you are worth it. Start on the right foot. For example, email your manager to tell him how excited you are and ask if there is software that you can start learning in your spare time.

(Unmodified Image: Justice-scales-balance-lawyers, CC license by Monam)

Author: Steph

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