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How to Ace the Money Question

how to ace the money question

BY REBECCA HIA

Tips on everything from tackling that salary query on the job application to asking for a raise—and getting what you’re worth

The job application process is mystifying enough, but it gets mired even further when you hit one vexing speed bump job seekers frequently come up against—namely, the question of “desired salary.” How much should your ask be? Is it too much that it prices you out, or so little that you’re destined to be taken advantage of? How little are you willing to work for? How can you even guess the market value of the position? Will this company increase your worth over time? There’s so much to think about attached to those two words. Here’s how to get a better grasp before you fill the number in. 

1. research your cost of living

The first thing you should know before determining your asking salary doesn’t have quite so much to do with the job itself; it’s a question of the cost of living in your city. You should familiarize yourself with the rent prices and costs for food and transportation. Also, what will your continued personal expenses be—do you go out very frequently, often or rarely? Lastly, if you want to contribute to your savings monthly, what percentage do you want to save? The Pathsource app is one tool that can help you estimate your monthly and yearly expenses and help you determine the minimum salary you need to afford the kind of lifestyle you hope to grow accustomed to.

2. be familiar with equivalent salaries

A great tool for finding this out—and possibly even getting the exact salary for the position at the same company—is Glassdoor. The website relies on self-reported salaries and can help you understand the range of what you might expect for similar positions. 

3. negotiate. negotiate. negotiate.

It’s just like the older folks always say: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Sometimes thousands of dollars in difference are at stake between your job offer and what you can negotiate it up to. And your salary base may be the way your boss figures raises, based on percentages. Here is a great scenario from U.S. News & World Report Money on how asking can raise your salary:

“I’m really excited to work here, and I know that I will bring a lot of value. I appreciate the offer at $58,000, but was really expecting to be in the $65,000 range based on my experience, drive and performance. Can we look at a salary of $65,000 for this position?”

Expect initial rejections, like:

“So glad to hear you’re looking forward to working with us. We’re really looking forward to having you. The salary we offered is what we have budgeted for the position, and we feel it’s a fair compensation.”

This may sound like it’s the end of the conversation, but it’s not. The key here is to continue to show your enthusiasm and stay confident in your abilities. Try:

“I understand where you’re coming from, and I just want to reiterate my enthusiasm for the position and working with you and the team. I think my skills are perfectly suited for this position and are worth $65,000.”

Now, don’t say anything else. Let the silence lie. Don’t try to fill it with more words or justifications. Just wait for the employer to reply. When she does, it may sound something like:

“You’ll really be stretching us, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Simply reply: “Great, I appreciate that.”

The employer will likely come back to you and accept your offer or offer something in the middle. (“We talked it over, and feel you’re going to exceed our expectations and be a great addition to the team. I’m happy to offer you a salary of $62,500.”)

 An article in the Harvard Business Review explains why women are less likely to negotiate for higher pay and benefits than their male counterparts. It is hard to put yourself out there, but this is what you have to do to get what you want or reach a compromise with your employer. 

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise

Hopefully you already had an experience negotiating your starting salary. If that’s the case, and you’ve spent some time at your job and are hoping to make more money, you need to know exactly what you’re asking for. According to an article in Forbes, the average range for merit-based raises is 1%-5%. The percent that you ask for should relate to how hard you’ve been working at your job.

Now that you have the exact number you’re asking for, it’s time to make a pitch. What have you done at the company that merits a raise? Have you brought in a lot of new business, traffic or sales? Has one of your projects, articles or videos received a lot of media attention? Have you created something new that’s benefitted the company or other employees? Make a list of all of your achievements at the company and be prepared to show off how much you’ve accomplished. You can also bring in any e-mails or recommendations from clients, coworkers or managers praising your work. It’s helpful to keep a binder of these accomplishments. If you choose to go the digital route, you can have references on your LinkedIn page and make a free online website to showcase your portfolio on websites such as Wordpress, Wix or Squarespace.

Show that you have done well in the past and have big plans for the future. Now is a great time to talk about the ideas you have for helping the company deal with a potentially problematic issue, or fill one of its needs. 

5. DON’T be afraid to change jobs

An article in Forbes suggests that staying at the same job for over two years on average makes you earn over 50% less over your lifetime. We saw earlier that raises are in the 1%-5% range, whereas switching jobs could earn you more than a 10% bump. Continuing to move upwards will advance your career by working at places that can financially compensate you for your time and experience.

We know…all of these things take some guts, are easier said than done and may seem daunting at first. The good news is, they can actually increase the level of respect you receive, and the responsibility (and compensation) you’re offered. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first when it comes to money matters and your job. The worst thing that can happen is you’re told, “Sorry, no can do.” But you’ll never get the chance to succeed unless you give it a try.

Do you have more tips/tricks/stories to share? Have questions for me or just want to kvetch? Tweet me at @rebeccamhia and while you’re there, check out @cencom and more opportunities on their Facebook page.