Salary negotiations can be daunting for many reasons. Some people may have never undertaken them before. They may be entering the job market as freshly-minted professional engineers or they may have relied on recruiters to assist with past negotiations. Others may not be certain of their market value or they may be introverted or uncomfortable with asserting themselves.
Still, there’s a good chance that you can increase your salary by at least 10% with every job move. And while salary increases are commonly associated with new jobs, they can also be negotiated with your current employer, especially if you have a salary offer from a competing company to leverage. Ten percent is a pretty big incentive for learning how to negotiate your salary on your own.
And, keep in mind that many employers expect a candidate to negotiate when a job offer is extended, even for entry-level positions.
If you’re uncertain where to start, the five tips below may help.
Understand Your Value
The first step to negotiating your salary is understanding your value. By doing a little research online, reaching out to your network, and calculating the value you’ve added to your current role, you’ll be able to walk into any salary negotiation setting with confidence.
Research Similar Roles Online
Whether you’ve applied externally and you’re preparing for the interview process or you’re planning to negotiate your salary with your existing employer, relevant job postings hold a wealth of information for you. Look at the specific posting you’ve applied for (if applying for a new role) and any other postings for similar roles at your existing company as well as with competitors. Those postings might tell you the salary range for the position as well as the perks and benefits that different employers offer.
There are several other resources to explore. This comprehensive and up-to-date salary guide includes information about 14 engineering disciplines in 23 metro areas. You should also check the salary surveys done by your professional association, which may be one of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), IEEE, or the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). As well, websites like Glassdoor, Payscale, salary.com, and other salary calculators specific to the engineering industry can provide valuable information.
Whether looking at a website dedicated to salaries in general or at an employer’s own job board, try to match your own role (or the one you’ve applied to) closely with the information you are perusing. Look not just at the job title, but at things like the stated qualifications and required certifications. As well, the location of the position may be important, as the salary will likely vary across offices if the company has several locations, or if the position is listed as remote versus hybrid versus in-person.
However, most job postings for professional roles will include a salary range, if they include any mention of salary at all. A salary range is usually developed for each individual position and then, once a candidate is chosen to receive a job offer, the actual salary offer is tailored to fit that candidate, depending on the education, experience, and skills that they bring to the role.
Ask Your Network
To get a more exact idea of salaries for your position, you should try reaching out to your network. Friends, family, and professional contacts may be able to provide the information you’re looking for.
Calculate Your Added Value
In addition to researching salary information, you should also consider the added value that you bring to your employer. As Katy Medium discusses in a piece at ToughNickel.com, an engineer typically adds more value to a company than what the company pays them, often through cost savings on a project, by bringing in new clients, or by earning additional credentials that boost the employer’s reputation. Assigning a dollar value to the financial benefits you’ve created in your current role can provide a significant amount of leverage in salary negotiations.
Identify Your Compensation Goals
Salary negotiations don’t have to be solely about compensation. There are several other benefits that you can ask for. Since some of those may be of low or no cost to your employer, there is no harm in asking.
A comprehensive piece at Energy Resourcing suggests considering the following benefits when negotiating a compensation package:
- A better job title;
- Increased vacation time;
- Relocation expenses;
- A signing bonus;
- Equity or stock options;
- Travel benefits if your role requires travel;
- Transportation reimbursement;
- Tuition, training, and professional development funding;
- Flex work, hybrid work arrangements, or remote work;
- Technological devices and office supplies, if working remotely or off-site;
- Coverage for professional membership dues; and
- Child care options.
Before you launch salary negotiations, consider which benefits you would most highly value. It’s a good idea to do some research in advance to see if those benefits are commonly offered by other employers and, if so, what kind of standards exist.
Secure A Job Offer
Obviously, if you’re interviewing for a new position, you’ll need a job offer before you can negotiate your salary!
However, a job offer from one of your company’s competitors provides a terrific opportunity for you to propose salary negotiations to your existing employer, especially if you’re happy in your current role. If your employer is happy with your contributions to the company, they may well issue a counteroffer.
If you receive a counteroffer, you may certainly negotiate on that as well. And, in fact, if you take the counteroffer to your potential new employer, they might come up with a better offer for you.
While you can ask to open salary negotiations at any time with your existing employer, there are optimal times to do so, and securing a job offer from a competitor is one of those times.
Practice Your Pitch
For many people, salary negotiation is nerve-wracking. It requires a lot of confidence to ask for more than you’re being offered. If you’re mid- or upper-level in your career, you may have that confidence, gained through years of work experience, knowledge of your competence and value, and, possibly, past salary negotiation scenarios.
But if you’re feeling nervous, the best thing that you can do is practice your pitch. In an excellent piece at LinkedIn, Kristina Swallow suggests that you:
Rehearse your spiel, whether in front of the mirror, your friends or your partner. Ask people you trust for feedback on any aspects of your communication that could weaken your position. Think of questions you might get during your negotiation and come up with brief, articulate responses. The more you practice, the better and more confident you will be. And even if you don’t feel totally confident, as the expression goes, “fake it ‘til you make it!” Lastly, remember that it’s not just talking about your needs; it’s also about communicating what you’re doing for the organization.
Her last point is especially important: in salary negotiations, it’s key to explain what you bring to the role or what value you’ve added to the company so that your worth can be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
Refine Your Communication Strategy
When it’s time to actually sit down and launch into salary negotiations, there are a few things that you should do to keep the communication flowing smoothly and in your favor.
Choose The Best Timing
Many hiring managers and interview teams will bring up salary throughout the interview process so that they understand your salary expectations before an offer is extended.
Once they do extend the offer, it’s time to open salary negotiations. It’s probably best to ask for the day to think the initial offer over, to give yourself a chance to consider your best strategy and practice your pitch. On the day following, reach out to the hiring manager to ask for a call to discuss the proposed salary.
If, however, you only want to negotiate other compensation perks and benefits, and not the actual salary, it’s better to wait until you receive the written job offer. That way, you’ll have a clear understanding of what the employer is offering in your compensation package.
Negotiate Over The Phone
Despite the dominance of text-based communication, some things still require a phone call. Salary negotiations are one of those things.
It’s helpful to be able to hear the hiring manager’s tone of voice and inflections, to gauge their reactions and understand whether to forge ahead or back down. It’s also helpful for the hiring manager to hear your own tone of voice and understand that even though you are asking for more, you’re genuinely excited about the opportunity being extended.
As well, it usually takes some back-and-forth discussion to present your pitch and for both parties to consider the options presented. Negotiations will go much more quickly on a phone call than via email.
Agree On Timelines
Many employers hope that a candidate will reach a firm decision within 72 hours of the offer being extended. If you need additional time, make sure that you discuss a timeline for your decision with the company. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but it can alleviate the employer’s worry that you aren’t actually interested in the role and are just wasting their time.
It can be a bit intimidating to request salary negotiations, whether you’re brand new to the field of engineering or you’re a seasoned professional who’s worked for several different companies over the course of your career. Just remember that most people experience some nervousness over the process and most employers do expect new hires to negotiate their salary.