Because of intense competition for every job posted, employers have been in the driver's seat in salary negotiations for the past 5 years.
A salary negotiation is intimidating in any economic climate and more so when hundreds more applicants are in line. Information is always the best tool and, fortunately, there are now more means than ever for a candidate to research salaries.
"Job seekers were at the employer's mercy during salary negotiations 20 years ago," said Jason Lovelace, president of the healthcare division of CareerBuilder. "Facebook is a great medium for researching potential employers. If you're not leveraging the Internet, you're missing the boat."
While a plethora of online information about salary ranges is available, job candidates don't want to risk alienating employers by citing poor data.
"The biggest mistake I see people making is not being specific enough in their requests," said Adam Higman, vice president of Soyring Consulting, a firm geared toward operational effectiveness for health systems. "If you're making a salary request, it needs to be based on something. If a candidate just says they looked online and should be offered $50,000 more, that probably won't work. Take into account the specifics of the job, health system and region of the country."
Higman said friends and industry groups offer the most accurate salary representation. At Glassdoor, Scott Dobroski, community expert, said it's important to consider both salary ranges attained by personal connections as well as those reported on reputable websites. Salaries on the Glassdoor website can be separated by job title and location, since cost of living varies greatly throughout the country. Dobroski said these details are key. The salary calculator O NET OnLine (www. http://www.onetonline.org), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, further breaks down salaries by job title, task lists, knowledge, work context, education level and geography.
"Our research says people tend to form opinions after reading four to seven salary reviews," Dobroski said. "If you have 50 friends at a health systems telling you what a reasonable salary is, you should marry that information to what you're reading online."
Whether you're using CareerBuilder, Glassdoor, O NET OnLine, professional association websites or the feedback of friends, it's important for recruiters to know you've done your homework.
"Today's technology allows applicants to give their salary expectation in the initial application," Lovelace said. "You must differentiate yourself because they're dealing with a high number of candidates. I'm all about full transparency. Tell the recruiter you've done your research, using four sources, talked to a number of people and let them know the dollar amount you hope the organization can offer."
It's also easy to focus on dollar signs and neglect to mention what you can bring to the organization. "The most important thing is to emphasize how you can benefit the organization," Higman said. "Support your salary research with your skill set."
Arming yourself with compensation research is half the equation. The other half, experts say, is knowing your personal target salary range.
"Before you go into the interview, know your magic number," Dobroski said. "If you really need $75,000 to be happy and the employer is offering $70,000, that's below but can usually be negotiated up. But if they offer $50,000, it may not be the offer for you. When a company cannot give you a portion beyond what they're offering, you'll need a Plan B to ask for more paid time off, flexible work arrangements, reimbursement for cell phone, conference allotments."
Dobroski recommended identifying three to five fringe benefits that would make you happy accepting a lower offer.
If negotiations for salary stall, some candidates who are insured on their spouse's plan have been successful in leveraging their lower cost to the organization for a higher paycheck. But it's not guaranteed to work. Some organizations have a predetermined percentage they'll increase an offer in these circumstances. Yet others pay a flat rate for all their employees' insurance needs, so that one candidate's insurance obligations won't matter.
As long as the negotiation is amicable, job candidates should not worry about offending the recruiter.
"People expect to be negotiated with," Lovelace said. "Our research revealed that 42% of hiring managers said their first offer wasn't final and expect the candidate will negotiate."
Unfortunately, there are times when the candidate and the organization are too far apart in salary to be compatible. Salary is a personal decision but shouldn't be taken lightly because it's doubtful that anyone will stay in a job where compensation seems poor on Day 1.
"If you think about your life, getting a job, buying a home and buying a car are some of the most important financial events. The job is most significant because it defines your financial success. The key is to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other applicants. Use data to substantiate what you're worth," Dobroski said.
Robin Hocevar is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org