Salary & Benefits

On this page you'll find information that will help you navigate the negotiations and options when it comes to compensation.

Salary Negotiation

Q: I'm on my third interview with the legal department of a large retail firm, and I expect to receive an offer fairly soon. But once the company makes its move, I know I'm going to feel a bit uncomfortable negotiating with them if the salary comes in lower than I'd hoped. Do you have some tips to offer?

A. Negotiating compensation is awkward for most people, but preparation and diplomacy can ease the process. Here are some guidelines:

Know your market worth. Make sure you have a good understanding of the current pay range for the position before negotiations begin. Often the salary range is included in the job advertisement, or the hiring manager may let you know during the interview process. Internet salary sites, professional associations, recruiters and publications such as the annual Robert Half Legal Salary Guide can provide useful information on compensation norms for your area. Remember that your level of skills and experience will determine the appropriate salary within the standard range.

Keep your cool during negotiations. Let the hiring manager bring up the subject of pay. Once the topic has been broached, you might begin by mentioning a range that would be acceptable to you. It's important to be calm and professional throughout the discussion. Also, remember that negotiating is a two-way street, so remain open-minded. Finally, it's wise not to commit to the offer during the negotiation meeting. Instead, get the offer in writing, ask for a few days to consider it, and then make your decision.

Consider non-salary elements. While money is certainly an important component of the overall compensation package, it isn't everything. Telecommuting accommodations or opportunities for advancement may tip the scale when evaluating multiple employment offers. Consider what lifestyle elements are important to you, and then weigh these along with the monetary components as you make your decision.

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Benefits Programs

Q: I've been offered a job and was pleased with the starting salary. However, I'm not sure how to evaluate the company's benefits package. Any advice on what to look for?

A: What companies are offering — especially in the area of health benefits — is changing rapidly. To evaluate a firm's benefits plan:

Consult friends and family. Ask those in your network what their companies offer in terms of benefits; consult the web sites of similar firms for information about popular benefits choices. Having a basis for comparison can be helpful.

Consider the spectrum of benefits. The hiring manager may not mention all the perks a prospective employer offers during the interview stage. To get a full understanding of what you'll be offered or if you're curious about a certain benefit, such as wellness programs, training and development opportunities, education subsidies, commuting perks or 401(k) plans, be sure to ask about them.

Negotiate carefully. Though you typically have little room for negotiating a different benefits package, you may have some flexibility, such as shortening the amount of time you must be employed by the company before benefits take effect. Just don't overestimate the amount of leverage you hold or burn an important bridge before you've even started with the firm.

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Pay Raise

Q: I was hired almost 10 years ago as a risk manager for my current employer, a nonprofit organization. I have since been promoted to vice president, and legal affairs was added to my title. I still manage risk and am functioning as the general counsel. I received a raise at the time of my promotion several years ago but was never brought up to the level of other VPs in my organization, most of whom were hired after me and were able to negotiate higher salaries. Because I was promoted from within, I did not have the same negotiating power. Now I would like to achieve more parity. Can you advise on how to negotiate a raise (at a time when no merit increases are being given)?

A: Your concerns about asking for a raise in the current environment are justified, yet it seems that you may be in a position to make a persuasive case. Ask for a meeting with your manager to discuss the matter. You don't say how you know you're being paid less, but assuming this information is public knowledge, you can candidly note your desire to achieve pay parity with colleagues at the same level. Of course, you will also want to point to your career progression, as reflected in your expanded title and responsibilities. In addition, outline specific ways in which your efforts have enabled your organization to carry out its mission. It's possible that your boss may not be fully aware of the projects and areas you now oversee.

Be sure to temper your concerns about your salary level with an understanding that options may be limited, given the freeze on merit increases. Consider asking for a time frame, however, in which your compensation can be reviewed and reset — perhaps in three months. In the interim, try to negotiate other benefits that won't cost your employer directly, such as additional vacation days, telecommuting options or flexible scheduling. Even if a salary increase cannot be granted immediately, continue to build your case for a raise. Consider providing your boss with a weekly or monthly status report that summarizes the projects you've worked on and the results you've achieved. An ongoing record of consistent achievements can bolster your bid for more pay.

You'll also need to mull your options if your manager is not receptive to your request for a higher salary. Is this a good time to look for a new position in your market? Are there opportunities for someone with your background? How strong is your network? Although hiring is expected to pick up, a cautious environment still exists. With this in mind, be careful not to issue any ultimatums or say anything you might regret. Keep the focus on why your accomplishments and expanded responsibilities warrant a raise. If you're fortunate, your manager will take up your cause, with the understanding that professionals who feel properly valued are more likely to remain in their roles.

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