Someone once said everything is negotiable. My mother bought and sold antiques, and that was definitely her philosophy. But when it comes to negotiating your salary the picture is far more complex.
There are primarily two sides to this issue. What are your skills worth in the market place and what can the employer afford to pay? It is a mistake to personalize this process. There are some wonderful people who have chosen careers that don’t pay all that well. Unfortunately, finding a job you love does not necessarily equate to a higher salary. Negotiating a salary is a business transaction.
There also are circumstances when there is no room for negotiation. This happens with jobs such as law enforcement, fire fighters and other positions represented by a union. Even when your credentials exceed the job requirements (you know: “overqualified”) there are still budget restrictions and internal equity issues that can limit your salary. Unfortunately, job candidates don’t have access to this information, and it complicates the negotiating process.
Trying to be equitable and fair in pay practices is one of the most difficult responsibilities for managers. When I teach compensation in my management class, I ask students if they would be happy with a 6 percent wage increase. “Sure, that sounds great,” is the typical response. Then I tell them the employees in the computer department received a 10 percent increase because their talents are in short supply, and suddenly the 6 percent increase isn’t all that great. This is the ultimate lesson in supply and demand.
The second principle of wage negotiation is internal equity. Employer need to be sensitive to what they are paying their current employees. It is a constant struggle to balance internal equity with competitive wages in the market place. Did I ever tell you I strongly dislike salary administration? The constant struggle to pay a fair wage while also maintaining internal equity gives every manager a headache. The headache is management’s problem; let’s see if we can help you get a higher starting salary or wage increase.
Knowledge is power. Do your research and be well informed of what is a competitive salary for your job. One source for salary data is the internet, but do your best to learn local information whenever possible. Start with your state employment office to determine prevailing wages for your job in your community. Instead of comparing your salary level with other employees, base your negotiating parameters on the overall job market. Your competition includes both internal and external candidates.
What unique skills do you bring to the table? Employers have no choice but to pay prevailing wages for skills that are in short supply. If your primary objective is a high salary, then choose a career with special skills that are in high demand. Your personal challenge is to balance the need of finding work you enjoy with a pay level you find acceptable. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. It’s a personal decision that is different for everyone.
A long-term strategy is to constantly look for opportunities to expand your skills and increase your value. I’ve seen people turn down special assignments with their current employer because the work is outside their normal responsibilities. I look at these circumstances through a different lens. Expanding my skills makes me more valuable with my current employer, and it makes me more marketable if I choose to look for a new job elsewhere. Yes, some employers take advantage of those who are willing to do more without additional compensation, but at the end of the day I’m interested in how expanding my skills will increase my career options in the future.
I think my mom was aware that she taught me the art of negotiation. If you have something someone else wants and they can’t find it anywhere else, they’ll pay a premium price. Acquire skills that are in demand in the job market and you will be in a strong position to negotiate a higher salary.
Bill Kaminski is president of Stone Associates Training. He is an HR consultant with 35 years of experience in the employment field, teaching managers the art of hiring great employees. Bill is also an adjunct instructor at Keuka College. You can contact Bill with questions, suggestions or comments at www.bill@stoneassociates training.com.