Find Your Dream Job, Episode 187:
How to Know What Salary to Ask For, with Anica John
Airdate: April 17, 2019
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This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.
That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Anica John about how to know what salary to ask for.
When you start a job search, you update your resume.
But here’s another basic step you need to take before you send out that first application: you must benchmark what employers pay for the job you want.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Anica John about how to know what salary to ask for.
Anica John is a federal litigator turned serial technology entrepreneur. She’s the founder of Level Up 90. It’s a professional development platform for women who work in technology.
Anica joins us today from Menlo Park, California.
Anica, welcome to the show.
Hi, Mac. It’s good to be here.
It’s a pleasure to have you. Now, Anica, why do you recommend that an applicant benchmark what employers pay for a job before they send out that first application?
I think it’s very important because it’s something that a lot of people don’t think about. They’re so focused on getting the job but then when they are in the process of salary negotiation, they’re trying to make a lot of huge life decisions on an ad hoc basis based on that particular job.
What I think is better to do is, take a moment before you start your job search to really think about what your goals are, as far as what you want in the job, what company you want to work for, maybe if you’re relocating – where you want to live, and then the salary goals and the total compensation goals that you have before you even enter that process. That way everything is more strategic and you are playing more to your strengths and your desires than you would otherwise.
Well, I want to talk in a moment about how to benchmark that number but what do you say, Anica, to somebody who’s looking at listings and they see a job they really want but it doesn’t offer the salary that they decided they need. Should they still apply for that?
Well, there are a lot of things to consider here. There’s salary and then there’s total compensation, right? So, the salary number is just cash, it’s what you need to live, and in addition to that, in the startup world, of course, there’s equity in public companies, there’s what you call restricted stock units, and then there are also benefits that can potentially offset expenses you might incur.
For example, commuter benefits, there’s executive education to further your career; so I wouldn’t say don’t apply to the job strictly based on the salary. It really depends on your needs and how you think about your compensation.
What about jobs you see that don’t offer a salary range and once you’ve done the homework that you’ve described, and we’re going to talk more about that in a moment, should people bother with positions that might say, “Salary depending on experience,” or there’s no range listed at all?
I think employers do that because they would like to test the market. They would like the flexibility to see what the candidate has to offer. If there is a very, very competitive candidate, they want the freedom to bump up the salary a little bit more so they don’t want to give that information away in a job description. It’s a very common practice.
If you only apply to jobs where there is a salary range given, you’re really going to limit yourself.
I would say if you’re interested in the job to go ahead and apply to it but when you are presented with the job offer or any kind of communication prior to the job offer about your salary expectations…in some states, it’s still allowed that employers can ask for your prior salary…then that’s where all this background work that I advise comes into play. I definitely would not, not apply to a job because it doesn’t have that salary information upfront in the job description.
Well, let’s talk about that homework and determining not only salary but other parts of the compensation package that people might be interested in.
How do you recommend, Anica, that people get started? How do people get going on this?
Sure. So, first of all, I think when you are looking to make such a big transition and you are thinking about where you would like to spend the 3 to 5 years, you really need to think about what your goals are with respect to compensation, right? And your financial goals also.
How much do you need in cash? How much, especially if you’re joining a startup or a company where they can offer you restricted stock units, would it make sense to, maybe, be more part of the upside by taking on more equity? And then the benefits and the culture of the company, and usually the culture of the company kind of drives the types of unique benefits a company offers.
That’s the first thing that I would say, is really take stock of what your goals are, financial and otherwise.
Then, I think, a really, really good step is to figure out what the salary band is within your job description in the particular geographic area that you’re looking for. This requires a little bit of research.
For example, if you have friends in the industry who are hiring managers, I really recommend talking to them about an appropriate salary range. That way you get the salary band, meaning the low that the company is willing to offer and the high that companies are generally willing to offer for your level and your position.
Anica, I have to ask, is there a difference between a salary band and a salary range? I imagine listeners might wonder about that.
Yeah, sorry, I use those terms interchangeably.
Companies usually, internally, they say salary bands. What they mean is salary range; what the lowest is that a company’s willing to offer for a position and then the highest number in that band or range.
So have those conversations with hiring managers, figure out what employers in your area are offering in terms of the salary range or band. What other kinds of homework do you recommend people do in order to benchmark salary?
Yeah, so, if you can use your professional connections to talk to people who are hiring for those types of positions at those types of companies, that’s really helpful.
Especially for women in technology. There are a ton of women’s organizations where women who are hiring managers are very willing to meet for coffee, they’re very willing to mentor, so I would encourage taking advantage of that.
The other unique perspective that you might try to seek out is a recruiter.
You know, recruiters are always looking for connections and several people I’ve talked to have just connected to a recruiter on LinkedIn, gone out for coffee, and found out from a recruiter’s perspective what the going salary is for that particular position, in a particular geographic area.
But then also on top of that, what they can do is, they can look at your resume and tell you from their experience what skills on your resume would potentially make you stand out, so in a negotiation, you can really bring those in to play and highlight your strengths. Play to your strengths both in the interview process and then in the negotiation.
What are your best tips, Anica, about how listeners might find recruiters in their field? It, sometimes, for many people, recruiters are like Oz, you know, the Wizard, the mysterious figure that seemed difficult to actually locate. What do you suggest that people do?
Well, recruiters are people just like anyone else, and it does require a little bit of networking, a little bit of skill, and it requires going through connections of connections on LinkedIn, and really, I would say that LinkedIn is probably the best resource for that.
Really leveraging your connections to meet new people; both to meet professional mentors/hiring managers who can give you this information and a recruiter. Maybe, even if you talk to one recruiter who is working in your industry and in your geographic location, it’s incredibly valuable insider information.
When people are sitting down at their LinkedIn page, they’re getting ready to do that search, are there tactical steps you can recommend so that they can find that recruiter or should they turn to people in their networks for advice about this? What are your suggestions?
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different steps I would suggest.
First, always start with your strongest connection. If you see a second connection to someone you know well, that is the absolute best way to start.
In tech especially, there are so many organizations that are looking to get more people into tech, more women into tech, minorities into tech, so going through those organizations and asking for mentorship and also to talk to recruiters for your particular position that you’re seeking, I think is a good idea.
Then, something that people don’t think of a lot is alumni organizations of their colleges and their universities. That’s something that I feel a lot of people underutilize, but they’re there to help you. I would say if you have a chapter in your local area, get involved in that. Also, it’s a great source of networking both for this information and also in the general job search.
I’m so glad you brought up university alumni networks. I that is such a great untapped resource and I’ve often found, both personally and in the job seekers that I talk with, that grads are always happy to make time to talk to other fellow graduates.
Let me ask you, Anica, what would you say to listeners who think, “Well, gosh, why would a recruiter or hiring manager make time to talk to me about local salary levels in my market?” Why would they say yes to a coffee meeting or a phone call about this?
Well, I think you will have people who are not willing to do that. Everybody’s very busy and, actually, that’s why I suggest going through these personal connections. Because everybody’s, you know, more likely to do a favor for a friend, or a friend of a friend.
Then, when you go through these organizations, for example, there’s a Women in Technology organization for product managers, there’s a Women in Products, there’s a lot of organizations focused around helping minorities get into technology.
There’s university and college alumni associations. People join those organizations because they want to connect and so that’s why I’m really recommending starting in those places where you will find people who are more likely to help, rather than just cold emailing or cold asking people for their help.
Okay. Well, terrific. We’re going to take a quick break, Anica, and when we come back, I want to continue our conversation about how to know what salary to ask for. I particularly want to dig into online research because we haven’t talked about that yet.
Stay with us. We’ll be back in just a moment.
As regular listeners of the show know, I record Find Your Dream Job from the Mac’s List studios in downtown Portland, Oregon.
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Now let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Anica John.
She’s the founder of Level Up 90. It’s a professional development platform for women who work in technology.
She joins us today from Menlo Park, California.
Anica, before our break, we were talking about how to research what jobs pay in local markets and we talked about meeting with hiring managers, recruiters, joining or going to events at associations, and using contacts there to find out this information.
We didn’t talk about online research. What suggestions do you have for listeners there?
Sure, yeah, so the reason I started out with the people side of it, talking to mentors, hiring managers, recruiters, is because you will get insider information on particular companies and it’s very tailored to your geographic area and perhaps your level of experience, that a hiring manager would consider you for.
Salary calculators are more general. Depending on the salary calculator, they use different data sets and different data points to spew out their results, so they can offer you very, very general information but it’s not specialized to you and it’s not in the context of the conversation about where you are in your career.
Salary calculators, I think, should be thought of as just one data point and I recommend, because of this, that you use several different salary calculators to see what the range is that they all give you. Because the formulas they use are all based on different things.
That would be my advice on salary calculators. They’re just another data point. I wouldn’t say they’re determinative at all and generally, I feel that job seekers rely on online salary calculators because they are easier to use and they’re so accessible, a little too much, probably.
Okay, we’ve talked about salary. What about benefits? What do you recommend listeners do here to benchmark benefits that come with the jobs in their market that interest them?
Benefits are very, very personalized. They can make a huge difference to you, personally, depending on your situation, your family situation, or they might not be very important specific benefits.
The other thing to remember about benefits is that there are certain benefits that the company negotiates company-wide where there’s really no room to negotiate. An example of that would be, 401K matching, healthcare, dental coverage, things like that.
Things that might be candidates for negotiation are your budget for executive education. You know, maybe, some people have even negotiated parking. Commuter reimbursement benefits, PTO, sick days, things like that, those are all things that at companies are usually negotiables.
My general advice on benefits would be to really think about how important it is to you and how much of a difference it would make and then think about whether the particular benefit that you care about is negotiable for your particular position in a company or it’s something that’s negotiated by the company on a company-wide basis and there’s really no wiggle room there.
In thinking about benchmarking these negotiable benefits, how persuasive is it to employers you might be talking with to know that their competitors and your market offer these sort of perks to their employees? Is that a factor that’s going to matter or will an employer say, “Well, that’s focused just on what their company might do,” and not care about their peers as they would with salary?
It really depends, when it comes to something like, 401K matching, there’s nothing a company or a recruiter who’s trying to hire you can do for your specific candidacy on an issue like 401K matching. That would be decided on a company level so it would be a data point for them to know that when they renew their 401Kmatching policy, that a particular competitor is doing something different and that is impacting this company’s talent pool.
As far as your individual candidacy, those company-wide things, you’re going to have very little impact on that. Even if you mention what the competitor is doing.
On the individual benefits, where recruiters and hiring managers have some wiggle room to give you more there, I think that has a lot more advantage to mention the competition.
You’ve done the homework, you’ve had these conversations with recruiters and hiring managers, you’ve looked at online salary calculators and other sites, you’ve done your research about benefits. How do you recommend people put all this together in a way that’s going to be most persuasive to an employer when you’re ready to begin negotiation?
What kind of presentation is going to have the most effect with an employer?
First, I really recommend, if you are ever asked for a salary range or salary expectation, I would really try to get the employer to come out with their salary range first. Because they just have more data on what they are prepared to give, they’ve probably benchmarked against competitors and, ultimately, they’re going to have their set range that they probably won’t deviate from.
You can always say, “I’d really like to know what the range is that you’ve set for this position and then we can talk about specifics and whether I’m happy with that offer and whether I’d be willing to switch over to your company for that offer.”
They come out with the range and at that point, because you’ve done all this research, you’ve set a walk-away number, right? It’s really important that this range, the lowest number on this range, is more than your walk-away number. If it’s not, then it’s a very easy conversation. You can say, “I, at least, need to make this much in order to even consider this.”
If it’s within that range, what I would say is, it’s always a good idea to ask for more. Even if you’re very, very happy with the offer as it stands. I think that it’s really, really a very good habit to get into, to ask for a little bit more because, number 1, it’s expected.
Usually, recruiters go in with a number expecting that they will have to go up so if you don’t ask for more, you’re really leaving money on the table. If they come back and say that they can’t do an increase in the salary, then I would start thinking about equity, about benefits, seeing if you can get a little more in these areas that’s not the cash aspect of your compensation.
Another idea, we talked about benefits, but another idea on if there’s really no wiggle room, if they’ve given you the offer, it’s above your walk-away number but there’s no wiggle room, they’re not going up, would be, to ask for a bump or the opportunity for performance review, before their normal review.
For example, if they have performance review annually and that’s when you’d be up for promotion, I would ask to have it written into your contract that your performance review might be six months from now and there’s an opportunity for salary bump or promotion at six months instead of the twelve-month period.
That is a way to negotiate where the employer doesn’t have to give up anything right away but you still get something more than what was initially on the table with their first offer.
As you’re having these conversations, Anica, in your experience, how persuasive is it for an employer to hear you share your research, saying, “Well, my goal was to get this number and that’s based on the work that I did. I looked at what your competitors pay and here is what I learned, both by talking with managers and recruiters and looking at online sites.”
Does that kind of research make a difference?
I think it makes a huge difference. I think that employers really do care about, number one, other offers that you might have but number two, benchmarking against competitors in the industry, and then also in the area, and being able to offer specifics, not just online information but you talked to other people and those people are in the industry, maybe at competing companies. Maybe at different department in your employer’s own company, if it’s a really large company.
Also, specifically, if these people are recruiters. I think that carries a lot of weight and it also shows that you’ve really done your research as a candidate.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation. Now, tell us, Anica, what’s next for you?
Well, I am continuing to write and speak about women in technology, including finding a job and negotiating your salary and also settling into your first 90 days, setting yourself up to be successful. It’s really my passion to talk to women in technology and just to make sure that they have the information they need.
I’ll be interviewing a lot of guests, just like you’re doing now, and really trying to make great content for my audience.
Terrific. I know people can learn more about your work and your organization by visiting your website, levelup90.com.
Well, Anica, of all the tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember when it comes to knowing what salary to ask for?
I think that there are two things I would say: you really have to do your homework with salary negotiations and the job search in general. That’s really how you set yourself up for success, is meeting people, getting information, and collating that information so that you really, really understand and present a good case for yourself.
By the way, when you go to levelup90.com and sign up for the email list, you get access to a bunch of resources that help you do that.
Once you go through that process, the second thing I would say is, now you can just really, really be confident.
I know a lot of women especially have an issue with confidence just asking for more, or the negotiation process is very intimidating for them, but because you’ve done your homework, because you have all this data to back you up, and because you can present it in a very, very compelling fashion, I would say the second step is just to be confident. Go into your negotiations being confident.
Well, thank you, Anica. Excellent advice and I appreciate you being on the show.
Thank you so much.
There were two important takeaways for me from that conversation.
One was about the importance of knowing what you want. Not only the salary number but the benefits and doing the homework ahead of time to do that. That was the second point.
When you do that homework, often people, as Anica said, rely just on these online calculators or maybe they look at a few websites that might contain some local salary information. But you’re going to be much more effective in your negotiation and feel a lot better and more confident about the salary and the benefits you get if you invest the time before applying to go out and talk to hiring managers, recruiters, professional contacts, leaders in the field, and find out what the market is paying for the job that you want.
Because in most cases employers are doing that and that’s how they arrive at that figure and the more you know that number and you turn to the same sources that employers do, the more confident you’re going to be and happy with the package you get and the more effective you’re going to be in negotiating when an offer is on the table.
If you’re looking for information about how to do that, particularly about how to get the salary you want, we’ve got a new resource that can help. It shows you how to research and prepare for these conversations about money once that job offer comes or you’re in the process of interviewing.
Get our free resource today. It’s called, How to Talk About Money in an Interview.
You can get your copy by visiting macslist.org/moneytalk.
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Stacey Lane. She’ll explain how to network online with strangers.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.