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Salary Negotiations 101: Know What You're Worth and How to Get it

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

There are many factors that make us happy at work.  While we do derive satisfaction from our achievements on the job, we still want to be paid fairly for the work we do.  As employees, we hope that our salary is commensurate with our accomplishments.  Some of us are satisfied with our current salaries, others aren’t sure what they’re worth, and the rest, feeling undervalued and unappreciated, think they should be paid more. 

If you fall into either of those last two categories, how do you determine your value to an organization?  If necessary, how do you ask for more money?  Before you go barging into your manager’s office demanding a raise, it’s important to do your homework, and speaking to a friend who has a larger paycheck or quoting a salary comparison website isn’t sufficient.  While friends and the internet can be good resources, neither on its own is an accurate reflection of your personal value.  Salary negotiations should not be entered into on a whim.  If you make the mistake of inflating your worth or making demands and idle threats, you could lose your job.  And if you’re looking for a job, you could price yourself out of the market. 

The best way to determine your true value is to take an objective assessment of your skills, contributions and circumstances.  The following is a value checklist with criteria you can use to assess your worth before you begin salary negotiations:

Education

• Do you have an advanced degree?  Is it in your current field?  
• Have you taken part in other management or industry training or certification classes? 

Skill Set

• Do you have a firm grasp of the skills needed to be successful in your position?
• Are there skills you are lacking?  
• Are you fluent in the latest technologies used in your field?

Experience

• How long have you been in your industry or function and at your organization?  
• Are you known outside of your company walls?  
• Do you manage a team? 

Advancement

• Have you been promoted within your organization, or have you remained stagnant for a number of years?  
• If you’ve stayed in one position, have your responsibilities increased?

Job Stability

• Have you stayed with one organization for several years, or have you jumped from one company to another? 

Contributions

• What are your three (or five) major contributions to your organization? 

Current Salary

• Are you asking for a realistic jump from what you are currently making?

Benefits

• Besides salary, do you have stock options, a flexible work schedule or exceptional perks or benefits?

Industry

• Is your industry as a whole growing, staying steady or declining?

Company

• What type of company do you work for:  start-up, small business, or blue chip, and how many employees does it have?  
• How are similar businesses fairing?  
• How is the local economy?

In addition to looking at yourself, you should also look at the market.  It is important to use a number of resources to truly understand your value.  Tap into your network:  What is the salary range of others in positions similar to yours?  Be sure to speak with more than one or two people.  Read local business publications and national trade journals.  Visit salary comparison websites, such as salary.com and monster.com.  Check with recruiters who work in your industry; they will know what similar candidates are asking for and what employers are willing to pay.

Once you’ve completed your assessment and market research, you can begin building your case for a salary increase.  That first meeting with a prospective employer or with your current manager is not the time to make demands.  Instead, lead with the positive.  Tell your manager how much you love your job, the organization, and your co-workers, or tell the hiring manager what you plan to bring to the table in your new role, and how excited you are to join his or her team.  Then explain that you’ve done your research and you want to discuss salary.  Give a range you are comfortable with and allow management enough time to consider and respond. 

Remember that salary negotiations are a process.  If you present your case with facts, not emotion, you may indeed receive what you truly deserve.  

Photo Credit: AllHealthcare