How to Get a Big Raise: 5 Steps to the Pay You Deserve

Last Updated Apr 6, 2011 11:31 AM EDT

There are hints of a jobs recovery. The national unemployment rate fell in March. The Midwest manufacturing belt is creeping back. Executive recruiters are hiring again in anticipation of more job searches later in the year.

We're still way early in the process and no one is suggesting workers will have lots of options anytime soon. Jobs are tight and will remain that way for a while. But you don't need a million jobs to be available -- only one, if it fits you to a tee.

So whether you're a recent grad or a boomer who has been stuck in neutral or lost ground the past few years, it may be time to start plotting ways to find a better job -- and how to negotiate the salary you deserve when you find one.

Getting an offer comes first, of course. The advice on that front is familiar: be persistent, have a professional resume, keep up your contacts, make sure your job skills are current. For more on landing a new job look here and here.

The part that fascinates me is how to get the biggest salary possible once you've got an offer. The biggest part of that, it seems, is finding a way to not divulge your most recent pay. That is no easy thing. Hiring managers and recruiters push hard for this information early and often in the hiring process.

So, eventually, you'll face the dreaded question: How much do you currently make? I've heard it several times in my career and almost always have blown the response. My wife has done much better with this question over the years. So I've learned from her; I've checked with recruiters as well.

The bottom line is that neither side wants to be the first to give up a number for good reason. Whoever goes first runs the risk of leaving up to 20% on the table, job search experts say. Recruiter Bill Humbert says that if you hold firm you can get the company to disclose a position's salary range first about 60% of the time. Working with recruiters is tougher; you'll get them to give up a salary range first only about 35% of the time. Here are five tips for navigating the who-goes-first dance:
  • Never lie about what you make Yes, it's tempting and it may help you land a bigger paycheck. Lots of people do it. But if you're found out you'll have little shot at closing the deal and, while unlikely, your potential employer could even sue you for fraud. The risks are most acute for folks earning more than $80,000 a year.
  • Never say what it will take to get you Typically you'll be asked to include your salary requirements along with your resume or on the job application. Simply write "open" or "NA." If your application appeals to a hiring manager, you'll get the call. If the pay question comes up in an interview, deflect it by asking about the salary range for the job you are seeking. You might get it right there.
  • Never say what you make now If asked, say or write on the application something like "will be happy to discuss at the appropriate time." If you give up this number it will be the basis for all future money discussions with this employer.
  • Never negotiate salary during an interview When the subject comes up, say you don't know what you'd require until you have a clear picture of the job, where you believe you can make the most impact and your potential for advancement. "When you have this information," says Humbert, "tell them that you are very interested and that you'd seriously consider any offer they'd like to make."
  • Never say never Some hiring managers and recruiters are impossible and just will not move on until you give them your salary history and or expectations. It is your right to refuse, and given their insistence you may reasonably conclude you don't want to work for this company anymore anyway. But if you really need or want the job and decide to cave, offer a total compensation figure that represents your current income including salary, overtime, employer contributions to retirement and health-care accounts, day-care subsidies, commuting and parking discounts, and all other benefits. This can be a surprisingly big number that probably catapults you to the top of your prospective employer's salary range.
Photo courtesy Flickr user brymo
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  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.

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