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Negotiating your IT salary doesn't have to be a crisis

May 08, 2014

When people think about salary negotiations, they often think about the uncomfortable feelings and uncertainty that inevitably come with these conversations. Before you say that you don’t always have to get more out of a job offer, think again. You should always negotiate or you may leave money on the table. Whether you negotiate salary before the job offer is made (which is preferred when you are working with a recruiter) or after the offer, the discussion should definitely take place. Fear not! Here are some tips that will make these dialogues more pleasant for you.


First, it’s your job to find out what are the greatest challenges that the company you are working for / want to work for are facing. This way, you can clearly articulate to the decision makers why they should choose you to solve their problem. Being a problem solver is truly valuable! It’s also imperative that you understand the job responsibilities and what is needed in an employee. In my experience as a recruiter, the same job title may have a variety of different job descriptions. The people who were satisfied with their compensation truly understood what their responsibilities would be prior to accepting the offer. They knew that they were being paid appropriately for the job they were performing.

Never throw out the first number

This is Negotiations 101. If possible, avoid telling the person you are negotiating with the number you want. Instead, attempt to find out what they are willing to give. You can do this by asking. When you get to an appropriate point in the discussion, find out what salary range or hourly rate they are aiming to pay an employee or consultant. You can also ask them, “What are you hoping I will need from a salary perspective?” The way they respond to these prompts will give you an idea of where you can start your negotiations. If you are at the high end of the range they shared, or if you are above it, not all is lost. Just be ready to justify your skills and experience in addition to explaining why they should choose you to solve their problems (as mentioned above).

Aim high

In most cases, the decision maker is not a negotiations novice. He or she will not tell you the highest salary they are willing to pay. Keep this in mind. If you are forced to share your expectations first, aim higher than what you need in order to be satisfied with an offer. If you are proposing a counter-offer, also aim high enough so that coming to a middle ground still keeps you at your desired rate. When aiming high, it’s still imperative to be conscious of not pricing yourself out of the opportunity. I remember one of the candidates I worked with when I was a recruiter. He was a project manager, and his rate was about 25 percent higher than other project managers with similar skills. Because there was no flexibility in that rate, I did not share as many job opportunities with him as I shared with some of the other project managers looking for positions. He actually priced himself out of consideration for at least 80 percent of my PM openings, and therefore remained unemployed for twice the amount of time as the other job seekers in his field of expertise.

Know the market and know your value

My experience with that project manager is a great reason it’s extremely important you understand the market and your value. The best advice I can give you in order to gain that intelligence is to speak with your recruiters. Find out what rates and salaries they are seeing from their customers. Also, do some Internet research on LinkedIn, blogs and industry reference sites. If you want to be considered for the most and best opportunities, you need to make sure your cost is competitive and that you understand what skills and experience you can bring that others don’t.

The company you want to work for (or currently work for) is responsible for also offering competitive compensation. It’s up to you to know when you feel you are being taken advantage of. In situations when you feel that you are not being paid your value, you will often find that dissatisfaction will rule your work day. I’ve worked with a variety of people whose main reason for leaving their job is because they know they are undervalued; that is why it is so crucial that you ensure you are comfortable with an offer before taking a position.

Be willing to walk away

Walking away from an offer that doesn’t appropriately compensate you for your work is one of the most difficult decisions you may need to make. If you are willing to say no to the offer, you have more power in the negotiation. When you don’t want to walk away, you cannot negotiate as hard for compensation. Don’t worry, there still may be an opportunity to be creative. Think about some things that could sweeten the pot for you. Maybe it would be nice for you to have a four-day work week, or the chance to work from home on Fridays or just more vacation time. Try being creative if you don’t feel you are in a position to push very hard for a higher salary. 

As you can see, understanding the job, the employer, the market and your value will aid in creating smoother negotiations. Keep in mind that you have skills that people want and need. The trick is to find the opportunity that matches your skills and pays you competitively. Good luck, and make sure you continue to sell yourself!

Melissa McFall has worked over nine years in the IT staffing and services industry, including six years as an IT recruiter. She is an expert in recruiter/client relations and service delivery.

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