Upon graduating college and returning to the D.C. area from Baltimore, my older brother inquired about the types of jobs for which I was looking. After satisfying his curiosity, he then asked me what my salary requirements were, to which I responded by saying I would not being applying for any positions offering less than 35-40 thousand dollars per year. He responded by laughing hysterically. It was not that what I had said was so comical, but rather that he understood the nation was in a recession and experienced professionals could barely command the salary I wanted. Not one to be easily deterred, I began applying for jobs in my salary range. When interviews for positions in this range were not forthcoming, I remembered the conversation with my brother. After some much needed self-reflection, I changed the types of positions for which I was applying, amended my salary parameters, and I landed a job. This experience left me wondering, how would I obtain my salary goals and how should I properly negotiate a salary?
Prior to this point, I perceived salary negotiation to be a cross between bargaining for jewelry on Canal Street and bidding at an auction. The jeweler (or in this case the employer) would ask for a very low price for an item and then I would counter with a very high price. Eventually, following much back and forth, we would wind up at a reasonable price and end with going once, going twice, sold to the handsome man wearing the three piece suit and Kangol hat! While this exchange can certainly be a feature of the interview process, salary negotiation is a bit more of a chess match than what I described.
When negotiating a salary, remember that you have the strongest bargaining position after the job has been offered to you, yet prior to you accepting it. Be careful to research salaries commensurate with the position title and experience in that geographic location. In addition, resources can be invaluable in gaining “insider” information on salaries and benefits. These will assist you in developing a more realistic salary range. Additional experience can also help you solicit more money. For example, if you have been offered a teaching position of $55k, perhaps you could receive additional money by becoming the head coach of the football team too. In that way, the employer is getting a two-for-one deal and you have obtained the salary you need to maintain your lifestyle. Finally, be aware that most of the time you will not be able to get the money you lose in salary negotiation back. Taking a $6,000 per year salary cut may not seem excessive though over a five year period you will have lost $30,000, and in most circumstances you will not be able to recoup these earnings in annual salary or promotion increases. As a general rule of thumb, when negotiating your salary do your research, wait for the right time, be shrewd, and you should be fine.