Race to the Top: Negotiating a New Corporate Salary

Q: After working for several years, I am interviewing with a large corporation in Houston. How do I negotiate a fair salary?

A: This is a critical question. I’ll start with an important note: salary questions can come up at any stage during the interviewing process, so don’t be surprised if it’s one of the first questions asked. Now, most corporations have salary ranges for each job and as a new employee you can end up anywhere in that range. The key: you don’t want to be at the bottom of the range because, frankly, it is very hard to “catch up” after you take the job. The best strategy is to negotiate a good deal when it matters most – when you first get the job. There are ultimately two parts to success: first, you have to know the salary range (or have a strong idea of an approximate range) and, second, you have to have a good conversation with the company representative (HR or hiring manager) to get the salary. The best way to learn the range is through a contact at the company, but resources like GlassDoor.com can also help. In some cases, the job description will include a salary range.

If you know the range, you can ask questions for the HR representative to make sure you don’t end up at the bottom of it. For example, you might say when asked about salary, “I believe the salary range is between $65,000 and $140,000. Given my experience, and long-term interest in the company, I would see myself at $95,000.” Then, you have to be prepared for what comes next. If the recruiter suggests your number is too high, then simply say you are looking forward to talking more about salary as the process continues. You have sent the signal that you don’t expect an offer at the bottom of the salary range.

Now, if you have tried but can’t find reliable salary information, you have to plan to ask the HR representative at the right time for information about the salary range. I recommend getting through the earliest stages of the interview first. Once you know each other, you can simply say at the end of meeting or a phone conversation, “Mr. Brown, before we finish today, can I ask you about the salary range for this position? I am very excited at the prospect of joining the organization so I would like to know more about your expectations regarding compensation.” And, don’t worry if he says salary will be discussed at a later stage. You have already signaled that you are thinking about it. No harm has been done. Keep interviewing strong and be prepared for when salary comes up again.

One last thought, many companies discuss salary as part of “total compensation,” which includes salary, bonuses and other benefits, which typically include healthcare. Don’t worry if this is the case, but do stay focused on understanding the salary amount. The rest typically falls into place.