When it comes to negotiating offers, candidates have more power than they realize. Increasing this power are the fast-changing labor laws governing what hiring companies can and cannot ask when it comes to salary that are designed to decrease the gender gap, and keep organizations focused on a person’s true market value versus their historical salary information.

In California, AB168 is such a bill and prohibits hiring companies from asking about an applicant’s past salary at all. Similar laws are being implemented in Delaware, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

We expect this trend will radically change the interview and job offer process. Rather than playing the game of cat and mouse, with the employer asking, “What are you making?” and the applicant responding, “What are you paying?” there will be much more transparency on both sides.

Now in California, thanks to AB168, if an applicant asks for the range, the employer will need to share that information with them. Assuming that the candidate then establishes enough credibility and rapport throughout the interview process to make them the top pick for the role, the company will make an offer within that range based on how they value their skills and the impact they expect them to make on the business. At this point, the applicant’s job will be to negotiate that offer to the highest end of the range.

For candidates living outside of California, if you are asked to share your current or desired compensation first at the very early stages of the interview process or an initial phone screening, we suggest buying yourself some time to give an informed response, saying that you’d respectfully like to learn more about the role before talking specific numbers. Make it clear that you are interested in evaluating the overall package, including: benefits, continued education, company culture, long-term career potential, and salary.

1. Will negotiating make your future employer think less of you?

Not if you clearly present logical and commercially viable reasons that you believe your value is higher than the offer. “I need a $10K increase in annual base compensation to accept this role because I just bought a new house and need the extra capital to make this worthwhile,” is not a good approach! This has nothing to do with the business, your value, or what the market warrants.

What would be better is, “I am exploring comparable roles in the market with a $10K higher base pay. X company remains my top choice due to the growth I can have in X, Y, Z. My expertise can impact your company directly via X, Y, Z, and I’d like to have a candid discussion on the compensation package to see if we can get closer to what I am seeing as my true market value. I’d like to explore this opportunity with you first and sync on compensation before getting further down the track with other companies.”

2. What are other benefits to consider in addition to the base salary?

One benefit that often arises is work life balance, and time off.  Companies have varying approaches to this, with more and more moving towards offering flexible – or even unlimited – paid time off.

Employee development, or learning and development, is an important consideration as it signals that an employer is willing to invest in their people’s success for the long term. Progressive companies also are offering education reimbursement, and even helping employees to pay off their student loans.

Bonuses tied to key performance indicators (KPI’s) enable top performers to increase their total compensation significantly.

3. What is a proper response to the first offer?

Ideally, you’ve had discussions proactively throughout the process, so there will be no big surprises at the offer point. Thankfully acknowledge your contact for the first offer and say that you are reviewing it.

Assess every detail and make sure you understand it completely. If there are any areas where you would like clarification, note them for when you follow up with your contact. 

Ask yourself whether you feel it is a fair offer. If you sense that you are not being valued correctly, mention that you want to negotiate, with specifics as to why.

4. To the second counter offer?

Based on our experience, this is typically the last offer. Whether the company is large or small, there are approvals that always need to take place to increase an initial offer. If the company didn’t play their best hand first, they will the second time.

If you are excited enough about the opportunity and feel they have met you at least halfway, gracefully accept the offer. If not, be honest with yourself and them.

Thank them for their time and consideration, tell them that you are choosing to continue to pursue other roles for now, and wish them continued success. It is always a good idea to keep the door open for future opportunities, so be gracious and indicate a willingness to stay in touch.

5. Any specific tactics that help the new hire get a higher salary?

Use the interview process to understand the true needs of the business and how the team members operate and make their decisions. With this lens, share your accomplishments by giving specific proof of performance (e.g., case studies), and tie them directly to how you can add value to the company in this role.

Illustrate your own sense of self-worth by presenting yourself professionally at every step of the process, and showing that you continuously invest in yourself by updating your skills and knowledge via any outlet available. This shows that you value yourself and will in turn be a good investment for them.

6. If the employer won’t budge, then what are other ways to help ensure that a raise/promotion could be reviewed down the line?

Simply ask for the salary component be reviewed (along with your performance) in six months, and put it in your contract. Then, perform, perform, perform!  I can’t say that enough.  You need to learn, help the employer meet their objectives, be humble, be curious and be a team player.

7. Any other tips?

Times have changed, and employees are really free agents. Be clear, do your research, plan your career and you will receive a compensation that is equitable and sometimes even more than you expect. By taking control of your future and finding a career that motivates you, you will thrive.