When it comes to the intricate back-and-forth game of salary negotiation, there are many crucial points in the process where a misstep can trip you up and cost you thousands. It starts with the ominous "list your current salary" entry on an online form or job application, continues in the first interview with human resources, and could be brought up again by the hiring manager. One thing is for sure, once you've received an offer and agreed to accept the job at that level, there’s no going back.
Or is there?
A common scenario I encounter is the frantic email "Help! I got nervous and told them my current (low) salary in the first interview. Is there a way to recover from that?" Usually the answer is yes, by continuing through the interview process, proving you are the best candidate, receiving an offer, and then negotiating in a business-like manner and gathering competitive market data.
Your response would be along the lines of, "Thank you so much for your offer. I know we briefly touched on salary in the early stages of the hiring process, and since then it’s been great to meet everyone and gain a full perspective of exactly what the position entails. With this insight, I’ve been able to more accurately research what the market value is for someone with my skill set for this position, and what I found was that the range was...”
However, I recently got a call from Karen* who had the same question about negotiation, but had already accepted an offer. Here’s the scenario:
Karen was a corporate trainer making $72,000 at ABC Corp in Arizona, and because she had unique skills in the industry that were in high demand, she was recruited by XYZ, Inc in Boston.
Unfortunately, during the interview she told the new company her current salary (a no-no for optimal negotiation techniques), and (surprise!) at the end of the interview process, they offered her the same $72,000.
When she looked at the overall picture, there were a lot of things in play. The new job offered more responsibility, it was a company she really wanted to work for, she knew she was well-paid for her current location, and she really wanted to move to Boston.
Although they were still working out some of the logistics of start date and moving costs, she accepted the position.
Then things got interesting.
After giving her notice on a Friday morning, her vice president called her into his office, told her how valuable she was, and offered a significant increase in pay and a higher title.
Karen called me on Monday, feeling stuck. She had gone over countless scenarios over the weekend, and here was her main dilemma: was it a good idea -- or even legal -- to go back to the new company, tell them what happened, and ask for more money when she had already agreed to their original offer? She really wanted to accept the new job and start this new part of her career on a positive note, and was willing to say "what’s done is done" and write if off as a lesson learned in negotiation. The last thing she wanted to do was damage her reputation with her future employer.
Still, it was eating her up that she was leaving money on the table. I asked myself the same question. Was it possible to find a way to ask for more money without going back on your word?
Then things got even more interesting when she spoke with her good friend and coworker Rob*, who went through the same situation, but with a twist:
He also had an interview with XYZ and received an offer
He also got a counteroffer from ABC, including a huge pay increase and bump in title
When he went back to XYZ and told them, they offered him more money
However, he decided to stay at the current company
Thus, she knew that XYZ might be willing to increase their initial offer. Still, she wanted to go about it the right way.
She had built a good rapport with the hiring manager throughout the interviewing process and spoke to her on that Monday morning. She thanked her again for the opportunity, told her how excited she was, and they talked about some of the logistical moving questions they were still settling. Then she simply had an honest, business conversation. She told her about the counter-offer. She made it clear that she understood she had already agreed to join them, and didn’t want to go back on her word and jeopardize her standing in any way.
What’s equally important is what she didn’t say. She didn’t talk numbers. She didn’t disparage the existing offer. She didn’t ask for a single thing. She simply told them how this situation was weighing on her mind the entire weekend, and that she truly wanted to be able to be 100 percent committed to such a major decision, uprooting her life and taking a new job thousands of miles away.
The result? The company called back the next day with an $8,000 increase to her base pay. Needless to say, she was thrilled. Not only that, but the company was thrilled as well. As Karen tells it:
"What’s interesting is that the person in HR who I was in contact with said that it was the first time in the company’s history that they approved that high a salary for a position such as mine. She said they literally had never done anything like that before and they had to get it approved from everyone I interviewed with, as well as the President of the company!
I think the best part is that my HR contact sounded thrilled to offer me the new higher salary and so far everyone I've been in contact with at my new job is very excited to have me join their team in a few weeks. It almost seems like the more valuable you make yourself and the more you fight for a higher wage, the more people respect you and think you are the right person for the job."
Is it common that a company would go as high as the President to offer a never-before salary increase? No. But it shows that if you are honest, stand up for your worth, and conduct things in a professional, business-like manner, you’d be surprised at what can be negotiated.
* All names, numbers, and details about the case have been changed to protect the client
Jim Hopkinson is an author, writer, and speaker living in New York City. His focus is on career development for the new economy, showing how new media, technology and branding are changing how people look at their career and lifestyle. Read more...