Thinking about moving jobs? Here’s how to get the salary you deserve

At a job interview, overegging your experience and salary demands may backfire. Photograph: iStock

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Almost half of workers are considering moving jobs, according to a survey by recruiter CPL. When it comes to salary, game-planning your negotiation can leave you much better off.

“What are your salary expectations?” It’s the “squeaky-bum” question candidates can dread. You’re afraid of scaring a prospective employer with too big a number, but you don’t want to lowball it either. It can feel like a game of pinning the tail on the salary donkey. Here’s how to get what you need.

Where’s your head at?

Getting your mindset right when job hunting can smooth the process, says Geraldine Gallagher, career coach and founder of Inspire Consulting.

“Think about the interview as an opportunity to find out whether it’s somewhere you’d like to work at as opposed to thinking will they choose me,” says Gallagher.

Be clear about why you are moving too, says Lisa Broderick, director at CPL. “People might say salary, but as a recruiter of 20 years, when you really talk to people, ‘I’m not getting paid enough’ is more about ‘I’m not being valued enough’ or ‘I’m not being treated fairly’. Others feel they have more to offer.”

Interrogating why you want to leave will help you recognise a good offer.

Do your research

It’s one thing not to know what a company will pay, but if you don’t know what you’ll accept, that’s on you.

“What I’m hearing in the market at the moment is employers are having that conversation in the first interview, so be prepared,” says Gallagher. “Find out the going rate so that if it comes up, you’re not a rabbit in headlights,” she says.

Look at recruiter salary surveys to find out what’s being offered for similar roles in your industry and location. Call a recruitment company for a confidential steer or a dose of realism.

“People in their 30s can be looking for a 5 or 10 per cent increase, or we’ve people coming in looking for 25 or 30 per cent and it’s way too much. It’s unrealistic,” says one recruitment agent.

Having informed yourself, if a prospective employer asks for a figure, mention a range, says Gallagher.

“A great response would be, ‘I’m currently interviewing for roles that are offering a range from x to y amount,’” she says. This tells them your expectations, while alluding to other irons in the fire.

If you’re unclear about the scope of the role and what the right money would be, say so. You could say something like, “I need a bit more information to get a better idea of what the position entails. Then, I can provide a more realistic salary expectation.”

Alternative responses include, “What have you allocated for the right candidate?’ or “What is the range for this position?”

Research the company’s record on fairness, too. The largest gender pay gaps exist in the legal profession, where men are paid on average 35.1 per cent more per hour than women, according to an analysis by PwC. A 33.5 per cent discrepancy exists in the aviation sector. Is this prospective employer rectifying the gender pay gap?

Mortgage blinkers

Aside from market rates, you’ll be thinking about your own financial needs too. For house-hunters, how much they can borrow is pegged to salary. First-time buyers can borrow four times their gross annual income, for other borrowers it’s 3.5 times.

This can blinker candidates to wider benefits, such as paid health insurance, gym membership or commissions which are valuable but won’t help them get a house.

“We find people who haven’t got a mortgage are very focused on the bottom line of salary. Once they have the mortgage, they say, I know I’m going to earn more if I focus on the full benefits package. It’s a shame really,” says Broderick.

A mortgage broker can clarify what compensation elements can improve your mortgage luck. Certain banks will take commission schemes into consideration, others won’t. A broker may have tips too on asking a prospective employer if a certain benefit can be repackaged into the salary figure.

Trigger happy

When it comes to talking salary, let the employer speak first, says Lisa Broderick.

Asking first, especially in the early rounds, can make you seem more interested in money than the opportunity. It can also skew things.

“They are going to have a figure in their head of what you are worth, so if you go in saying I’m looking for x, they might be thinking, I was going to pay you more, or I’m not paying you that, and you kind of rule yourself out of the conversation,” says Broderick.

Recruiters are looking for reasons to whittle down the field. Salary hunters who haven’t proven their worth be warned.

Going through a recruitment agency can smooth the process, though not all companies offer roles through them.

“Recruiters can have those awkward conversations for you. We will know what the client won’t pay because we know they have got similar people in on a lower amount. We will also know when they are willing to flex,” says Broderick.

Be honest

Overegging your experience and salary demands can be unnecessary, and may backfire.

“If you are good at what you do and if an employer wants you, they will pay a fair salary to get you on board,” says Broderick.

Clearly demonstrating your value can nudge the offer to the top of their range. “Be curious about the role and the requirements and show how you are a fit,” says Gallagher.

Use numbers to demonstrate, she says. “Anywhere you can put a value on it, do it – a customer retention figure, the size of a team managed, the number of years of experience you have doing something – numbers paint a picture.”

Those hired need to be able to walk the walk however, warns Broderick. Overpaid candidates who’ve oversold their worth will be the first out in a reshuffle.

“It’s very easy to negotiate, but if you go in and you’re expensive, they will expect you to hit the ground running. You have a six-month period where you have to prove yourself or you will be the first out in a downturn,” she says. “There was a huge surge in hiring after Covid and some companies overhired. The first people out the door are often the most expensive people.”

Analyse the offer

Once they’ve made you an offer, the power balance can shift. They’re tired of interviewing, the hiring manager needs you to start yesterday; this can buy you some leverage.

“A job offer is the first step in the negotiation process. It’s not one and done,” says Geraldine Gallagher. “Look at the full compensation package.”

Paid time off, vacation days, hybrid working – some of these will be more valuable to you than others. Half of Irish workers would refuse a job offer with no option to work from home, according to research by Stepstone Group.

If the money is the same or only slightly more, but you can work flexibly, that may make a bigger difference to your happiness than an extra €150 a month in salary spent on lululemon leggings for Pilates classes you can never get to.

If the salary figure is less than you expected, use it as leverage.

“You could go back and say, it’s lower than I expected, and I’d like to discuss reviewing the vacation days, or maybe there is some professional development you are interested in. It can be an opportunity to tweak the package,” says Gallagher. The best result will be a compromise both sides can live with.

If there’s a bonus scheme, interrogate what’s on offer. “Is it based on my performance or the performance of the whole company? Ask what has been the average pay out of that bonus in the last three years to give yourself a real sense of its value,” says Gallagher.

Younger workers shouldn’t overlook a pension.

“Some younger workers are more focused on what they can earn now, but I would encourage anyone in their 30s to start a pension. Some are offered it and they don’t even take it up, but it can be so valuable,” says Lisa Broderick.

Golden handcuffs

When it comes to salary negotiation, scoring a big salary but in a job that’s the wrong fit can be a pyrrhic victory. “I’ve talked to clients who are on big money, but the employer expects your flesh and blood,” says Gallagher.

“They have stocks and bonuses twice a year and it’s the carrot in front of your nose – you are going to wait to get this and get that. You keep waiting and you never leave, even though you might be unhappy.”

Research the company culture. Golden handcuffs can be uncomfortable.


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