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Salary Negotiation Tips
Nimish Thakkar, MS, MBA, CCMC, CPRW, SaiCareers.com, New York

When it comes to compensation, for many, more is always better. Yet, a vast majority of job seekers -- under the mistaken assumption that they don’t have a say on the salary negotiation table -- sheepishly accept the first offer that comes their way. It is true that a few industries, companies, and job roles are not suitable candidates for the negotiation process, but universalizing such an assumption would be incorrect. Traditionally, employers have been very open to negotiations with the right candidate (and of course the adept negotiator).

Knowledge of compensation trends is pivotal to the success of any negotiation strategy. A shrewd negotiator would, with practice, have developed the uncanny ability to manipulate the negotiation, knowing just when to call “attack” (asking for more) or “ceasefire” (accepting what is being offered). Don’t worry even if you are not a born negotiator the following tips will help you prepare:

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Establish your value
The seeds of negotiation, in my opinion, are sown well ahead of the actual interview -- by establishing your value. If you have done your homework and positioned yourself as a star performer, you have already gained an upper hand.

Think about the brands you would willingly pay more money for. Why would you do so? One reason, of course, would be the quality of the product or service. The most important reason, however, is the perceived value or benefit of the brand. You are conditioned to thinking about certain brands as being “top class.” A BMW, for example, immediately brings to your mind the impression of a luxury car. The company has worked very hard to position itself as a luxury car, a car for which you would empty your bank.

In a similar manner, you must convince employers about the potential benefits of hiring you. Resumes, cover letters, thank you letters, references, and interview responses are very effective tools that you could use to establish yourself as a “must have.” The higher your perceived value, the more leverage you will have at the bargaining table.

Know the baseline
Carefully determine the absolute minimum amount required to meet your financial obligations. This number is essentially your baseline. You would obviously try to negotiate a salary well above your baseline, but knowing the threshold helps.

Carefully research your industry, company, and profession (through networking, industry associations, researching salary information and surveys ...) to understand compensation trends, existing norms or “market rate” (for your background and skills), employer policies, historic payouts, special bonuses, tips (from colleagues, existing employees), established budget for the position or department, etc. Don’t forget to factor geographic location (the cost of living varies from region to region) when you are conducting salary research.

Think smart
During instances when an employer may be reluctant to negotiate the base, be creative. Think about what else can be added to sweeten the offer. Example, the employer might consider offering you a percentage commission beyond a certain performance level. If you have researched the company well, you would know exactly what to do.

Practice, practice, practice
Write down negotiation scripts and counter-offers (or not) for a wide range of situations. Example, what would you say if the employer offers a salary below your expectations or the existing market rate? What would you say if you were asked to spell salary expectations very early in the interview? (During early interviews, provide a range if absolutely necessary.) Prepare and practice for a wide range of situations. Role-play the negotiation with a qualified friend or professional.

Right timing is everything
Some coaches are of the opinion that salary talks should be postponed until the final interview stage and also that the first party to offer, loses . Whether or not you agree with them, focus on improving your timing. Negotiation is all about the right timing.

Don’t be shortsighted
Companies offer several benefits, from excellent health plans to tuition reimbursement to free cars to flexible work hours. Don't get blinded by just the base; look at the big picture. Benefits such as these certainly increase the overall value of any package. At times, it may make more sense to accept the offer considering long term growth benefits, learning opportunities, or personal demands. Know which of these benefits is most important to you and proceed accordingly.

Negotiations may not always go as planned. From budget constraints to company policies, almost anything could foil your negotiation attempts. Don’t get disappointed. Always try to be polite … maintain enthusiasm till the very end. Employment, after all, is all about forging a long term relationship.

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