How to negotiate your next salary

Evaluating your worth isn’t easy, yet discussing your value and salary aspirations with a civilian employer is a crucial part of securing a new role. Former Army Major Laura Blair, and Director of Employment at the OA, highlights how best to prepare for this next stage.

If you are still serving in the military but looking to transition to civilian life, negotiating a salary package may not be something you have considered before. However, when transitioning to a civilian career, where the market dictates your value, it literally pays to be well-prepared and do your research.

Finding the right career opportunity after leaving the armed forces is a major step, but you also want to ensure that you get the best salary package possible. Alternatively, you might already be in a civilian job role where the salary no longer reflects your experience and qualifications or your current market value.

Job candidates and employees often believe that there is little room for negotiation – but there might be more than you think.


Know your worth

Knowing your own value is the most important step towards negotiating a good salary package. Think about what you can offer an employer such as your experience and skills relevant to the role, and include your educational qualifications, training and the value of your leadership experience.

Browse similar roles in the industry and review what other companies are paying their employees. Consider things like the qualifications and experience required, company type and geographical location to ensure you are comparing salaries for similar roles. You should also identify the position’s relative level within the organisation as job titles can be misleading. For example, a ‘manager’ at a Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 organisation may be equivalent to a director or VP at a smaller company.

Looking at web-based job adverts and websites like Glassdoor can help you find the average salary for similar roles. Speak to people in your network who have moved into similar roles or organisations and may have some information on salary expectations for your sector. The OA can help you here with its Network Contact list.

Recruitment agencies are also a good source of information as their fees are based on market demand, and they will be able to advise on what your background and skills are worth. Also, check any salary surveys published by relevant trade and professional associations for up-to-date information.

If you plan to relocate to a new region or if the position would require relocation, research the cost of living and salaries for that area by visiting locality websites.


Research the market

Understanding the employment market that you are entering is vital to negotiating a competitive salary package. Know the average salary of the role you are applying for and where your skills, qualifications, and experience are likely to be positioned within a salary/pay range.

Employers will pay what the market dictates to attract the right people. Organisations usually categorise remuneration into salary ranges, with new recruits offered at the lower to mid-range. Researching your market value will help you to establish any ‘bargaining area’ (the overlap between the employer/candidate salary range). Remember, though; you should be looking at the total package, not just the proposed salary.

Sometimes an employer may not know that they are paying below the national average and would be willing to raise the salary if you brought this to their attention. Negotiating near the higher end of a salary range can demonstrate your confidence in the skills and experience you will bring to the role.


The right time

Your bargaining power is highest at the point when you receive a firm job offer. By negotiating in a prepared, professional manner, you can increase both the employer’s interest in you and your remuneration package.

You may feel uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating a remuneration package once you have received a firm offer, however, statistics show it could be well worth the effort. While not wanting to pay more than the market rate, most employers expect to pay more than their initial offer. Our experience has shown that, in general, employers would have paid more to their recruits if the candidate had asked.


Evaluating an offer

Always remember to consider the whole package rather than just focusing on the final salary figure. A whole package could include; the base salary, bonus or commission scheme, incentive payments, profit share and any subsidies or other low-interest loans, stock options and equity share.

Look at the benefits offered, such as holiday entitlements, private medical insurance, sick pay scheme, health insurance, accident insurance, expenses policy, professional/club subscriptions, pension, company car, relocation package, and other benefits such as sports/leisure facilities or meals provided.

Other factors to consider could include contract conditions, the scope of the role and immediate priorities, resources (both financial as well as staff), degree of autonomy, authority, title/status, criteria for success, boss compatibility, colleagues, management style, location, office environment, travel and accommodation policy, flexible working arrangements, equipment provision and overtime allowance and importantly for a former-service person, the culture of the organisation.

When evaluating an offer, it may help to use a two-step process. First, determine whether the offer matches your expectations or sits above or below them. Once you have done this, pick the six most important items to you and see how it affects the balance of your expectations. This will give you a clear indication of where the problems and opportunities lie.


Preparing for a salary negotiation

Always express appreciation and enthusiasm over a job offer first, before you begin to negotiate. Request the offer in writing and for time to consider the whole package and don’t accept or reject it until ready to do so. If you have another job offer pending, you may want to ask for additional time to assess and compare both offers.

Before you enter the negotiating phase with an employer, be clear on the reasons for your salary request and organise the supporting evidence into a cohesive pitch. Go through your ‘pitch’ with a friend or colleague before your meeting or call. Consider the different responses and scenarios that may arise from the negotiations, such as questions, refusals or counter-offers. As well as quantifying your additional value, outline any work-related expenses that may justify your need for an increased salary, such as travel expenses.

Be flexible and open to negotiation during the salary discussions so that you can collaborate on a solution or compromise. It could be that there is no flexibility in the salary range, but they may be able to offer more holiday pay, different working hours or other benefits that are of value to you.

Sometimes an employer may not be able to meet the salary you are looking to achieve. If you have explored all the options and the package still doesn’t work for you, you might have to think about walking away from the negotiations. If you must refuse a final offer from an employer, be sure to express gratitude and thank them for their time. Extending respect and professional courtesy is important for any ongoing working relationship.


Top tips for preparing for a salary negotiation:

  • Know your value
  • Research the market
  • Start negotiations after you receive a formal job offer
  • Only negotiate if you really want the job
  • Prepare your reasons and justifications
  • Rehearse your negotiation pitch
  • Explain your work-related expenses
  • Do your figures and know your bottom line
  • Be flexible but don’t be afraid to walk away
  • Always thank the employer for their time
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