Find Your Dream Job, Episode 316:
How to Negotiate Your Salary with Confidence, with Kate Dixon
Airdate: October 6, 2021
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 you find a fulfilling career.
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Many of us are uncomfortable asking for more money after getting a job offer.
But our guest today says a salary negotiation is like any other business discussion. And to be successful, you need a plan before you start the conversation.
Kate Dixon is here to talk about how to negotiate your salary with confidence.
She’s the founder of Dixon Consulting and the author of Pay UP! Unlocking Insider Secrets of Salary Negotiation.
Kate joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Well, Kate, let’s get right into it. Why do people struggle with negotiating a salary after getting a job offer?
You know, I think one of the biggest reasons is we’re socialized to not do it. You know the messages like you should be grateful just to have a job. Those things are things we hear from the moment we’re little and until we’re adults, and that really resonates with people, and they feel like, “Gosh, I did all this work to get to this point. To get, you know, all my interviews done and get an offer, you know. Okay, well, I shouldn’t even ask for anything. I should just be grateful for the offer.” And that’s really not the case. I mean, you should be grateful for the offer, but that shouldn’t prevent you from actually negotiating your salary.
Well, why is it important to negotiate your salary? Why shouldn’t you take that first offer, Kate?
Well, I think even if you don’t get anything in exchange for your negotiation expertise, and research shows that people who ask for something additional, eighty percent of the time, will get something. Even if it’s not exactly what you were hoping for. But the odds are pretty good that you’re gonna get some results. So just for that reason, you should be doing it.
It also establishes you and your relationship with the organization. You know, just like you said in the intro, this is a business transaction. Right? So how you conduct yourself in your negotiation really has an impact on how you’re gonna be perceived after you get the job and after you start.
So I love to have people do it. You know, it gives them a little bit more confidence that they’ve gotten everything that they could from their offer, and it sets them up; even if you don’t get anything, it sets you up for, you know, being somebody who advocates for yourself and that’s really important.
Some people might worry that negotiating might jeopardize the job offer. Do employers expect you to negotiate?
Most do, and if they don’t expect you to negotiate, they’ll tell you, “Hey, we’re gonna give you our best and final answer, and there is no negotiation in this.” Most of the time, if that’s what they think, that’s what they’ll say.
So you know, the folks that I talk with who are, you know, headhunters and recruiters inside organizations tell me that there’s an expectation that there’s going to be some negotiation that are done.
We’re gonna walk through a process that you recommend to your clients about how to negotiate salary with confidence.
Before we do that, though, what kind of preparation do you recommend anyone do before they start a negotiation?
Preparation, so there’s a number of different things that I would suggest. First of all, you need to get clear about what it is that you really want and what it is that you’re willing to accept. And do that before you start negotiating and before you get your offer. Really know what those kinds of bottom-line numbers are for yourself. So that’s the one thing that’s really important.
And then, I recommend using this four-part conversation recipe, which we’ll talk about in just a second. But really, make sure that you’re prepared to have this conversation. That you’ve thought about it. That you’ve practiced what you’re going to say. That you’re really ready and you have your space ready to have that conversation which is usually done over the phone.
And again, we’re gonna walk through your process, but what if an employer, very early in the interview, asks about salary? Is there a way to deflect that conversation until later in the process?
Well, there are some ways to do that. But honestly, I think the best policy is to be upfront about it, and there are two ways to approach it really. There’s one where you set the tone and one where you ask the employer to set the tone.
If you’re gonna set the tone, you can tell them, “Hey, I’m targeting in this kind of a range, you know, the seventies,” or, “I’m targeting in the low one hundreds. That’s totally okay if you want to do that and you feel really comfortable about the research that you’ve done.
But a lot of my clients and a lot of people that I know aren’t really super comfortable with this, so what they do is they kind of turn the question around and ask the employer for what the hiring range is, and that’s perfectly okay to do as well. I think either way works well. But trying to deflect or avoid it until you get to later in the process isn’t really a great idea. Because, really, the recruiter’s not asking you so that they can lowball you. The recruiter is asking you so they can make sure that you have kind of a similar expectation that they do. They want to know that you’re in the ballpark.
And when a recruiter shares that salary range and it’s below your target figure, what do you recommend a job seeker do then?
Well, I think it depends on how far you are apart. You know it’s certainly okay to say, “Wow, this is lower than what I’m targeting, and what kind of flexibility do you have?” That’s a totally legit thing to ask. Because sometimes employers don’t really know what it takes to get somebody with your expertise and your experience into that role, and sometimes they just don’t value the job the same way that you do, and that’s okay, and it’s good to know that before you get to the final negotiation stage.
So I think that it’s okay to be asking questions and probing around that, and sometimes, you do get an offer that is above the stated range in the job description or above what they said they would originally do. So it’s not an impossible task, but you sure would want to know if it’s not gonna work out early in the situation. You don’t need to waste your time.
Well, let’s walk through your four-step process for how to negotiate a salary with confidence. You’ve received an offer, and the first step you recommend is to express delight. What are you trying to accomplish by doing that, Kate?
The way that this is structured, the four parts are structured really allows you to kind of build rapport and really have some communications before you get into the nuts and bolts of the salary negotiation itself, and there are reasons that we do this. And one is that – I really recommend that you are collaborative with the person that you’re negotiating with. Because again, this is a business transaction, and bottom line, it has to be something that is acceptable to you as well as something that is acceptable to the company. So by building rapport and engaging your recruiter or hiring manager in this process, it really will help you to get what you need from them.
So expressing delight is really the first part. You don’t want them to wonder if you’re okay with this or, you know, you’re really excited about getting an offer from them. And it doesn’t mean you have to say, “Oh, I’m happy with this. Everything’s cool. I don’t want to negotiate.” That’s not it at all. But you do want to let them know, “Hey, I’m so excited that XYZ company thinks this is as good of a match as I do. I’m really excited about this opportunity.” That’s all you have to say.
And that seems like a very natural thing to do. Do you find, though, in your work with clients that some people hesitate to share their delight?
Yeah, I think they do. Because they think that by expressing that delight, then they’re negating their power to negotiate down the road, and that’s not true. I also think that this is such a nervous kind of situation. People just jump right into asking for what they want, and that can feel really abrupt to the person on the other end of the line. So I think, you know, those two things, you know, they’re nervous, and they skip ahead, and they also don’t want to make people think, “Oh, I’m fine with this offer as it is.” I think both of those conspire to skip this point, and I think it’s a really lovely way to enter into it.
Well, I want to pause here and take a quick break, and when we come back, I want to talk about your second step, Kate, which is to ask questions, and I want to especially dig into the kinds of questions you recommend asking.
So stay with us. When we come back, Kate Dixon will continue to share her advice on how to negotiate your salary with confidence.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio, and I’m talking with Kate Dixon.
She is the founder of Dixon Consulting, and she joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now, Kate, before our break, we were talking about how to negotiate your salary with confidence, and you were walking us through your four-step process for doing that.
The second one that you recommend is to ask questions. What kinds of questions are we talking about here, Kate?
So remember, this is the second step in the four-step process. So you’re not gonna get into making your requests quite yet. But this is where you’re gonna ask clarifying questions about things that you have seen in your offer letter or in the things that accompany that offer letter and be sure to read them all very well. Because you don’t want to ask questions that are already answered in the materials that you have from the company. But things like, “Oh, you know I’m seeing in the offer letter that this job has a 401K match, but it doesn’t say what the percentage is. Could you share that with me?” Or “I’m seeing that there’s a bonus opportunity here, but I’m not clear on what the timing of that is. Could you help me understand?”
And again, one of the reasons that we do this is, number one, for you to get good information about what’s coming up and what you can expect, but you also are asking things that you may need to negotiate. So if you’re currently having a six percent match, which is highly unusual and very, very rich, and the new company is a three percent match, you might need to negotiate a little bit more on the base pay side to make up for it. So that’s why you ask these kinds of questions.
And in the first segment, we talked about the importance of setting up a target for salary, and I’m also assuming you’ve got some kind of list you’re comparing the offer letter against, which lays out the things that you’ve gotta have- your minimum requirements. Is that so?
Absolutely, absolutely, and that’s really important because, you know, when you’re setting up your strategy, you want to be negotiating in the order of things that are important to you. Right? So maybe it’s base pay, and then it’s paid time off. For somebody else, it might be commissions first, and then 401K, or you know, who knows? It could be all over the place. But that order is important.
So is this a kind of fact-finding stage, Kate, where you’re just trying to get the information on the table so you can make that comparison?
Yeah, I think so, and again, this is a pretty brief part of the conversation, you know, expressing delight, asking questions. Those are not gonna take up tons and tons of time, and I would recommend only asking maybe three to five questions and don’t ask questions about stuff that is not material to you accepting the job. Right? Where am I going to park? Yeah, that’s a pretty important question, but you may not need to know that in order to accept the job. Now, if you’re in, you know, downtown Boston, where it costs a lot of money to park, you may want to ask if there’s a parking reimbursement or a company parking lot. That could be a thing that you do ask.
Are there any questions that you should avoid asking that might reflect badly on you at this stage?
I think the number one no-no is to ask questions that are easily answered by the things that you already have in your hands. So, you know, if something is explained in the offer letter or in the accompanying materials, don’t ask. Now, of course, if you read it and you can’t understand it still, sometimes those communications can be a bit hard to understand, and that’s okay. You can ask questions there, but if you know you want to know about the 401K match and they tell you in the benefits booklet, don’t ask the recruiter.
Your third step in your four-step process for negotiating your salary with confidence is to make your ask. What does an effective ask look like, Kate?
Well, I think again, you know, know what you want here. But I’ll give you an example of one that I share with my salary negotiation clients when they are looking at base pay. So the structure that I have them use is like this, “My research shows that jobs like this are paid between X and Y in the market, and based on my experience, I’m targeting the higher end of that range. How close can we get?”
I love this kind of construction for a number of different reasons. It’s shown that you’ve done your research—my research shows. “Jobs like this,” so we’re talking apples to apples, “are paid between X and Y in the market.” And that should be, you know, a reasonably tight range, maybe within ten percent. And then, you know, you’re framing up your expertise or your education or your experience, whatever it is that you’re really selling to the potential employer. You’re positioning that, and then you’re saying, “Hey, you know, based on what I’m seeing in the marketplace, I’m targeting the higher end of that range.” You know, again, you’re positioning yourself as having a premium in the market.
And then the last piece of that is, “How close can we get?” And this is not a yes or no question; this is an open-ended question. Because your brain actually is so much quicker to process a yes or no, you don’t want to ask, “Can we do that?” No, you’re gonna ask, “How close can we get?”
And it does take a little while to think, “Oh, how close can we get?” And using the word “we” in there; again, collaborative—showing that you are working with them to come up with the solution that works for both of you.
What’s striking about the example you share is you do mention specific numbers, but it’s in the context of a range, and you don’t, in that example, ask for a specific number, like, “I’d like, you know, a hundred thousand dollars or ninety-five thousand.” People often do that. Why is it a mistake to do that, Kate?
Well, I don’t necessarily think it’s a mistake, but I think when you give a range, you’re helping them to see that there are a number of different solutions that would work for you, and that makes you seem more flexible. And I think all of those things combined make it a good way to ask, and my salary negotiation coaching clients get great results from this.
You mentioned paying attention to the language you use. Using phrases like “we,” what are some other examples of language that is especially effective at this stage of the conversation?
Well, I have what I call my seven magic words of salary negotiation, and they are, “What kind of flexibility do you have?” And the thing that I love about that is, again, it’s not a yes or no question. “What kind of flexibility do you have?” It’s super easy to say; it’s kind of like the training wheels of salary negotiation, and you could do it like, oh, the offer is at sixty-five, and you’d really like to get it to seventy; “You know I’ve seen the base pay offer of sixty-five thousand. I was really hoping that it would be more. What kind of flexibility do you have?” You know, again, you’re allowing them to imagine something that would work for both of you. I mean, I think those kinds of things work really, really well.
We’ve been talking about salary. What about other things that are on your list, particularly benefits? When do you bring those elements into the conversation?
Well, I think it depends on what it is. You know, with relocation benefits, in fact, sometimes, I even recommend my clients have a separate conversation just about relocation. If it’s pretty straightforward, it’s not a big deal, but you know the bigger the job, the more likely you’re gonna have to break the conversation up into chunks. But I think benefits, especially like paid time off and other things, you know, you can have those anywhere in the conversation that makes sense to you, and again, biggest first to smallest last, most important to least important. But most people expect to have the base pay conversation first. So if you don’t know what to do, that’s always a great one to enter with.
What’s your best advice about how to respond to phrases from an employer like, “That’s the best I can do.” “That’s all my budget allows.” Or “That’s my final offer.”?
Yeah, well, I think one of the things that I recommend to people if they can’t get the salary moved to any higher is to ask for a form of salary review, say in six months. And the way that I recommend people phrase that is to ask them to have the salary review in six months, after I’ve had a chance to show you the impact that I can make. Right? So you’re not asking for money for nothing. You’re asking for money and a review once they’ve had a chance to see what you can do, and that can be pretty compelling. And, P.S. and by the way, it doesn’t cost them anything upfront either.
The fourth and final step in your four-part process for negotiating your salary with confidence is to end on an up note. How do you do that, Kate?
Well, I think that it’s really important to end well because research shows that endings of conversations are more important than even the beginnings or the middle. So what I like to do is, you know, thank the recruiter or the hiring manager for all the work that they’re doing on your behalf, and then I also like to express confidence. So saying something like, you know, “I’m confident that we’re gonna come up with the solution that works for both of us.” You know again, you’re not leaving it. You know, this is not a cage match. Right? This is not an “I win, and you lose.” It has to be a mutually beneficial kind of a thing.
So I think those kinds of things are really helpful, and then my little codicil on this end on an up note is to make sure that you know when you’re gonna talk to the person again. Because most of the time, what’s gonna happen in these conversations is they’re not gonna be able to make the moves that you’re asking them to make on the spot. They’re gonna have to go back and get approval and things like that. So, you know, expressing confidence is great, and then making sure you know when you’re gonna talk again, and you can be assertive in this. You can say, “Hey, when should we plan on talking about this again? Oh, you need a couple of days? Let’s schedule something for Tuesday. I have nine-thirty open. Would that work for you?” Absolutely cool to do.
Well, Kate, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us what’s next for you?
Well, I have just published a new online course that basically goes over this conversation recipe along with everything else, soup to nuts around salary negotiation. Lots of scripts and things like that, and that is available at courses.katedixon.org, and yeah, I’m really excited about that because you can go in anytime and get what you need in terms of salary negotiation coaching.
I know listeners can learn more about not only that course but the other resources you offer and your services at your website, which is katedixon.org.
Now, Kate, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to negotiate your salary with confidence?
I think focusing on it as a collaborative kind of a process is really, really important, and know that the organization – once you get to an offer stage, they want this to end well. They want you to take the job, so if you can approach it like a collaboration and not a cage match, that’s the best thing for you.
Next week, our guest will be Jennifer Kass. She’s the founder of Feminista Careers.
Jennifer helps women land great jobs faster.
Researchers have found significant differences in how men and women approach looking for work.
Understanding and acting on these differences, says Jennifer, can have a big impact on your career, salary, and success in the workplace.
Join us next week when Jennifer Kass and I talk about how job search is different for women.
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