It’s not the inability to find a job that vexes nearly all recent college graduates — it’s getting paid appropriately for the new job that’s the issue.
According to John O’Connor, founder and president of Career Pro Inc., a professional coaching firm, the problem has grown substantially worse since the 2008 financial crisis, a seismic unraveling that stunted the negotiating psyche of employees everywhere.
“It’s driven home for us a thousand times over: The job markets are terrible,” O’Connor said. “You should just take the job. I’m surprised at how little incoming graduates feel they can move the needle.”
O’Connor and virtually all career coaches emphatically preach that interviewees can earn thousands of dollars in just minutes — if they are prepared when it comes to salary negotiation.
Earn thousands of dollars in minutes? It’s a refrain that sounds like a junky “sponsored content” ad at the bottom of a news site that generally causes people to roll their eyes and die a little inside.
But it’s true. Interviewees who are prepared to tactfully request a higher salary can tack on a healthy grand or two onto their yearly salary in a simple interview with a hiring manager. The path to a higher wage is navigable if people can avoid common faux pas, make a convincing case of their market worth and exercise a healthy sense of timing.
1. Have the gumption to ask
It is critical that a person have the capacity to have the conversation in the first place. You may not get all that you want in your first go around, but when the employer knows you are assertive about your salary goals, it sets an expectation of negotiation.
Matthew Sorenson, a research supervisor at Dialogue Marketing in Orem, said he started out at a wage below his preference but was promised other opportunities in return.
“They assured me that if I worked well with them that I would be promoted quickly, which really got me (to take) the job and motivated me to work super hard for the company,” Sorenson said. “And within a year and a half I became a supervisor.”
2. Make the case that you would be difficult to replace
It’s a simple principle: What can you do for your employer that another person can’t? Even without that singular silver-bullet skill, perhaps you perform a combination of tasks that is uncommon in your workplace or among most entry-level workers.
Whatever the case, it needs to be something that sets you apart in some way.
“Be constantly in communication with your superiors,” Sorenson said. “(Communication) always flows upward, not downward. If your wage is not what you want it to be, show them you can’t easily be replaced, that you’re unique rather than them being able to pick up a guy off the street.”
3. Speak in terms of “dream jobs” and not stepping stones
As in any relationship, commitment issues are a major buzzkill. Employers don’t want to throw money at someone who will be a mid-level executive for their main competitor in two years.
“Show them you have a real drive for the industry, but more than that, that you have passion about the company,” said Kevin Phelps, founder of BigLeap, a marketing firm in American Fork. “If you want to advance your career, fine, but if you come in with a goal of how to grow the company, that will go a long way. … Never describe anything in the company as a stepping stone (to outside jobs).”
New job opportunities are often unexpected, and nobody would suggest blind allegiance to an employer that undervalues your work. But forthright communication with your boss or hiring manager can be a happy middle ground. Explain why you are invested in the goals of the company. Tell them how you can get them where they want to go if given reasonable opportunity to work at a market-appropriate salary.
4. Don’t resort to personal reasons for which you deserve a certain salary
If the cost of living in your new city is more than you expected, you are expecting twins or your basement flooded, know that we sympathize with you.
Similarly know this: Your employer usually will not care, and even those who do may resent the perception, or reality, that you are playing on their emotions or trying to guilt them in order to gain a business advantage.
“Once you personalize this issue, you no longer focus on your value to the employer — only your needs,” Ron Krannich told the Washington Post in a feature on salary negotiation. “Employers are not looking for needy, which also may mean greedy, employees.”
5. Don’t obsess over your salary in previous jobs or other anecdotal information
Discussing your true market value can and should be done without having to resort to a running diary of your own salary history. You may be surprised to learn that the company is significantly more generous with its entry- to mid-level employees than was your last job. If so, this is great news — but you must be careful not to get in your own way by revealing that your salary expectations are lower than the company was anticipating.
“Your current salary really has no bearing on the value you can deliver in the position under consideration,” said Louise Kursmark, founder of Best Impression Career Services and longtime job candidate consultant. “Why should you give the employer negotiation ammunition by revealing what you make now or believe you should earn?”
6. Don’t begin a salary negotiation before an employer confirms they have interest
It’s unwise to accept a job offer without knowing the details of your salary and benefits. But obsessing over salary during the initial interview process may preclude your potential employer from taking a serious interest if they believe you are too expensive. Give yourself a chance. Give yourself time to impress them before making a case that you are worth a certain price.
“If you haven’t established that you have the job, just assume that as your first priority,” O’Connor said. “(Begin negotiating) when you know for a fact you are their first choice.”