Negotiation is a skill. It can be learned and improved upon. So you should "start early and negotiate often," Jennifer Greiner, president of Greiner Consulting, a legal career management firm, says. Greiner says she believes it "almost always pays to negotiate," because with each extra dollar negotiated for, you can aim even higher with each successive negotiation. Greiner says this will create a lifetime of higher wealth that demonstrates "you believe in yourself" and that you have a "track record of success"-- qualities employers admire.
But before you begin negotiating, you need to research. Websites such as Salary.com and Glass Ceiling can help you learn the market rate for your position. But be aware that the recent economic downturn may have caused employers to reduce compensation, which may not appear online yet. Use LinkedIn to network with friends of friends and learn about current compensation rates for your employer and their competitors.
Understand inexperience could limit the potential for negotiation. According to Mary Bredin, a staffing consultant at Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm, entry-level positions are unlikely to have any flexibility in compensation, whereas "the higher the position the more room for negotiation." And if your skills and experience distinguish you from other applicants, you represent a greater value to the employer, and you can more easily take advantage of that room for negotiation.
Applicants who avoid talk of dollars and instead demonstrate value to the employer are more likely to have successful salary negotiations. Both Bredin and Greiner warn applicants against bringing up salary first. Greiner even suggests avoiding any discussion of salary for as long as possible. If asked about salary expectations, Greiner advises applicants to say something along the lines of, "I want to do as well as I can possibly do, based on what I believe I will contribute and based on my background, within the context of that salary schedule."
Demonstrate value through your posture, your gestures, your phrasing as well as your knowledge, experience and education. Bredin says: "It is important to be confident; know your value and promote it so that the company will want to hire you. A company wants to feel that it is investing in a committed candidate who will be an asset to their organization."
By focusing on what you can offer the company, you change the dynamics of the interview. Suddenly, the employer is chasing you. Convince the employer that you are so valuable that they do not want to lose you to a competitor, and you will likely have a successful negotiation. Greiner recalls an example of an applicant who never mentioned salary, but because she "presented her value so compellingly," the employer created a new position for her that paid $25,000 more.
Also, realize that salary is only one element of a compensation package. Ask questions to identify where the company has flexibility to negotiate. Focus on things like sick and vacation leave, relocation, training opportunities or equity within the company. Then negotiate appropriately. For example, Greiner cites "results only" companies that do not care when employees come and go from the office, so long as their work gets done. Negotiating for more leave with such a company would be useless.
Remain casual but confident during your negotiation. Do not offer ultimatums. Greiner says such behavior "is a pretty good hint that you will be a rigid, inflexible employee." Bredin also warns against being too focused on money, saying, "When the salary becomes the most important point of discussion, managers and recruiters can be turned off."
Aim for both parties to walk out happy. Greiner warns that even if you are successful by playing hardball during your negotiation, "what is the environment walking in the door? Maybe they will not be as excited about you. You may have won the battle but lost the war."
With these tips in mind, you can successfully and repeatedly negotiate for a higher salary -- not just when you are hired but also during performance reviews. Know your value and your bottom line before you approach an employer. And know that each success makes the next success easier and bigger. Start now, and negotiate your way to long-term success.