In the week when the BBC has published details of the salaries paid to its top presenters this is very topical. Is the gender discrepancy really down to women being less able to negotiate than men? Quite possibly. So here are my top tips for women (and men) on how to secure the best possible deal when you are negotiating your salary package.
Know when it’s appropriate to negotiate
If you’re offered a graduate scheme or training contract at a substantial firm there isn’t going to be any negotiation up front. The employer has probably already advertised the remuneration package and that’s what you’ll be getting. Take it or leave it. There is no point in trying to negotiate.
Understand the market
There are plenty of times when negotiation isn’t just possible it’s essential. If you’re going to be working for a smaller employer or doing a “one off” piece of work there probably won’t be a set rate for the job. So, where do you start? Make sure you have an idea of what is being paid for similar jobs in the same area. If you’re going to be a paralegal for a while the going rate will vary from place to place. It’ll depend on local living expenses, the profitability of your potential employer, the number of people locally capable of doing the job they want and on the hours you’ll be expected to work. So, try to find out the range of what others are paid locally. Look at job advertisements and see if any salary is specified. For a law firm job look to see if there’s a local Young Solicitors or Trainee Solicitors group (and in larger conurbations there will be) make contact and ask for their expertise on salary ranges. In UK culture people don’t like being asked what they earn personally, but will happily talk about rates for the job. Be tactful and you should be able to get a handle on the market.
Set your own parameters
It’s a good idea to start out by knowing what your bottom line is. What is the minimum you would work for? Get this clear and it will be much easier to walk away from negotiations which don’t go well. Better to do that than work for a package which you feel is unfair. The perceived injustice will rankle and make you unhappy. Provided that you’ve done your homework properly and are being realistic about similar jobs in the area then you should be able to get one which does pay at a rate you can accept.
Be clear about the package
Some employment contracts come with benefits which may or may not be valuable to you. If you would join a gym anyway, then paid gym membership is something you can happily factor into the overall remuneration package. If on the other hand, there is no way you’ll lifting weights or pounding a treadmill then the membership is unlikely to impress you.
Working hours must be part of your consideration. Will you be asked to work over the stated hours? If so will you be paid? If payment will be made, then will overtime rates be applied, or will it be your normal hourly rate? Find out whether members of staff typically work longer than contracted hours. If the pay package isn’t great and lots of extra hours are demanded “for free” you may find that your actual hourly rate drops close to (or even below) statutory minimum wage. Conversely if you are paid generous overtime rates for each minute of extra time you work and the expectation is that you will often work late you might find that you are coming home with quite a nice pay cheque.
Factor in the benefit of the job to you
If you don’t have much experience and the job looks as if it’s going to give you a really rich diet of different challenging activities, then you might think it’s worth doing a job for a while at a rate you find unattractive. It may be just what you need to get that proverbial “foot on the ladder”.
You may also find that the employer holds out a carrot of rapid promotion to you.
“Work for me as a paralegal for a while and I’ll consider you for a training contract.”
“Work for me for a while and you’ll be given a training contract.”
Which is it then? If there’s some guarantee of progression then try to get that in writing. If it’s just a vague “promise” don’t rely on it. You might want to do the job for a while for your own purposes but be prepared to move on!
Get your negotiating demeanour right
Polite but firm is best. Don’t get cross, explain your point of view and listen to the arguments of the employer too. Take your time to think. Don’t allow yourself to be bounced into an immediate decision.
If agreement can’t be reached then walk away. Sometimes the point at which you start to do that, is the time when a better offer is made. But don’t rely on that. They might just let you keep walking!
Go for it!