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The art of salary negotiation

The most important questions to ask before accepting an offer

Upasna Gautam is an RJI Columnist whose column explores and shares actionable insights into different facets of career and leadership development.

One of the main reasons that even the best candidates fail HR and recruiter job screening calls is because they share their compensation numbers too early.

If you say a number that’s too low, they may wonder if you’re senior enough for the role. Not to mention — you can kiss the top of the compensation band goodbye before you even get started. If you give a number that’s too high, you could get disqualified before ever starting the interview process. 

There are a lot of risks to providing what you’re looking for in a salary before getting more information. Once you provide a target number, or even a range of numbers, you’ve now set the ceiling for what you’re likely to get paid. The hard truth is that when you set an anchor point like that, it’s hard to modify it. This is how you end up devaluing your worth and giving your power. 

It’s always better to negotiate from a position of strength, so don’t show your cards too early in the game. Get more information first, and then you can make a smart decision about what to ask for.

Start with these important questions

  1. If the role is for a new position at the company, ask: “I’m interested in meeting the team and learning more about this role to assess if it’s a mutual fit. Before we discuss specific numbers, can you provide me with the salary range for this role?”
  2. If the role is a backfill position, ask: “Since this is a refill position and this role replaces someone, what was the previous salary range and what is the current salary range?”
  3. Get information on all of the components that make up the compensation plan, which includes bonuses, equity, and signing bonuses by asking: “What are the different elements of compensation for this role?”
  4. Ask about the company’s compensation philosophy — this is a crucial and often missed set of questions: 
    • How often are compensation increases evaluated and given?
    • How often is equity refreshed?
    • How often are merit increases and promotions evaluated and given?
    • Does the company differentiate compensation for top performers? 

Don’t give numbers before you fully understand the elements involved in how you will get paid. Think about it — how could a single number or range of numbers suffice if you don’t even know how the company approaches it? 

Remember: 100% of the time, the company knows what the salary range and compensation components are. They are hoping you will go lower than what they’ve budgeted, and the only way to know that is to tell them.

Sometimes, even after negotiating, the offer may be lower than what you expected. In that case, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Ask for more benefits. If the company is unable to increase the salary, you can ask for more of other benefits instead. This could include things like a signing bonus or more vacation days.
  2. Negotiate for a performance-based salary increase. This means that your salary will be linked to your performance at the company. If you exceed expectations, you can earn more money.
  3. Ask for a promotion sooner than usual. If you are confident that you can quickly exceed expectations in the role, you can ask for a promotion sooner than the usual timeline. This will give you a higher salary without having to negotiate.
  4. Decline the offer. If you are not happy, you can decline the offer. It’s important to remember that you are not obligated to accept any job offer, even if it’s your dream job.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to accept the job offer is up to you. Weigh the pros and cons of the entire offer, and decide what is best for your financial and career goals.

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