Talk to The Work Buzz Contest! winning question: Salary offers

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On Monday we asked you to submit your questions about accepting a job offer, and from the excellent questions we received, we chose Claire’s. She asks, “How do you ask if that’s the most that they will offer without offending them or sounding greedy?

Salary talks are always one of the trickiest components of a job offer because the employer generally has the upper hand. By the time you get to salary negotiations, which might not occur until the second, third or fourth interview, you’ve probably divulged quite a bit of information. You have already been asked to give your salary history, your current income and your salary expectations. You don’t know what the company’s budget is, what they are willing to pay and what the previous employee’s salary was.

Conventional wisdom says that you don’t bring up salary, the employer does, and it’s good advice to take. The reason is that you don’t want to suggest you’re so focused on the paycheck that the actual requirements of the job are of no interest to you. Plus, when a company knows that their salary offerings are low, they often bring it up early in the interview process because they don’t want to waste your time or theirs. It’s not a guarantee, but it happens more than you realize.

As Claire asks, what do you do when a number has been put out there and you can live with it, but you’d like to know if there is more room for negotiation? The simplest way to push for more money without forcing them to renege on the offer is to stress the positions responsibilities and make the case for more money. Don’t just say, “Eh, I want more money for my vacation in the spring.” Instead, remind them of the duties they described and the expertise you have. Try this approach, but put it in your own words: “Having worked on agency campaigns for the past five years, I know that this client will require plenty of nights and some weekends, and I’d feel more comfortable if my compensation were in [this range].” That approach opens up a dialog rather than a list of demands. Plus, you can explain that your previous job offered you some perks, benefits and bonuses that actually made your salary significantly higher than the base pay. You won’t come off greedy, but rather as someone who doesn’t want to take a financial hit moving from one job to another.

Also keep in mind what negotiations you’ve already gone through. If you’ve already gone back and forth four times and the current offer is 30 percent higher than you started with, you’re probably maxing them out right now. Forcing more negotiations will look greedy. If you’ve only been given one offer, then they probably expect a counteroffer. Some employers will tell you upfront, “We can offer this, and there’s not much room to negotiate.” That’s a sign that they’re not willing to go much higher (if at all), so any discussion should be realistic. Don’t counter with a salary 50 percent higher. Go back to them and say, “I understand that the compensation is more or less fixed, but I’d be more comfortable with a salary in [this range].” And make that range a moderate increase—one that you think you could actually get and one they would actually consider. Pricing yourself out of the job can happen with outlandish requests.

The bottom line is that you don’t know what their max is, and some finicky employers could snap back without negotiating at all and there’s no way to help that. If you present a case and treat the employer with respect, you’re worst case scenarios are getting an offer too low for you to accept or being told that the salary is final. Either way, at least you know you tried and didn’t accept an offer that you realize is too low two months later. Plus, you show that you’re strong-willed and concerned about your financial security (which is a mature trait) and not some greedy job seeker who wants someone to throw cash your way.

Thanks for the question, Claire!

Come back next week for our next chance for you to submit a question and win a copy of Career Building.