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How to negotiate a high salary after a low paying job

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Learn how to negotiate a higher salary.
If you took a lower paying job to survive the recession, you may find that hiring companies will offer you a salary based upon your current low pay rather than your former going rate. To negotiate for a higher salary, take these steps:

1) Survive the employer’s salary request on an online job application site. Learn how in this earlier post.

2) Negotiate the best package when offered a position – Let's talk about this situation now.

If the company asks for your salary requirement before they state their range; try these techniques:

  • Respond by asking the interviewer for the salary range. For example, say, “I’m sure we can arrive at mutually agreeable salary. Can you tell me the range?”
  • If they give you a range and the high end is acceptable, don't give your exact salary. Instead reply, "I'm looking at positions in that range."
  • If they won't state a range or the range is too low, say, “From my research and the job description, an acceptable salary range for this position is $XX,XXX to $XX,XXX, not including benefits. My requirement is flexible and negotiable within that range, depending on factors such as additional benefits and increased advancement opportunities.”
  • When all else fails, respond with your current total compensation, not just salary. Say "My salary is A, my annual bonus is B and my employer’s contribution to my 401(k) is C, so all together, my current compensation package is $(A+B+C)." Don't be too resistant, lest they reject you for being evasive.

If they offer you a low salary based upon your most recent salary, explain why you are underpaid.

  • If you’re coming from a small or struggling company, state that your company gave low annual increases or froze raises due to the economy.
  • If you're coming from a low-paying business segment, say, "I'm sure you know nonprofit salaries are not in line with the private sector."
  • If you took a low-paying position in lieu of remaining unemployed, say, “I had two options: 1) Stay unemployed and wait for a job that paid in my range, or 2) take the available lower level position. I opted to take the position to keep my skills well honed. The company benefited greatly from having a top notch pro handling the job, but I am uniquely qualified to handle the challenges of this position and should be paid accordingly.”
  • Explain that while you're not seeking a job based solely on salary, you expect to be paid the fair market value.
  • Drive home that your current or recent job is a very different position than the one for which you are applying, (even if the skills needed are similar) and therefore the salary should be higher.
  • Mention that while your position was satisfying, it didn't offer much in compensation, which sometimes happens when companies fail to keep up with standard salaries for long term employees.
  • Share a recent performance appraisal to make clear your salary wasn’t based upon a performance issue.
  • Give a rational explanation for why you seek a higher salary.

Their first offer isn’t necessarily a final offer
If they make an offer at the low end of their range, realize their offer is likely a negotiation strategy, not a final number. Counter with a higher number, realizing that your response doesn’t have to be your final answer either.

Seek a mutually beneficial outcome

  • Research the company and visit several salary sites to learn the probable salary range. Find a list of salary sites here.
  • Negotiate in person with the decision maker when possible. It's not as easy to dismiss your salary requirements in person as it is over the phone. 
  • Demonstrate that you are the best person to help the employer address challenges. Offer solutions and build the relationship.
  • Appear confident (but not cocky).
  • Let them know if you have competing offers, or are conversing with other prospective employers.
  • Don’t lie about your current salary. The new employer can confirm if the numbers you state are accurate.
  • Have a perfect number in mind, but don’t say it out loud … it could be lower than they would have paid.
  • State what's most important to you (salary, vacation time, office setting, etc.) and what is a nice, but unnecessary perk. Let the employer know you may be open to enhanced benefits such as increased vacation time if they cannot completely meet your salary expectations.
  • Don’t take low ball offers personally. Remember they offered you the job.
  • Don’t accept the offer right away. Say that you are very interested, but need time to discuss the decision with your loved ones. Ask for the offer in writing and agree on a time when you will give them your response.

Consider the employers’ perspective
Employers determine salaries based on factors that may have nothing to do with you including the scarcity of the skills needed, the level of the position, the salary ranges in your geographic area, economic conditions, and the company’s culture and pay philosophy. They simply may not be in the position to pay you what you think you are worth. Also realize that companies typically cannot pay you more than what is proportional to the pay ranges of their current employees.

If you've done your homework, by all means, negotiate for better pay. But if you find you are asking for more than is fair or what they are willing to pay, bow out or adjust your expectations.

In a win-win salary negotiation, employer and employee leave the negotiation satisfied … so learn to negotiate well! -- Kathy

What salary tips have you tried? Share your comments.

Related articles
Learning salary ranges
Negotiating without having had a job
Online salary requests


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