Money talks: Career Guide 2011

Few elements of the job-search process elicit more trepidation than salary negotiations. Recruiting expert Lindsay Olson offers advice to PR pros at all levels on the best way to navigate this touchy subject.

Few elements of the job-search process elicit more trepidation than salary negotiations. Recruiting expert Lindsay Olson offers advice to PR pros at all levels on the best way to navigate this touchy subject.

When searching for your first job, what can you do to best make sure you are getting a fair offer? Might this be the time in your career where the opportunity is more important than a couple of extra dollars?
In the beginning of your PR career, the most important consideration is the job opportunity itself. Most companies and agencies offer salaries that are more or less the same. At this level, it's understandable that every dollar counts, but try to keep in mind that opportunities for professional development and advancement far outweigh the difference of a few thousand dollars on an annual salary. Typically you can recuperate it in your first promotion or when you change companies. 

That's not to say that you should accept anything. You should be offered a fair and reasonable wage for your service – a company that does not want to pay a market-competitive salary for the position level should raise multiple red flags. Reconfirm the position responsibilities.

Many websites offer market competitive salary information. Glassdoor.com will tell you how much people are actually making for their position title, which will give you a good idea of what you should be asking for when you receive an offer. If the specific company isn't listed, try searching for their top ten competitors. Another option is Salary.com.

What factors other than base salary should be considered in evaluating the overall compensation package? Is there a point in your career where such matters become more prevalent? Where they might differ?
While base salary is an important factor to consider, the overall package could make the opportunity more lucrative than just base compensation. Most people feel they need to be continuously increasing base salary when changing positions, so at first glance, an offer that comes in at or below the candidate's current base salary could be disappointing.

Some companies focus an important piece of the overall compensation package in a candidate's bonus potential. Bonuses are awarded based on company performance, individual performance, or both. In order to get a realistic idea of what is obtainable, it's important to ask questions about previous years' bonus history. Is it typically paid out at 100%? What factors contribute to receiving a bonus or being able to participate in a bonus pool? How often is it paid and when during your employment are you eligible to receive one?

Some PR agencies offer new business commissions as part of their overall package. Introducing a few new accounts to the agency could be a large chunk of extra money in your pocket.

The benefits package could be just as important as the base salary.  

Get the details about the health insurance plan. There is a huge difference between what comes out of your pocket depending on the type of health plans you're offered and the percentage of the monthly premiums covered by your employer for your medical, dental, and vision. Ask about dependents, too. If you're lucky, the company also covers a portion of the dependent coverage. It's wonderful if an employer pays for 100% of the employee premiums, but if the plan is limited in its coverage or you have an outrageous deductible to meet, it's better to know up-front.

Holidays, vacation, and sick time are equally important. Everybody needs time to recharge, travel, and deal with personal matters. Make sure you're given enough time – if not, this can sometimes be a negotiable point, especially if the offer comes in lower than you hoped.  

Parking, commuter benefits, car allowances, reimbursements, and other perks all add up and should be added to the overall value of the package offered.

And, of course, stock options and employee stock purchase plans should be heavily considered, if offered. A retirement plan may offer matching – if you participate, your employers contribution is free money.

Find out about waiting periods, too. Some of your benefits could start immediately, others after 90 days, six months, or even a year. Employer imposed wait periods can be negotiated. Plan imposed wait periods cannot.

Even during the interview process, salary can be a difficult subject to discuss. How does one avoid giving specifics? Is it OK to divert the salary discussion to a later time? Would a potential employer be put off by that tactic?
Avoiding the salary question makes most people nervous, so rather than dodge it, they answer it, then spend the next week beating themselves up over it.

If you're being asked early in the process, it's likely a screening tool. Do what you can to not give specifics. It's important to emphasize you're looking at the whole package, not just base salary. Naming your price too early in the interview process is risky business. If you state a number too low, you risk leaving the hiring manager with doubts, devaluing your experience, and falling out of the running for the job. If you state a number too high, you risk pricing yourself out of the job before the company fully understands your value.

You want to receive an offer based on your experience and market value, not based on your current salary. Offers based solely on your current salary rarely factor in job responsibilities, geographic location, your next scheduled review/possible promotion, etc.

Perhaps you have been a loyal employee to the same company for ten years and this is your first venture into the job-search world. If that's the case, you haven't made big increases through moving around to different jobs and could quite possibly be on the lower end of the salary scale for your experience. While expecting a huge raise isn't usually realistic, the company may offer a higher range for your experience. But you'll never know that if you show your hand first.

The best way to dodge a question early in the process is to make sure you are armed with information about reasonable salary expectations, should you need it. If you are asked about your expectations, turn the question back around and ask about the company's budgeted range – they have thought about this. If they are willing to share that range, you could say whether you fit within it.

I think most employers are fine with discussing the salary details later in the process and expect the candidate to push the discussion off for a later time. They ask knowing that the question makes most people uncomfortable and they will reveal their specifics.

With the job market hot again, PR pros at all levels are finding out about available positions at other entities through “informal” channels other than traditional job boards or ads. In such a scenario, when should the subject of salary/compensation come up?
It depends on the situation. The best time for the salary discussion to come up is when both parties are ready to move forward with the offer, but sometimes it won't play out that way. Maybe an old boss made a change and wants to bring you on to his or her team. He or she already likely knows what you are earning, so it would be OK to be forthcoming in that type of situation.

Newer channels, in particular social sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, are an increasingly popular way to hear about new opportunities even if you aren't actively looking for a new position. Again, if you are speaking directly with an employer, it is best to evade the salary discussion until there is mutual, serious interest. If it's a third-party recruiter, you'll likely be asked and expected to give some sort of answer. This is a different situation because a recruiter doesn't want to continuously bring opportunities to your attention that won't fit the client's budget or your expectations. If the recruiter thinks there is flexibility and you would be a perfect fit, he or she will call you anyway.

Let's say you are promoted within your company to a post with a lot more responsibility, but you're compensation only goes up minimally, if at all. How does one handle that situation?
First, do your research. Find out what the comparable salary range is for your new position using some of the sites I discussed above. If you have a good relationship with an industry recruiter, ask about the salary range he or she sees for similar positions. If there is a discrepancy between what you are making and the industry average, then set up a meeting with your boss.

You need to make a case for yourself. Walking in and demanding more money because you are taking on new responsibilities won't get you the increase you want. Being armed with information and suggestions should make it an easier topic to discuss and open the doors for some compromise that works for both parties.

If a raise is not possible immediately, suggest a salary review in a specific period of time (three, six, or nine months) and set up specific milestones you should meet in that time frame to earn your raise.

You have an offer on the table from another company at a significantly higher salary than what you make now. You have not accepted it yet. You enjoy your current organization very much, but that offer is tempting. What is the best way to handle this situation?
This is the time when you need to put the money aside and consider if the new opportunity is in line with your overall career goals. While compensation is certainly important, it isn't normally the only reason why someone wants to make a change or is enticed to explore opportunities with other companies.

If you are happy in your current situation, but think you can do better financially, go talk to your boss immediately about the prospects for a raise or promotion in the near future. You should be ready to outline your accomplishments and have tied your request back to why you deserve an increase. Whatever happens, don't bring up the offer!

Some people think waving a new offer around will force their company to take a look at their compensation package and give them more so they don't lose them. While it might seem like the easiest way to go about getting a raise, you do not want to put yourself in a position where you have to walk in with an offer from a competing company when your intention is to stay. You may get more money out of the deal, but your loyalty will be in question from that day forward and resentment will ensue. You may simply be walked out of your current job before deciding the offering company is even where you want to work.

Let's say you've accepted an offer from a new employer, have informed your boss, but you then receive a counter-offer. How do you handle that situation?
The resignation process is gut-wrenching for most people. It's especially difficult when your boss makes you feel guilty about leaving and asks you to stay longer while offering to match or beat the new company's offer. It's a reactive tactic and, in my opinion, a terrible practice.

In my experience (and studies back this up), a majority of the employees who take counter-offers leave within a year or less. The money is a temporary fix and quickly everything resumes to business as normal – the same problems exist. 

Think about your employer's motivations to make a counter-offer. Is it about making your situation better or is it about what is best for them at that exact moment in time? It is flattering, but you need to be skeptical about the motivations behind the sudden changes and new conditions given by your employer.

By this point, you should have given a lot of thought to why you are leaving and why you considered looking elsewhere in the first place. Remind yourself again before breaking the news in-person to your employer.

If your boss begins the conversation of a counter-offer, tell him or her that you have enjoyed your time with the company and do appreciate the offer, but you have made up your mind and are making a change that is right for you. You are not obligated to give detailed information about the compensation package with the other company and you should avoid doing so. Once your employer understands you will not entertain a counter-offer, you should offer to make the transition as easy as possible for them – and stick to it.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and recruiter with Paradigm Staffing, a specialized recruiting firm in placing PR, communications, and marketing professionals in agencies and in-house roles throughout the US. She is also a cofounder of Hoojobs, a niche job board for PR, communications, and social media jobs. In addition, she blogs about recruiting and job-search issues at LindsayOlson.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @PRjobs.

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