Salary negotiations are tricky. Whether you’re a full-time designer seeking a raise or an unemployed project manager on a third round of interviews, arguing for more money can produce anxiety. You don’t want to appear greedy, but you do want a salary that matches your worth in the marketplace. Following are three sticky salary situations you may encounter in your career and how to handle each one with diplomacy:
Sticky Situation #1: Your colleague is making more money, even though you hold the same job.
You went to lunch with a fellow graphic designer and she bragged about the raise she just received. While it may be frustrating to learn that your co-worker who does the same work as you earns considerably more, this knowledge alone does not give you a bargaining chip to argue for higher pay. For one thing, your jobs may be less alike than you think; she may have more years of experience than you or a particular set of skills that you lack, for example.
Although the perceived inequality may upset you, it’s almost always a bad move to base a request for a raise on a co-worker’s salary. Your manager may be concerned that compensation figures, which should be confidential, are being shared within the department. Plus, any request for added compensation should be based on your work alone — not someone else’s.
You can make a stronger case for a raise by conducting outside research. Scour resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Creative Group’s annual Salary Guide and career-related websites to establish an appropriate pay range for someone with your skills in your city. Also figure out how much leverage you have before approaching your manager. Are you a designer with front-end coding skills? If so, you may have some bargaining power. According to research for The Creative Group 2012 Salary Guide, those with digital skills are seeing the highest salary increases over 2011 levels. Once you have a better sense of the market, you may decide to make a case for a raise based on your own skills and contributions, or you may find that your compensation is adequate. Either way, it pays to get the facts.
Sticky Situation #2: You’re interviewing for a position and want to know the salary range.
Imagine that you’re going in for a second interview for an art director position at a well-known advertising agency. The job description and work environment are exactly what you’re looking for, but the salary remains a big question mark. Should you bring it up? In a word, no. As you move farther along in the interview process and the company becomes convinced you’re the ideal candidate, your bargaining power increases.
Wait and see if the hiring manager broaches the subject first. Ultimately, a job offer will include the compensation, and you can decide if you can afford to take the position at that point. Keep in mind that an initial job offer is just a starting point — if the salary leaves much to be desired, you can always try to negotiate additional pay. Just be sure to base any requests on the skills you bring to the table and not your personal financial situation.
Sticky Situation #3: You’ve been offered a dream job, but the salary is much lower than you’d like.
Do you negotiate? The answer is yes, within reason. If current salary trends show that your skills are worth more than the initial offer, you probably have some leverage to negotiate a bump in pay. When evaluating a job offer, be sure to consider the big picture.
Compensation packages include more than just money: Telecommuting options, vacation days and medical coverage are just some perks that may make up for a smaller-than-anticipated paycheck. Also look at the opportunity itself. If you’ll be a production manager at a major Hollywood studio and your passion is film, you may be willing to forgo a high salary for a job you love.
No matter what situation you encounter when negotiating salary, remember to remain flexible and professional throughout the process. By coming to the bargaining table with a clear sense of your salary goals, you should be able to reach a deal that’s satisfactory to both you and your employer.