Posted by: Dan | June 25, 2012

How Do I Negotiate My Salary?

Many vets don’t negotiate their salary, but they should.  At most firms, your salary isn’t predetermined.  The company wants you, and you want to work there.  There’s only one major discussion left until you receive your acceptance letter.

How do you negotiate the salary?  You’re grateful to have a job and don’t want to sour the relationship.  Follow Switch’s steps:

1.  What are you worth?  You researched the firm.  You nailed the interview.  Now you know your future position at the firm.  What is a reasonable range for this position?  Search sites like Glassdoor or Vault to learn about salary ranges for positions at various firms in specific cities.  If your firm isn’t on the site, search for a comparable firm.

Now you have an average salary range for your position.  But that doesn’t include the standard of living.  Are you moving from a military town to a large city or a rural one?  To maintain the same standard of living, you need to consider a comparable salary in your new city.  This Cost-of-Living Wizard will help.

Two more factors will impact your standard of living. A substantial portion of your military pay is tax-free.  In addition, civilians pay much more for insurance.  Since you’ll be paying more for taxes and insurance, you’ll need to earn more in order to maintain the same standard of living.

2.  Prioritize your interests.  You may think salary is the most critical component of the negotiation.  It’s important, but you also want to consider the title (“rank”), a signing bonus, relocation assistance, tuition assistance, and the number of vacation days.

You probably won’t get 30 days of annual leave.  What’s standard for your position?  Could you get additional days?

The firm may want to hire you at a certain level.  But, it may be better for your career development to start at the next highest level.  Could you negotiate to start at the higher level with a salary from the lower end of that level’s range?

What’s a reasonable amount for a signing bonus?  You could ask for a higher salary and take a lower bonus, or vice versa.  For reference, your signing bones probably won’t be higher than a month’s salary.  How could you justify asking for a signing bonus from your future employer?  As a veteran, you may need to purchase a new wardrobe for the job (suits, dress shirts, ties, shoes, etc.).

3.  Prepare your responses.  You don’t want to win the battle but lose the war.  You could “win” the negotiation, but be off to a bad start with the new firm.  How can you avoid souring relationships?  Consider how the firm will respond to your requests, and have well thought-out responses.

For example, you want a salary that is 10% higher than what they are offering.  They may stay firm at their original offer.  Explain why you think you deserve the additional amount.  Show that it wasn’t determined arbitrarily.  This may include a direct link between your experience and the position, industry averages, a cost of living adjustment from the military, etc.

If you still get pushback, make a concession. Drop the requested amount slightly (keeping it above their offer, though), and then ask if there are other benefits that could be negotiated.  You could ask for a slight increase to the signing bonus in exchange for the change in salary.

The key to negotiating is making everyone a winner. The firm wins by compromising on a salary that is higher than their offer, but lower than your desired amount.  You win because the salary is slightly higher than the initial offer,  and you may get a higher signing bonus and other benefits.  One important note – once the negotiation is over, and you agree to a particular salary (and other benefits), you can’t renegotiate.  You’ll have to wait until your next performance review.

4. Don’t go first.  The employer may try to get you to make the first salary offer.  Avoid giving an amount.  Were you required to include your desired salary in the job application?  Assuming that you followed Step 1 to estimate that amount, be prepared to justify why you’re asking for an amount that is slightly greater.

Ensure that the employer offers an amount first.  If they ask you to provide an amount first, ask them, “How would this company compensate someone with my experience who is working in this position?”

Once they make an offer or provide a range, don’t immediately respond with a counter-offer.  It may be uncomfortable to wait.  But, spend time planning your response.  When you respond, start by highlighting your strengths and demonstrating your worth.  Finally, give the employer a counter-offer, but explain that this amount is justified by the description you just provided.

These tips provide a framework.  You’re going to need extensive research and preparation to succeed at the salary negotiation.

Please send any questions, comments, and salary negotiation success stories to

© 2012 SwitchStarter, LLC


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