While everyone would love more money for what they do, asking for a pay increase pushes most people out of their comfort zone.
Mastering the art of salary negotiation is a skill that can boost your pay packet – and your confidence – now and throughout your career.
Before negotiating your salary, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions:
Do you accept whatever is put on the table?
Do you go hard with salary negotiation?
The answers to these questions are governed by things like:
whether your financial needs and commitments will be met,
your personal circumstances,
your confidence in your own negotiation skills,
your motivation for wanting the role,
your desire to avoid future regret, and
your feelings about risk.
It can also help to have another offer or even two on the table to use as bargaining chips but be careful how you approach an employer with a counteroffer as it is possible that you could end up in a situation where you lose out on all of them.
Know your range
Be well prepared for any salary negotiation you enter into. Make sure that you have assessed your needs, know the typical market salary range and identify the minimum salary range you would accept as well as your ideal salary range.
Note that these are salary ranges, not just a single salary figure, as you may have more room to negotiate within a band. Your research may involve speaking to a number of recruiters, other lawyers, or online research of salary summaries.
Also, make sure to check whether the salary package on offer includes superannuation before negotiating.
Map your value
Come into any salary negotiation knowing your achievements and value-add. Map your offerings and look at similar or past positions to map your achievements and particularly, if your achievements are quantifiable, list them. Use data to highlight and showcase your personal market value.
Look at relevant role descriptions and assess your skills, unique experience, industry exposure and ideal traits against those identified by employers as preferred for your target role. You may also like to map your value against other potential candidates to ensure you know your point of difference.
Next, work out what you really want. It may be as simple as a higher salary. Or there may be other benefits that you can negotiate as part of a salary package. Some of these additional benefits may be easier for an employer to accommodate than a pure dollar amount. For example, you may be able to negotiate on:
Job title: this is a relatively easy option as it doesn’t cost the employer anything, could make you feel more valued at work, and may look better on your CV. For example, which job title would you negotiate for: Paralegal, Legal Assistant or Legal Secretary?
Location: can the role be done remotely, in the office, or both?
Benefits: is there a laptop included or can you negotiate for a phone allowance?
Additional leave: this may be extra annual leave or even a “You” day.
Flexible hours: would you prefer to work your fulltime hours in four days, start early and leave late, or perhaps work part-time hours?
Professional development and training: can you negotiate for your employer to pay for your future studies (eg an LLM) or provide study leave?
Practising certificate: this is included by most employers but it is worth checking.
In the end, if salary is the most important factor for you – and your new employer won’t match your expectations – try an approach where you agree to a lower salary so long as there is an increase, or at least a salary review, in three or six months’ time, or at the end of your probation period.
Timing is important
As an employee there are two timepoints when you have any real power in the process of negotiating your salary with an employer: at offer stage and when you are thinking of leaving (but could be convinced to stay). So while there may be other times when you can negotiate your salary, make sure that you make the most of these two key opportunities.
If you are currently employed in a role and believe that you are due for a pay increase, organising to have that conversation with your supervisor can be tricky. One of the best times to talk about salary is at your regular performance appraisal, particularly if you are confident that you have performed well.
BATNA and WATNA
Like any negotiation, you should enter discussions knowing your: Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) and your Worst Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA).
Knowing your BATNA can lead to a more confident negotiation as the person who brings the best BATNA to the table usually wins. Your BATNA may include some of the negotiation points listed above.
Examples of WATNAs in pay negotiation may be: walking away from the job offer or resigning if you don’t get your ideal salary. Knowing your ‘worst alternative’ when going into negotiations means you can be prepared if it happens.
Finally, pick your battles. You may find that at some point your employer really does not have any more room to move or is not willing to negotiate further. Similarly, you may get to a point where you are as happy as you can be with the salary package on offer or you have lost your appetite to negotiate any harder. Knowing your BATNA and WATNA can help you determine when to end negotiations and either accept or walk away from an offer.