Dodge pitfalls when discussing salary
by Derek Sankey, Calgary Herald
March 12, 2011
Changing labour market conditions are beginning to put more negotiating power into the hands of job hunters as the economy improves -but a lingering recession hangover is still causing potential new hires to make some mistakes when bargaining, says Calgary-based professional coach Eileen Dooley.
"When people were laid off work, they were just happy to get another job, so they were maybe not as direct on how much they wanted as far as salary is concerned," says Dooley. "Now that we've come out of this recession, be direct."
She sees the same mistakes being made time and again: providing far too broad salary ranges, not knowing accurate market value -asking for too much or too little -and telling them your previous salary as a starting point or letting the hiring manager decide on the number.
"If they're asking how much money you want in the process of offering you the job, they want you," she says. "Now this is the time where the tables have turned for you and it's time to make a statement."
In Alberta, the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website offers detailed descriptions of different types of job profiles and the corresponding salary range and average wages, along with various private forecasts. The data may, however, be outdated by a year or two.
"Talk to people that are in this type of industry (and) ask them what the market pays and the range," says Dooley, adding job hunters also need to consider where they reasonably fall within a salary range and focus in on a specific number based on their unique experience.
"Look at it almost like real property value," she says. "There is what the city values your property at and then there's actually what's inside your house that gives it more value."
The labour market has changed significantly in the last two years post-recession, and Dooley says job hunters are now in a much better position to negotiate. However, your offer should also take into consideration whether it's a corporate job, a non-profit position or a publicsector job.
Engineers in Alberta are experiencing a resurgence in demand, especially in areas such as Fort Mc-Murray, where salary negotiations have become tougher and long-term demand for them remains very strong.
Whatever the job, if you provide too broad a range -say, $55,000 to $95,000, for example -the employer will likely low-ball the quote.
"You'll always get less than (the midway point in) your range," she says. "It also makes it hard to negotiate. How to project confidence is to look them straight in the eye, and ... tell them how much money you want."
Be specific but firm.
While you always have to be prepared to walk away if the offer is too low, it's important to be flexible going into the discussion. It's rare to have a reasonable salary number pulled once you've already received the offer of employment. It's usually just a matter of sorting out the details.
When you do quote a salary, make sure it's not your final number. Be willing to move a bit and don't get too greedy or unrealistic. "If you're quoting $30,000 above market, then there's a whole other issue," she says.
Another common mistake is telling the employer how much you made in your previous job. It puts job candidates at a potential disadvantage.
"It is of no business to the potential employer what you're making right now," says Dooley. "That's a private matter." Instead, tell them you'd be happy to provide a quote for this current job opening based on current market conditions and be very specific.
Not everybody is a natural negotiator, but knowing the basics and being prepared for the question by researching it, just like any interview question, will put job candidates into a better position when it comes time to talk money.
Don't discount the negotiating power when it comes to the full compensation package, either. Salary is only one component of the total offering. Consider vacation and flex time, health benefits, all types of bonuses and other perks the company may offer. They are all chips in the negotiating game. Slightly less money could easily turn into a longer vacation, says Dooley.
"Ask for what you want," she says. "If you don't ask, you don't get."
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal