7 tips for negotiating a better salary

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A recent study from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University shows that race and gender earnings gaps still exist in almost all fields. Among electrical engineering majors, African-Americans still earn $22,000 less than Caucasians and $12,000 less than Asians with the same major. Even women with degrees in the high-paying field of chemical engineering earn, on average, $20,000 less than their male counterparts.

These findings don't surprise Heidi Golledge, CEO of CareerBliss.com, an online community dedicated to helping people find a job they love. For women and minorities in some parts of the United States, Golledge says that taking a job with lower earnings is not by choice; rather, it is their only choice.

"We've found that many groups gravitate towards lower paying jobs even if their education and experience will allow them a better position," she says. "This typically comes down to one's willingness to accept and stay at a lower paying job because of lack of confidence or a strong network in which to make the proper introductions to further their career."

Whether you're applying for a new position or asking for a raise at your place of employment, below are seven tips to help you negotiate a better salary and hopefully narrow that earnings gap.

1. Improve your work production

For women who feel underpaid, Golledge says to step up your work for the next three to six months.

"Show everyone in your peer group and your management that this job is important to you and you see it less as a job and more as a career," she says. "After you have clearly impressed them, ask for a meeting and explain you're ready for more responsibility."

If they say yes, then a raise is likely to follow. If you do not receive one and the duties are increased, she advises waiting another month and then asking for another meeting.

"Explain that with greater responsibilities comes greater rewards and that you're looking to grow with the organization, but need a raise due to your increase in duties," she says. "Never bring up why you need more money, such as kid's tuition or a high mortgage. Companies should pay you more because of your production, not your need."

2. Perform due diligence

The real negotiations don't begin when both parties sit down at the bargaining table. By the time an offer is prepared, the hiring company has already put a dollar value on your skill set and they know exactly what they will and won't pay to bring you aboard.

"Establish your value during the interview process," says Jeremy Spring, vice president of marketing for Élever Professional, an executive search firm in Los Angeles.

Spring suggests doing some extra work to learn the role. Find people who have had success in the role and ask them to coffee, request a 10-minute phone call, or offer to research for them on nights and weekends.

"Do whatever you can to absorb real-life information about the position," he says. "The skills you've picked up in school and your professional experience are the functional tools that you share with most of your competitors. Establish your value as more than just a toolbox by offering intangibles and an understanding of the role that's deeper than the job description."

3. Avoid mentioning your last salary

Jerome Young, founder of www.AttractJobsNOW.com, recommends conducting research on sites, such as Glassdoor.com and Payscale.com to understand the pay range of the position. He also notes that it's best to not mention your previous salary on a job application or in an interview.

"It's only ammunition for the potential employer and minimizes your negotiating power," he says. "Providing a potential employer with your previous salary perpetuates compensation inequality as they base your future compensation on your previous low compensation."

When asked about your compensation at your last job, Young advises you to say, "I'm flexible in terms of compensation. It would be great to learn more about the responsibilities of the role before we discuss compensation or can you provide me with the salary range of this position?"

4. Negotiate the details of the job

Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide, says never negotiate the compensation before you negotiate the job. When you introduce compensation too early in the process, you risk being eliminated from consideration before this essential information has been communicated.

"You create a competitive advantage when you demonstrate with passion and conviction that your skills and experience are a perfect match," Cohen says. "That's what every hiring manager wants, and needs, to see."

5. Be assertive

With the majority of offers, if you're timid and you fail to negotiate, you're leaving money on the table.

"Many studies find that women are more reluctant to negotiate than men," says Lynne Sarikas, director of the career center at Northeastern University. "Women need to be more assertive in asking for what they deserve. Negotiating has to be a win-win, you need to feel good about it and the company needs to still feel good about hiring you so it is not appropriate or helpful to fight too hard or too emotionally."

The most critical point is to negotiate a competitive, fair salary when you accept the position. Whether it is a new job with a new company or a promotion that transition point is your best opportunity to do some negotiating.

"They've already decided they want you because you bring value to the role so it's the most appropriate time to negotiate," adds Sarikas.

6. Examine the entire compensation package

When you're negotiating a salary, Stefanie Smith, an executive consultant-coach with Manhattan-based Stratex says to look beyond the salary and consider the entire compensation package--sign-on bonus; relocation; vacation and leave days; title; promotions; office space; staff; reporting structure; role; benefits and training.

"Remain consistent about what you want," she says. "If you don't jump at the offer and they have to court you a bit, it can shift the dynamic of the interaction to your advantage. It's human nature to want what is not easily attainable."

7. Tie your contributions to the bottom line

If you plan to ask for a raise, remember that your boss is as worried about his or her job as you are about yours. Smith says to back up your request for an increase with specific accomplishments that make both of you look stellar. For example:

  • Did you close deals that brought in 45% of your department's profit?
  • Did you forge a distribution alliance to expand market share?
  • Are you responsible for retaining the most coveted clients?

"If you can't demonstrate how your performance improves cash flow or will strengthen your company's position in the immediate term, forget it," says Smith. "Hold off on the request and channel your energy into figuring out what you can do to contribute winning results in the immediate term--the upcoming two to three months."

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