How To Answer The 'Salary Requirement' Question

negotiate salary dreadingYou apply for a job: "What are your salary requirements?" Gulp.

You're offered a job: "Is the salary acceptable?" Gulp.

You want a raise: "Well, how much do you want?" Gulp.

Here's how to estimate your fair market value:

Plenty of websites offer salary estimates for thousands of jobs. Some of those sites allow you to customize those estimates to match your location, experience level and education.

To try to get even more localized information, query employees at your organization or at similar ones. Also, you might ask your employer's HR department. You're more likely to get such information in government, nonprofits and unionized organizations, where salaries are generally more transparent.

That should get you into the right range. But where in, or even outside, that range do you fit? These questions should help you estimate that:
  • Approximately how much dollar value per year do you add to your employer?

  • Approximately how much non-dollar value? For example, do you streamline processes, enhance office culture, augment your organization's prestige?

  • How easily could the employer find someone equally productive who's willing to work for less? Or someone more productive who's willing to work for the same? Alas, in this job market, the latter is often true. The good news is that most employers won't jump to replace a good employee, so don't give that excessive weight.

More:This Is What Your Co-Worker Earns

Getting What You're Worth
It's one thing for you to decide what you're worth. It's another to convince your employer to pay you that. This may help:

1. Assemble your ammunition. Not all of these will be relevant to your situation, so pick the ones that are: Comparable salary data; an estimate of the dollar- and non-dollar value that you add to the organization; a portfolio demonstrating your worthiness (thank-you letters from stakeholders, sample work products, etc.); how your job description is or should be higher-level; and perhaps even a business plan for what you'd accomplish with an upgraded job description.

2. Make an appointment to discuss it. For example, if HR offers you a job on the phone, ask if you could schedule a time to discuss the terms with your prospective boss. If possible, do it in-person. Face-to-face, more humanity is likely to be brought to bear.

3. Send your ammunition to the boss in advance so s/he has time to digest it.

4. At the meeting, say, "I hope the material I sent will make it easier to set fair compensation." Then just listen. You've made your case with your materials. Any more is likely overkill or perceived as insecure. The ball's in the boss's court.

After the salary discussion, it's often wise to discuss non-cash compensation because such items may not cost the employer anything and usually aren't taxable. Examples: benefits, title, who you report to, training, the option to telecommute at least part of the week, a salary review in a few months.

5. Unless the offer seems quite fair, express your concern without being insulting. "I was hoping that in light of those materials, a higher offer would be fair. What is the most you're able to pay?"

It's often wise to reject the first offer and accept the second. Any additional amount you get after that is usually, after taxes, too small to have incurred the risk of having created bad will or even a retracted job offer.

Upping Your Worth
Of course, your compensation will likely increase to the extent that you increase your value. Should you be acquiring a new skill? Working longer hours? Taking on a high-value project? Such things may do more to boost your income than will negotiation savvy.

Your Full Worth
Of course, your total value to the world is more than just what you're worth to your employer. How much value do you add to your friends? Family? Society? It all counts.

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