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Secure the Bag - Knowing your Worth in Negotiation

Social media is full of memes for affirming self-worth and building confidence. Truth is, if we’re really honest most of us have moments, days or even months where we are not feeling our most confident and secure. That’s a quintessential part of the human experience, so “how is that related to negotiation?” I believe how you evaluate your skills, abilities and talents is directly related to your bargaining position in negotiation. If you do not hold your time and talent in esteem in negotiation, you’re less likely to consider the inherent value of said time and talents. Building your self-esteem and confidence is a continuous effort, whose fruit will extend far beyond negotiating one position or contract.

Before negotiations begin, do your homework.

Salary negotiations can be uncomfortable; my best advice is to tread lightly and be professional. When I first started working, I was advised not to initiate the salary conversation as it was perceived as rude or forward; as if we’re not all working for money. At that time, salary discussions were usually presented at the very last stages of the interview process; which admittedly is a double edged sword. Can you imagine the disappointing agony of putting on your dry-cleaning, getting a babysitter and using personal time off for two or more interviews, only to find out the position does not pay enough? Of late, I’ve noticed a trend of recruiters asking about salary expectations earlier in the interview process, which I think is better for everyone. The first time a recruiter casually inquired “what’s your salary expectation?” during an initial phone screening, I was taken aback. My brain started firing off like the 4th of July. I took a deep breath and replied “ultimately, my salary expectation would be commensurate with my responsibilities, thus I’d like to learn a bit more about the position before I provide an exact dollar amount”. In my mind, the crisis was averted and as I started to breathe again, the recruiter replied, “the range for the position is $103-120K. Does that work for you?” In that moment I had an revelation, but more importantly I gained a strategy for how to respond to the interviewee’s most dreaded question: “what’s your salary expectation?”. My response ever since has been, “what’s the budgeted range for the position?”

Before you respond to any inquiries to meet from a potential employer, search the internet to find the median pay scale or compensation for the position(s) you are applying to in your region and for your industry. Historically, professional positions in the northeast, mid Atlantic and California have higher pay scales, but with the advent of the internet and remote working, thankfully we’re beginning to see more competitive pay rates in smaller markets. Your industry can also be a determining factor in your compensation. For example, positions in public service tend to pay less but can offer better long term benefits like a pension. The pay scales for federal government positions on the general schedule (GS) are the most transparent, thus easiest to review. Each position is assigned a general schedule (GS) and a number like GS-11. The GS pay scale classification is usually located on the job posting; and the government pay scale is available online along with the location differentials, if applicable.

After you’ve obtained a range for your pay scale, consider your bottom line. With your time and talent what is the minimum you are willing to accept for this or similar positions in the market? In all communication be friendly, relatable and resolute in your position. If a recruiter contacts you for a follow-up conversation or an interview more than likely they have already determined you are qualified. Thus, assuming you’ve told the truth on your resume be confident in your qualifications. In your interactions with the recruiter(s) be ready to highlight how your skills and experience can help the company by fulfilling the mutual goal of filling the position.

Be willing to express how you’ve come to your bottom line salary but most importantly, be willing to walk away if necessary. Think of the salary negotiation process like dating. Not all dates end in marriage, some help you find new activities and restaurants and thus you learn. Remember, rejection is not an indictment or negative reflection on you. Be resilient and expect that not every negotiation will end as you hoped but certainly some will.

I believe those are the opportunities designated for your life’s path.

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