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Answering the Salary Question

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux 

Photo from Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

The common questions that I get from job seekers are how do I negotiate salary? It is a step-by-step process. How do I give a number in a way that works for me? My response to that is to do some research and give reasons. Cite the research you have done in the market, it can be anecdotal or you go to sites like Salary.com, LinkedIn, Indeed, or Glassdoor. Having that kind of data is helpful for you to know what is fair in the market. If you go to sites like Glassdoor, you will essentially also know what that company might be paying out for the market.

Now, if you are looking for remote roles, you can also check out the national average because according to reports, as companies know that people are pulling away from city centers now that everybody can work a little more remotely, the national average seems to be the point that they use as a reference more often than it used to

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When I say reason, what I mean is that you want to give a reason why you feel like your skills are a good fit for that role. You might have already said that it is important to know that, but you want to reiterate it. So the reason you give should be the extra skills that you bring which are not on the job description, skills related to how you can hit the ground running. These are important things to remind the recruiter or the hiring manager when you are talking about salary. The other thing I will just say as a pro tip is to give a range because, if you do it, then it shows that there is room to negotiate.

There is a lot more that could be said about this, but if you feel compelled to give numbers and you need to prepare for that interview, especially the first interview with the recruiter, you want to have the numbers in place and your reason backing it up. Perhaps you are not even asked, but more often than not, you will be, especially in the tech sector. You must be ready for that. When it comes to talking about salary, I know a lot of people who express discomfort regarding it. Getting asked for your number is kind of nerve-wracking. You do not want either to undersell or to oversell yourself and hurt your opportunities to continue the conversation. There is research and debate among career advisors. Do you just give your number and move from that part of the conversation or do you avoid giving your number?

I understand both sides. I am more in the camp right now of not giving the number first because more information means you can change your decision. Quite often I see people who have not done their research or they are coming from a place where they compare what they have right now or what they used to get paid. Since I deal with a lot of career changers, that is like comparing apples to oranges. Those are not the same things. And just because you are saying you got laid off because of the Covid pandemic, if you are in between gigs right now, you might not get as much paid because you are on unemployment. That is not a fair assessment of yourself and your future. That matters because after about three months, once you get into the job and find out what everybody else is making, there could be some uncomfortable conversations, including with yourself, like ‘what the heck just happened?’ -probably even with your boss. So to avoid that sticky situation, I recommend researching for you to know how much the market is paying for the role with those skills you are going after. I think being aware of what employers are paying is important to have that bit of context.

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You should lean on that and on the research, rather than the feelings about what you have gotten paid before because even if you are going for the same type of role, you are not the same person that you were a year ago. Ideally, you have grown, you have more skills and you are more comfortable with those skills. So that is also something to look for.

One of the sites that I like as a point of reference is Salary.com because you can look at what the salary expectations are for different roles, and you can compare it if you had zero to three years of experience, versus three to five. That is something worth noting. If you do not want to give your number first, because research is showing whatever comes out first, that is what they typically offer.

You could let them know that you have done your research and you see the expectations. Perhaps you could say that you looked at the job to see what was in its description. But you could also say: ‘Hey, so I have seen what the market is paying for this role, but I also know that I have skills in X, Y, and Z.’ You may add ‘Can you let me know what you have budgeted for the role?’ or ‘What should I expect from this role?’ With this, you are laying out the thought that you put into this and the insights as well as asking for their advice. Asking them what they have in the budget for the position can also be very helpful in that the numbers that they give are typically higher than what people give themselves.

As Pro-Tech and other research is done, some people, mostly those who identify as women, came off as more apologetic when they gave their number in terms of salary talk, which can come off as lower confidence. It does not feel terrific. A way to work around that is to think about who or what you are negotiating for, what you are representing, and who you’re working on behalf of. You might be doing it for a community or an industry, and when you are especially entering a new industry, you want to be fair to that market so that everybody gets paid fairly for the skill set that they are bringing,  all the studies they put into it. You can also consider this as negotiating on behalf of your tribe or family. Now, this approach is more like a mental shift. It is easier to discount ourselves than it is to discount that we’re representing a whole community here when we are talking about what is fair, and what the expectations are for salary on a certain job in a market. So, that’s something that you could do: if you find yourself always low-balling or not feeling confident when you give your number just think about all those that you’re working on behalf of. Sometimes, when we think about it, we realize it is not just ourselves.

In case you were looking for salary information before you head into an interview, first off, good for you because Murphy’s law is if you are not prepared they’re going to ask and it is very awkward if you are just making up numbers. It can be clear sometimes you could sell it in your approach, but it is better to know the numbers so that you have context when you have that conversation with a recruiter or the hiring manager.

A couple of places I often recommend you to look at and subscribe to are PayScale, LinkedIn, or Indeed. The ones that I start with include Glassdoor as I can find out about salary and the role in the company and whether the company pays lower than the market. I also check Salary.com because it will break things down, according to bonus and benefits. You can also compare between entry-level -zero to three years- and mid-career -three to five years- and beyond. With this, you will know the progression of that role and what is paying out right now.

I also definitely recommend doing informational interviews whenever possible to sort of gauge the situation with people who are living it and working it. Take all of that into consideration when you come up with your number because more often than not recruiters are going to ask you, especially in the tech sector what your salary requirements are now. If that question comes up, be sure to also check the job description, to confirm that they did not indicate it, because you do not want to price yourself out of that range.

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