A Primer On Salary Negotiations For Job Candidates

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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.

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When do salary negotiations begin? To me they begin in the mind of the offerer and also in the mind of the offeree. In this scenario, the offerer’s role is as the employer and the offeree is the candidate for employment. Why am I winding back salary negotiations to thoughts in each party’s mind? To be a successful offeree or offerer, you have to know who you are working with on the other side of the proverbial table. 

For the employer, the determination of value begins with someone in an organization deciding that they need to hire. Usually, this means that a committee of one or more contributes to the writing of an ad or a short job description. Why are these written? Often new roles or tweaks to old roles are revised because the hiring authority is trying to create value, take pressure off of others and, most importantly, solve problems. So a composite sketch is written, evaluated and eventually advertised by word of mouth, on a company website or on sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Zip Recruiter or other methods. The search begins. 

For the candidate, it’s a different process. A determination occurs simply in your mind that you need a job, a new job or an upgrade from your existing job. This could mean you want a job change, and it could mean you are, like the employer, trying to solve a problem or set of problems that have come up in your career life. What might those be? It could be you want a reset, a change in scenery or a new opportunity to simply make more money and you cannot do it in the way you want at your current company. You may want more recognition, training or an opportunity to grow. It could be a myriad of reasons, from personal to professional and beyond. 

Whether you are a candidate or an employer, the determination of a person’s professional value should not just come down to salary. For the employer and the candidate, they should think about making sure that each looks to find a home: In other words, look for a cultural and skills match first. In my many years in coaching talent through transition, I know that environment matters more to someone’s career happiness and longevity with an organization versus just money. But salary matters. It just needs to be balanced. 

My primer for potential candidates or employees for employment is more complicated than my advice to companies. I will focus mostly on the candidate point of view here. 

Salary Negotiation Tips For CandidatesYour value must start with perception. You need to build out your brand value proposition and be very clear in communicating what you can do to add value and improve the bottom line of an organization no matter what role you have. That must be expressed clearly in multiple ways—through your résumé, your LinkedIn profile, how you interview, what you do and say during networking, how you follow up and how you are referred by others. Those tasks should start long before responding to leads online.

During the interview stages you should:

• Create stories that clearly back up your claims of value. This must be practiced so you are ready to defend yourself and promote the “product of you” online (Zooms, Teams, recorded sessions and more) and in person. You need to know how to dress and conduct yourself through each phase so you clearly appear like the top candidate of choice. 

• Try not to focus on salary, but if you can determine the range for the position, great. Saying things like: “I am very excited about this role and was focused so much on the position and the organization I did not focus on salary.” The idea is to get them thinking in the higher range of what they intended to offer you or a candidate by focusing on value, not the “cost” to get you.

• Know the salary parameters from other people who have worked there, from current employees, from Glassdoor, Payscale, Salary.com and more. Knowing approximate ranges is most helpful, but don’t think you can bring that “evidence” into an interview to justify your salary requirements.

• It’s more about the value you bring than what you need in the company’s mind. Continue to talk about how you can solve problems for them and make their business easier and better by hiring you. This will do more to up your value in the mind of the employer than anything else.

• Initially, you need to come to an agreement on your base salary before bonuses, incentives, benefits and perks. But do not ignore those items, which might differentiate the organization. This includes time off, training and more. The “perks” today are often much more than they were even two years ago.

• Evaluate any offer in writing even if you may agree to an offer on principle and verbally. Unfortunately, some candidates are unpleasantly surprised to find out that the written offer did not measure up to what was verbally communicated. It’s okay to have the offer looked at by your career strategist, a business or employment attorney or a close-knit advisor. 

Employers today often don’t know what exactly they need in a “candidate” until they meet you, so your goal should be to be the person who can do the job and the person they need. Realize your negotiations started with the first impressions the team or people have of you. So be an expert on these items related to first impression. The rest of the journey, for both parties, should be to determine if this is a fit.

It’s not always the person who is the most qualified who is hired for a role but the person who knows how to get hired. Know how employers view you and become the value proposition you need to be from first impression to agreeing and negotiating your best offer.


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John M. O'Connor

John M. O’Connor


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John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here.