The situation is obviously different for the small percentage of attorneys working at top firms in major cities, whose exact salary and bonus information is carefully tracked on various websites. But this article is for the rest of you, working at smaller firms, in-house, or in any other sector of the legal profession. This article will help you get not just the salary you want, but the salary you deserve.
Rule 1: Know how much you are worth.
The career advisers and coaches all agree: "Principle 1: Know what your skills are worth in the marketplace," writes one. "Do your homework," writes another. However you phrase it, it comes down to this: be informed. If you don't know how much you are worth to an employer, you won't know what salary to seek. If you don't know what salary to seek, you simply won't get it.
A quick internet search will reveal a multitude of sources for information about salaries in every professional field. The information is available regarding nearly every type of employer, every geographic location, and every field of practice. Of course, these sites usually give averages or ranges, so you will need to take into account the details of your own unique situation. For example, if you have extensive health-care law experience and are applying for an in-house job at a pharmaceutical company, you have a higher value to that company than the average candidate for the position.
In any event, the most essential step to a successful salary negotiation is to know how much you are worth to the employer. As mentioned above, most employers will initially offer less than the maximum amount they would be willing to pay you. Doing your own research beforehand is the only way to know how much more you deserve.
Rule 2: Don't bring up compensation before getting the offer.
You don't need anyone to tell you that the interview is your audition for a new job, but you might need someone to tell you that everything you say in the interview is a potential opportunity to get a higher salary. The more you can convince the employer of your worth, the more they will be willing to pay you. If you bring up compensation before you have had a chance to state your complete case, you run the risk that the employer may disqualify you on the basis of your salary request alone.
Take every chance to convince the employer of the value that you would bring to their firm or company. Only once you have convinced them of your value should you ask for compensation that is commensurate with that value.
Rule 3: Don't be the first to give a number.
Always let the employer throw out the first number. Imagine this scenario: The employer asks how much you are seeking. Your research showed that $65,000 is a reasonable salary for someone with your experience, so that's what you say. The human resources manager is thrilled; she had loved your qualifications and was willing to go up to $75,000 if necessary. You've just unnecessarily set a ceiling on your salary. It happens all the time and costs job-seekers thousands of dollars.
Wait for the employer to make an offer. It may be higher than you expect, allowing you to take advantage of the opportunity. If, on the other hand, it is too low, then you can always negotiate.
If the employer insists on an answer from you regarding expected compensation, try to give a wide range that will cover all potentialities. You should also explain that the salary you are willing to accept will depend on various factors, including benefits and perks, specific job responsibilities, and opportunities for career advancement or development.
Rule 4: Don't accept less than you're worth.
While it may seem strange to associate your "worth" with a dollar figure, your potential employer will do just that. Remember, this is a business decision for them. The position for which you will be interviewing exists only because the company or firm believes that adding someone with the right type of experience and/or the right skills will add value to the company. Whether you have been offered a job at $60,000 or $160,000, the company or firm obviously believes that hiring you will benefit them by at least that amount of money as a result of your work product. If not, they wouldn't have offered you what they offered you.
Still, the employer obviously wants to save money. As mentioned above, only 30% of hiring managers say that their first offer to a candidate is meant as their final offer. If they think you will bring more than $75,000 of value back to them, they may well offer something closer to $60,000. You need to do whatever you can to make the employer realize that they need to pay you an amount commensurate with your value to them.
It is especially helpful if you have other options. For example, you may be willing to accept an offer at a particular firm for $65,000 due to excellent benefits, excellent opportunities, or any other non-monetary factors, even if some other firms in the market might pay you as much as $75,000. But when their first offer is presented as $65,000 - don't just accept it!
Thank them. Reiterate your positive impression of the firm. Tell them you need a day to think about it. Call them back the next day, telling them yet again how much the position appeals to you. Let them know that your only concern was that the salary was a bit lower than expected, and that you were wondering whether there might be some flexibility in their budget to match what your research shows to be the market rate for someone with your skills. If you can get more money elsewhere, they will likely know it. If you are worth that amount of money to them, they will likely pay it when faced with the decision. (Remember: it's a business decision for them.) And if they won't pay you commensurate with your value to them, then you probably wouldn't want to work there anyway! This leads to the most important rule…
Rule 5: Ask.
You generally will have nothing to lose by asking for more. At worst, they will say no. You can then decide whether it is worth it for you to accept their offer or look elsewhere to get what you deserve. At best, they really won't want to lose you and you'll get even more than you expected. Most likely, though, the result will be somewhere in between.
Again, most employers leave room in their initial offer for negotiations. They are hoping that you don't ask for more; that leaves more money in their bank account. Again, it's a business decision for them. But in the event that it will require more money to get you to accept the position, they have left room in the initial offer to allow for negotiation. If you will bring value to the firm or company, they will listen to what you have to say.
Of course there are ways to ask and ways not to ask. It's a simple matter of tact. Acting insulted at their initial offer won't help. On the other hand, stressing the added value that you would bring to the company will help. Additionally, if the offer is lower than someone with your skills would earn elsewhere, then focusing on the market for your skills may help as well. The extensive research you did before the interview will be invaluable, of course.
In extreme cases, I have heard of employers who want to pay some employees less than half of what they would earn elsewhere. Of course, these cases are rare, but they again illustrate the point that salary is a business decision for a firm or company. They will always try to pay you less than what they know you are worth to them. Unless you ask them, and then make clear to them that you are worth the added cost due to the unique value you bring to them, they will have no reason to pay you what you deserve. If you stress both your worth in the marketplace and, more importantly, your unique value to that particular firm or company, and they are still not willing to pay anything close what you deserve, then you are obviously going to need to look elsewhere to get what you deserve.
Through all this, it is important to remember that money isn't everything. In many (in fact, probably most) cases, it may be worth it to accept a lower salary for a position that offers other perks, such as better benefits, bonuses, location, or work environment. But no matter how good a position may seem, no one wants their employer to take advantage of them with regard to their salary. It is important to always ask. If the negotiations play out and the salary still is lower than you expect, then at that time you can decide whether it is worth it to you to accept the position anyway or look elsewhere. But you won't know unless you ask.
So there you have it: Be informed. Don't discuss compensation until you have the offer. Let them throw out the first dollar amount. Don't let them pay you less than you are worth to them. Ultimately, just ask.
Follow these five simple rules. Start earning what you deserve!