Compensation: If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

CompensationIt’s that time of the year again, when thoughts are turning to Black Friday, the beginning of the mad holiday shopping rush. Children everywhere are putting together their wish lists, but the questions is, have you put together yours?

Several of my clients are in the midst of negotiating compensation packages, what a nice present to enter the holiday season. But just as a child puts together a wish list for his or her holiday gifts, so too should you have a wish list for your own gift that keeps on giving . . .  your compensation package.

1. Putting together the list

When thinking about what you’d like to ask for in the negotiation (or what you’d like to counter with) make a list of what it would take for you to accept the position in the prospective company. Remember to include base salary, bonus, singing bonus, benefits (all too important these days), stock options and vacation time.

2. Do your research

It’s much easier to negotiate if you’ve researched the market and found out what companies are paying for professionals and executives in similar positions. That gives you a more compelling and dispassionate argument for getting what you feel you deserve. Fair market value makes business sense. Remember, if a company appreciates and wants to hire and keep your talent and expertise, they will be willing to pay for it.

3. The compensation package is just that, a total package

The compensation package goes far beyond just base salary. When negotiating, remember to look at the total package. That gives you more flexibility in the negotiation. Not only that, each of us has different wants, needs and motivations. For some, a generous salary base is most desirable, while for others it’s the challenge of a start-up with huge potential upside based on having a piece of the company pie.

4. Get the offer in writing

It’s always important to get the offer in writing, but even more so when you’re negotiating an executive compensation package. There are a lot of elements that go into these packages and you certainly don’t want anything falling through the cracks.

5. The negotiation should be a win-win

The person you’re negotiating with is someone that you’ll be working with in the future, therefore you don’t want the transaction to be contentious. That means you should ask for what you want rather than make demands. Making demands and becoming emotional could lead to an offer being withdrawn.

The compensation package is the gift that keeps on giving. Going in the door is the time to get your best package and always remember . . . if you don’t ask, you don’t get.


Compensation In The Great Recession


An important question my clients are currently asking me involves compensation. They want to know if they have to accept a lower salary now because of the current economic downturn.

Companies are still looking for talent and according to the HR professionals I speak to, they’re willing to pay for it. As much as you don’t enjoy looking for a job, companies don’t like conducting searches for good employees. It’s time and resources away from the lifeblood of an organization, revenue generation.

Companies want talented professionals and they realize if they don’t pay the fair market value for that talent, those people will not remain with them long. As soon as the market improves or the professional gets a better offer, the company will be back at square one: conducting another search, doing more interviews and taking more time to get the new hire up to speed.

I have clients currently negotiating and accepting positions at the same or greater compensation than they were previously making. However, as is often the case, there is a caveat; they are in a position to take the time necessary to find the right position at their current level or a step up.

The professionals that are accepting less pay are accepting lesser positions. For example, a company is not going to pay a Vice President’s or Director’s salary to someone entering the company as a Manager.

Unfortunately life sometimes gets in the way, there are mortgages to be paid and families to support. Some people don’t have the luxury of taking the time necessary to find the right position. Those people are the so-called underemployed.

The bottom line, if you’re a talented professional companies are willing to pay for that talent, in good times and bad.


Answering The Salary Question

“How do I answer the salary question?” From seasoned executives to professionals just beginning their climb up the career ladder, that is the number one most dreaded question and the one most frequently asked of me by my clients.

When it comes to our salaries and compensation packages, even the fiercest negotiator who is comfortable navigating through multi-million dollar deals, turns from a lion to a lamb when the transaction they’re negotiating involves their own livelihood.

What makes it such a difficult question? Well, first of all, it involves each of us personally and directly (there’s some ego attached as well). Secondly, most of us are not comfortable talking about how much we make. But thirdly and perhaps the most prevalent reason is the fear that we’ll come in too low and leave money on the table or come in too high and lose the opportunity all together.

The answer oftentimes depends on how the question is framed. If the hiring manager asks you, “What have you been making?” that’s easy, tell them. The company can always ask to see your  previous W2 forms anyway. Once you have the offer, it’s reasonable to request an increase by explaining that one of your goals with this career move is to improve on your previous compensation.

The harder question is, “What are you interested in making?” Before answering this question, you should do some research on the position, location and industry, using such tools as or In this way, you can get a general idea of what the market is paying for the type of position for which you’re applying, thus enabling you to develop a reasonable answer to the question.

There’s a saying that he who gives the first number loses. However, when you’re working with a recruiter, the salary question is what determines if you’re playing in the same ball park or in an entirely different league. When speaking with a recruiter, tell them what you’re looking for so you don’t waste each others time.

If you’re talking directly to a hiring manager (rather than a recruiter), sometimes you can put off answering the salary question by suggesting you need to know more about the position and duties before you’d be able to answer the salary question intelligently. But if that doesn’t work and you’re forced to name a figure, giving a range is also an acceptable option. Just make sure the low end of the range is a figure that’s palatable to you, because that may be the figure you see when you receive the offer from your prospective employer.