When accepting a job, it’s easy to assume compensation packages are straightforward. Some folks are hourly, some are salaried, and depending on the role others receive bonuses or commissions based on their performance. Simple, right?
Not so much. Generally, when a future employee sees a package, they receive whatever plan the employer has historically applied to that position. However, not all positions are so rigid. This means employees may be able to negotiate and request a compensation package that better fits their strengths and work style.
“If you have never negotiated a compensation package, it can be difficult to determine what benefits you need and intimidating to even ask,” says Stephanie Collins, a talent advisor and recruiting expert.
She continued, “And the biggest reason they matter is because this is the stuff you need to have access to be able to do your job successfully. The company takes care of you so you can take care of them.”
Do your research first.
The very first thing candidates should do while considering a benefits package is research, according to Collins. “What makes it complicated for candidates to get the best offers is because people don’t do research,” Collins says.
“There are public conversations about what you are worth in your industry,” she says.
Before you receive a job offer, use job boards, LinkedIn and even social media to find out what compensation benefits are offered to people in your position. If you have a recruiter, ask them the range of benefits for people working in your position.
If you are negotiating alone, connect with someone in your industry and ask them if the compensation package that you’ve been offered is competitive. “Mentors, whether official or unofficial, will usually tell you to look at something again,” Collins says. “If you say to someone you’re comfortable with, ‘do you think this is competitive? Is this something I should be considering?’ Usually, people will be honest with you.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want
Tell the potential employer the benefits you want early. Collins says,” When you wait to tell your employer what you want after an offer has been made, it might be too late to negotiate certain things.”
In the past, it might have been considered taboo to mention what you need and want to do your best work. Collins believes it can be a mistake to go through an entire interview process and find out what you want is not aligned with your expectations.
She says, “You’re the only person that’s going to be able to look at this compensation package and say this allows you to do your job. If you look at your compensation package and already don’t feel empowered, it’s probably not going to be the job for you.”
Here’s a secret you might not know: Some employers don’t always make their best offers first, and candidates who negotiate their salary will always earn more than those who do not. According to Collins, “There is more flexibility than is advertised,”
Negotiation begins the moment you start interviewing. Make sure the company you interview with knows your skill, experience and value. Once you know your value and have researched the market compensation range for your role, decide what your compensation will be and stick to it.
“For a job where you make less on the dollar, there is more wiggle room in the benefits. On the other hand, some companies don’t have amazing benefits packages but pay more. Based on that number and what you think you need, because that matters, assess your offer inside your compensation package and decide if it’s something feasible for you.” she says.
Negotiate creative benefits
Salary isn’t the only benefit one should pay attention to when negotiating a compensation package. Look at negotiating paid time off, yearly reviews and even sign-on bonuses, according to Collins.
“Don’t be afraid to put a monetary number on the things you don’t receive in pay. Even if an employer doesn’t reach the monetary number you hoped for, you’re still worth something and absolutely ask for that,” she says.
Practice so you can be prepared
If you have never negotiated, practice your conversations with companies ahead of time. Practice saying your expectations in your own words and say them until you are comfortable.
Collins believes it’s particularly important for women or BIPOC to practice because they struggle to negotiate more. “Every single thing in society says take what we give you. For a lot of people negotiating compensation is not just running through generations. We [BIPOC] didn’t have the same level of bargaining power or legacy history.”
Even after you receive a compensation package that works for you, keep negotiating, says Collins. “There are people who write letters to their companies and send notices to their bosses requesting an annual raise. There are people who are increasing their personal financial status because they don’t stop negotiating once they get the job. Meanwhile, we never start.”
Rae Onwumelu is a correspondent for Marcom Weekly. Onwumelu's writing and reporting have appeared in The Huffington Post, Blavity and CityBeat. She previously served as a feature writer for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and content specialist for The Educational Theatre Association.