Q&A: Should I negotiate a higher starting salary?

Question: After going for a job interview, I’ve been offered the position but the organisation’s proposed starting salary is a little underwhelming, to say the least. Should I negotiate a higher starting salary?

Answer: It’s best to exercise a little discretion when deciding whether to either accept the organisation’s employment offer or negotiate a better starting salary.

Ideally, the starting salary you quote to the job interviewer is a figure that will be perfectly acceptable to you, so that if you’re offered that figure all you have to do is say yes. But your decision to quote a lower starting salary (to appear as a more attractive candidate for the position) may also count against you.

The organisation may also decide to offer you, the jobseeker, a starting salary lower than what you’ve requested to see if they can skimp on hiring costs. Lastly, in the interim, you may independently discover that the organisation is actually willing to pay a higher starting salary and thus want to see if you can push your luck!

An Offer You Can Refuse
First off, you should be aware that some job interviewers don’t take kindly to salary negotiations. Their idea of a job offer is probably a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. This is where you have to pay keen attention to the job interviewer even as you’re being quizzed – any negotiation for a higher starting salary will be subject to the approval of Human Resources, but an interviewer that is impressed by your qualifications and work experience (and therefore more keen to hire you) will be more likely to fight for your request.

Nevertheless, playing hardball with a job interviewer can easily backfire, as it’s easy to come across as a career mercenary. This can really clash with the words that are coming out of your mouth – it’s hard to believe a jobseeker who says he or she is really keen to explore the "learning opportunities" available in the organisation when they’re concurrently demanding a higher starting salary.

Come Prepared
From the time that you apply for a job to when you’re being offered the position, you usually have an opportunity to do some research on the average wage someone with your level of work experience can expect (the JobsCentral Salary BenchMarker is one useful tool!) Do keep in mind that certain industries have, on average, higher remuneration rates than others, and also assess any alternative offers that you may already have to see if you’re being offered a fair deal.

In addition, be prepared to buckle down and get your hands dirty with some good old-fashion wheeling and dealing. Part of the art of negotiation is meeting your counterpart in the middle and forging an acceptable compromise. In lieu of pay, some organisations may also be more amenable in offering you other non-monetary benefits, such as flexible work arrangement or a budget for training/future education.

Take It – It’s Yours!
A 2009 survey of employees indicated that those who negotiated their starting salaries reported a significantly higher starting salary than those who did not. In addition, the job interviewer is able to feel more confident that they have hired an employee with strong interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with conflict, especially if it’s for a position which requires constant interaction with internal and/or external stakeholders.

At the end of the day, there is no hard and fast rule as to whether you should negotiate a higher starting salary. What you can do is to size up the situation, do your homework and ultimately gauge if you’re willing to lose an opportunity at the position you’ve just been offered for a higher starting salary.

Would you negotiate a higher starting salary? Share with us in the comment box below!

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