Salary negotiations can be a mysterious process for some people. How does a prospective employer pick an initial salary offer? On what do they base that number? How can you negotiate it higher?

Back when I was a recruiter, I represented a woman who was a payroll administrator looking for a job at a law firm. My hiring manager gave me a starting salary range between $40K and $50K per year. As I was working on a commission that was a percentage of the person’s starting salary, I had a major financial incentive to help her get as high an offer as possible.

So, she interviewed for a law firm and it went fantastic. They wanted her and she wanted the job. What did they offer her as a starting salary? They offered her $47K, $3K lower than we were both hoping. Since law firms obviously don’t determine starting salaries by throwing darts, I asked them how they came to that amount. They said it was because she did not have a specific payroll certification. If she had it, the offer would have come in at $50K.

When I told her that, she said, “Ugh, I’ve been meaning to get that certification and just never got around to it.” That mistake cost her real money, but she still accepted the job. I hope she eventually got around to getting the certification!

How is a Salary Range Determined?

Before anyone is interviewed, a hiring manager works with HR at the law firm to agree on a competitive salary range in the marketplace. This range also needs to be in line with salaries for existing employees at the firm.

What Are the Criteria For High And Low Positions In The Salary Range?

We now have a salary range, but what are the factors determine at which end of that range job offers are made? It will depend on factors like:

  • Formal education
  • Professional training and/or certifications
  • The number of years of relevant functional or industry experience
  • Special abilities, such as being bilingual in Spanish
  • Specific expertise, such as time/billing payroll requirements for attorneys

Generally, the more “boxes” a candidate checks off, the higher their salary offer. What do you think you could say in an interview to position you at the upper end of that range?

How Do You Answer the Questions “What Kind of a Salary Are You Looking For?”

I’ve seen this question completely trip people up in interviews. Basically, they freeze, not knowing what to say. They don’t want to quote too high, because they might not get the job. But they also don’t want to quote too low, because they want to be paid what they are worth. The truth is that you don’t need to answer with a specific number. Instead, you could say, “I know you have a salary range for this job. I believe I should be at the top of that range because I bring ‘X, Y, and Z,’ to the job.

If you believe that you are probably not at the top of the range, you could say, “I might not currently be at the top of your range because I don’t have extensive legal industry experience. But I do have everything else required to do this job well. I would like a salary review in six months, as I will have greatly expanded my knowledge of the legal industry by that point.”

In summation, you should be thinking about your starting salary as a range rather than a specific number. This kind of an answer will prevent you from feeling as if you’re being put, “on the spot,” and leaves you some room to maneuver during salary negotiations.

I have been involved with salary negotiations for 19 years and I’ve seen what it’s like on both sides of the table. In my experience as a coach, I have helped many of my clients get offers that were much higher than what they initially expected. You just need to create an effective negotiation strategy! Get in touch with me today and let’s work together so you make the money you deserve!