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Negotiate Your Salary the Right Way: a Fireside Chat with Lisa Toby

After making it through a strenuous interview process, the greatest gratification is receiving a call stating that you have been selected for the position of your choice. However, while you may be excited about beginning a new career, you may be a little less enthusiastic about the salary and benefits the company is offering you.

In this Fireside Chat, we sat down with Lisa Metropolis-Toby, the Assistant Dean of Career Services at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) to learn about how to negotiate a job offer the right way.

Tell me about your experience in career services and professional development.

I was hired at BUSPH in November 2010 to build the career services office. I had previously spent eight years at Simmons School of Management where I was the Director of MBA Career Services. Prior to moving into higher education, I spent eight years in executive recruiting. So, I have been around the hiring and leadership development fields for a little over 20 years. Now in my role at BUSPH I feel that I am really tying these two elements together to help students accomplish their goals.

What are the different elements included in a standard job offer?

Initially you will typically receive a phone call [not a letter or email] and you can consider this verbal offer to be official. Most of the time you will not get anything in writing immediately. The verbal offer will typically start with: “Jocelyn we would like to offer you the position of [position] at a salary of [dollar amount].” That number will be your base salary. You might additionally be eligible for a bonus potential; if so, that will also be included in that first package.

In all you will have your base salary, any bonus potential, your title, who you are reporting to, and there may or may not be a start date listed. In addition, they may also send you information regarding benefits, which are typically standard and non-negotiable. Benefits may include vacation time, health insurance, short- or long-term disability, and tuition remission. An organization typically gives the same benefits across the board.

What is the best medium to initiate negotiation?

I think that it is best to do it by phone. However, I have seen some organizations and candidates negotiate via email. I do not recommend that because it is essential to build rapport with the person that you are negotiating with because emotions can often get in the way when you are negotiating.

How does the process usually begin?

Someone (typically a recruiter) may call with a verbal offer and ask what you think about the package.

At that point, you would want to say: “Thank you, I am really delighted, and enjoyed everyone I met with during the interview process. I would like to take the time to look at and consider everything. When do I need to let you know my decision?”

You never want to accept an offer on the spot, but you still need to exude enthusiasm. That’s the emotion part.

The recruiter will generally respond: “Well today is [Wednesday], if you can let us know by [Friday] that would be great.” You will generally have anywhere from two days to one week to respond.

The key is to have the recruiter smiling when you get off the phone. When you are done speaking, that recruiter will generally pick up the phone and call or email the hiring manager and let them know that they made the offer, and report to them your level of excitement.

This is where emotion comes to play, and it is really important because when you call back to negotiate, you want for people to want to work with you. You want them to want to make you happy. The follow-up phone call is where you will want to begin negotiating.

How might one prepare to have this follow-up conversation?

  1. Know your salary range. When filling out your job application and/or in a screening interview,  you are often asked for your desired salary.  While it’s recommended to try and hold off answering until you know their range, sometimes you have no choice but to answer the question if you want to be considered for the position.  In this case, always give a range (never a specific number).  Now, fast forward to the offer stage. When the offer is extended, ideally, the salary will be in the range that you shared. When negotiating, you must remember the range that you gave so that you are not asking for something different than what you initially indicated. The only caveat to this is if the range you initially gave was much too low.

  2. Know your limits. Have a sense of what you are willing to compromise and how far away from the indicated range you are willing to go. Know your “no” number. You have to know whether and when you are willing to walk away before entering the conversation.

  3. Think about other negotiables. Perhaps they cannot increase the salary, but there are other elements that can be negotiated. For some candidates this will be a start date, the title, or vacation time despite that fact that you have not accrued enough days. From a compensation standpoint, in some cases the salary cannot be negotiated, but there is the possibility of a signing bonus. Alternatively, you can ask for a shorter review period, so that instead of waiting one year, you may be reviewed after six months and be considered for a promotion or raise sooner.

  4. Learn about the benefits. Take the time to review the benefits being offered. Sometimes that’s a good way to approach negotiating, because you have added everything up. When you review everything you are able to ask informed questions.

So you call back to negotiate, how might you begin this process in a friendly manner?

If you have something you would like to discuss, you can say: “Again, thank you so much for the offer, I did have a couple of questions…” Here you would ask an easy question, perhaps about the benefits being offered, just something to get them talking.

You may follow up with: “I was working with the numbers, putting them all together, and I’m just trying to make the numbers work. I wanted to ask if there’s any flexibility with the salary.” You will want to make sure your tone is kind and that you are using softer language. Unfortunately, this is particularly true for women as there is data to support gender biases in negotiation.

What do you do in the case that you are not satisfied with their counter-offer?

You have to go into the conversation knowing exactly what you want and what you are prepared to accept and walk away from. I think that you really need to consider whether the opportunity is your dream job. Maybe nothing is negotiable. However, if this is your dream job, that is really rare to come by. In this case, it is okay to accept that job because sometimes there are things that are more important [than compensation]. However, you have to know this going in.

Let’s say it is not your dream job, but it’s a really good job and you don’t want anything less than [$65,000]. You have been looking at the numbers and you feel that this is the lowest you can go, and that it isn’t asking for a lot. If they come back to you and say “We apologize, but we can’t move the salary past [$60,000]…”, if you know that you are okay walking away, you can respond with: “First of all, I just wanted to thank you for trying to work with me on this. Unfortunately, I want to be able to afford to take the position, and I don’t think that it will be a fit at this point in time. However, I would love to leave the door open for the future should something else come up. This is a difficult decision, but unfortunately I cannot accept the offer as is. Again, thank you, and I would love to leave the door open.”

Any last words of wisdom?

  1. Don’t use ultimatums. Language is really important, and as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey. Being nice and professional will get you a lot further when negotiating.

  2. Avoid talking about the competition. Try to avoid phrases that mention what the competition would do, or that you believe they are being cheap or unfair.

  3. You should also avoid using the phrase “I deserve…”. That is a huge turn off, and if they are turned off they will mostly likely not want to go to bat for you.

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