Ten Rules for Negotiating IT Pay

Tuesday Mar 20th 2007 by Calum Coburn
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Tech pros are sometimes underpaid because they don’t know how to negotiate with management. Here’s the quick guide.

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All too frequently IT professionals are prepared to accept what they are offered as a starting contracting rate, salary or annual increase on blind faith. The reason? This varies from not having the confidence to lacking the skills and not putting in much time preparing for what is effectively a negotiation.

So if you know you're worth more then why not ask for more? Negotiate!

Not sure how? We've prepared 10 point cheat sheet designed especially for IT professionals to help smooth your way to being paid your true worth.

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1.) Always be prepared to negotiate. By Simply being ready to negotiate any aspect of your job you've already elevated yourself higher in comparison to the majority of your competition. An assessment, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, revealed that 80% of employers were prepared to engage in negotiations over wage and entitlement issues. From what we've seen, the remaining 20% of employers who were not willing to negotiate were uninviting as employers, started with their highest wage and benefits proposal, or had to reconsider their position with the preferred candidate later on. Conversely, this assessment revealed that only 33% of job applicants expressed willingness or the confidence to negotiate with a prospective employer.

2.) Be confident and ambitious. Have you raised the bar high enough? In today's competitive workforce, the majority of IT workers don't do so. Recruiters and companies usually make a proposal, and as they wait for the candidate to make a counter offer, they are astonished by the applicant's timid compliance. The reason? Most IT professionals suffer from low aspirations.

Don't be afraid to ask for a higher salary. You will practically never risk losing the job or damaging your career trajectory by asking for more. We understand such an approach might first appear as an inconsistency, but consider the following: a prospective employer will be measuring your suitability based on how confident you appear. If several suitable applicants with comparable resumes are being judged by an employer, and you stand out by sticking your stake in higher salary ground, which one do you think they would prefer to entrust with a challenging project or responsibilities? Raising your aspiration signals your confidence, and confidence is rewarded with job offers and higher salaries.

3.) Request More. Senior Managers despise being wrong. When your manager has decided to employ you, they have a personal stake invested in the decision. If you succeed, your boss shines in the wake of your success. Were you to stumble and fail to perform, your boss is also tarnished. Nobody wants to back a loser, you are an asset that your employer will invest in. They have a vested interest to reward those employees they value, as this proves they backed the right candidate. See how this process works? The higher the wage you receive, the more likely you will be promoted. The only place for you to go is ever higher in the organization. The concept is nothing more than simple psychology, so use this approach to your advantage and make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Visit JupiterWeb's new site, IT Career Planet, for comprehensive news, advice and information on IT jobs, salaries and staff management issues.

4.) Be a problem solver. Your role is to always make your employer's life easier. Management is more inclined to react to a dilemma and solve problems rather than to create an opportunity. So use your creativity to unravel the nature of their predicament. Seize the moment and offer a candid proposal on how you can address and resolve their dilemma. Let your client or manager know the consequences if they don't take advantage of your skills and talents. They will appreciate your integrity, especially if you help them realize they may have misunderstood or underestimated the risks. The more you shine the torch on the risks of not hiring or retaining you, the more you stand to gain.

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5.) Prepare in advance. Start by reviewing a prospective employer's website, study it in detail. Regardless of the position you are interested in, just remember that in our very competitive marketplace every employer wants to hire employees who add something of potential value to their organization. Use your interests to stimulate and fuel your passion for the position. As you will no doubt be challenged to maintain this high emotional state in light of the numerous interviews you plan to attend, you must be selective about the positions you wish to seriously investigate. Few of us can maintain the same level of excitement for every job opportunity. So you would be wiser to choose a particular industry and preferably one with which you are most familiar. Jot your questions down and query anyone "in the know" to pin down how you can best relate your skills and knowledge to each position.

6.) Write your questions down. Good questions reward you with valuable information to use to your advantage in a negotiation. As you enhance the quality of your questions, the more you will enhance your ability to negotiate. The second reason to write questions down is, if you don't, it's unlikely they will spring to mind when it counts, especially during the interview. Creating a visual map in your mind will help you sequence the questions logically. A mental map will help you to remember the questions so you don't have to pull a scrap of paper from your pocket.

Another good practice to adopt is to outline your interests and goals in specific detail before you enter into the negotiation. The reason is to create and define as many unique characteristics you can describe about yourself beforehand. Should you limit yourself to a single goal you might find yourself deadlocked in the negotiation. However, if you have several goals and issues, and even break these down further into sub goals and sub issues, you will have given yourself more options with which to work and add more fuel to the negotiations.

7.) Don't play the pay grade game. Never fill in salary boxes. If you do so, you are pigeonholing yourself and will limit your ability to negotiate. Many employers will try and tell you they can only pay you within a certain pay grade range. This gambit almost always works for the recruiter. You can break free of these confines by arguing that your previous position and this position are different in many ways. So to reduce your previous or current role to a single number would require that you explain in full the many differences between the roles, or else a comparison is meaningless, or worse: misleading.

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Remember to look at yourself from the employer's point of view. Use this perspective to help you gain a better understanding of their needs in the context of the role or project you are trying to land. Consider whether the position is time sensitive and whether you could be quickly replaced. Ask yourself if there is anyone else who could fill this role or if there is anyone who can compare to your distinct combination of experience and skills. Most importantly, ask yourself whether this role fits within a defined category or grade. If you can persuade your manager why you are exceptional, your chances of getting placed into a higher pay grade or two will increase.

8.) Trade-offs. Never give a concession to a prospective employer without asking for one in return. If, for example, they insist they can only pay a certain salary at this time, then ask them to give a review performance after six months instead of the standard twelve months. Another gambit employers like to try is to ask you to name your salary range at the outset of the interview. By falling into this trap, you risk the danger of negating your ability to negotiate by anchoring yourself. Rather, turn the situation around by asking them what they are offering, or by responding that you are prepared to accept any offer that is reasonable. If they pressure you to state your preferred salary, then start right at the top of the salary grade. Negotiating downward is never a problem.

9.) Make yourself come alive. Practically every IT professional knows their strengths and weaknesses. This alone is simply not enough. You have to sell yourself in a vibrant manner and give some life to these facts so that you stand out and make yourself memorable. What's the best way to stick in their memory? Rehearse your success stories. Choose the stories that cast the best light on your skills and character. Which stories do you select? You want to tell them the stories from the trenches when you overcame the odds. Think of a time when you pulled the proverbial rabbit from the hat. The tough projects you completed against the clock. How your innovative and creative ideas saved the company buckets of money. Blow your own horn and sing your triumphs loud because others may not do this for you. Being modest and timid about your triumphs won't put extra pay in your pocket or nail your dream job. So practice telling your success stories to add spice to your educational degrees and qualifications. In a nutshell, market yourself!

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10.) Know your BATNA. If you don't give yourself options, you will find your negotiation choices limited to a simple "yes" or "no" responses. In negotiation, your best option or alternative is known as your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiation Agreement). The most undesirable scenario when negotiating for that perfect job or high paying position is to walk into the negotiation without having other job offers or interviews. By having more job offers you will find yourself in a more comfortable position where you can refuse an inferior proposal or not let yourself be hampered by the emotional pressure of a "do" or "die" job interview. Ideally, the best situation is to have 3 or more possible options. This will reinforce your negotiating position like no other single factor can. Having options or alternatives is the most powerful negotiation tool you can have at your disposal. When a potential employer realizes they definitely want you on their team, they aren't going risk letting you fall into the arms of a competitor.

Conclusion

If you work hard and achieve results, then you owe it to yourself and those you care for to negotiate more effectively. Negotiation is a specialized field, a field that recruiters and veteran managers enjoy the upper hand of experience in. Since the "Born Negotiator" is as much a myth as the Loch Ness Monster (sorry Nessie!), then consider learning the cornerstones of salary negotiation. Best is if you are notching up experience by taking a course in negotiation. Second best is reading a negotiation book. At the very least, brainstorm around the top 10 points listed above, and keep your brainstormed list and this article handy for your next negotiation.

Visit JupiterWeb's new site, IT Career Planet, for comprehensive news, advice and information on IT jobs, salaries and staff management issues.

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