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Job hunting: How to Negotiate like a pro

Job seekers line up to meet with a recruiter during a job fair/AFP

Job seekers line up to meet with a recruiter during a job fair/AFP

Know your worth to avoid being at the mercy of recruiters who will believe you are happy to fit in and accept their salary range and benefits

In my career as a Human Resource (HR) professional, I have interviewed many candidates, made numerous job offers, promoted and grown many people in their careers. Throughout this period, I have come across a handful of candidates who know how to market themselves and negotiate a good deal. Those being headhunted felt more confident than those who applied for advertised positions. There are also those whom I have offered higher salaries than what they quoted to avoid underpaying them. However, many candidates excel during interviews but look helpless when the money question is asked.

The salary question
We think you would be a perfect fit for this role, but at this stage it would be useful to know what your salary expectations are.
Bad answer: “Thank you very much for showing confidence in me. I know you have internal salary structures, how much is on offer?”

Such response leaves you at the mercy of recruiters who will believe you are happy to fit in and accept the salary range and benefits they have. This may not be what you meant, but they are likely to assume so.

Right answer: Thank you for showing confidence in me. With my kind of skills, experience and knowledge on what the market is paying for similar roles, my expectation is KSh500,000.

Or: Thank you for showing confidence in me. With my kind of skills and experience and considering that I am looking to move to an organisation where I can settle and grow in my career, my expectation is KSh500,000.

Remember it is a negotiation – just like you would negotiate for a car, house or a plot. Drop a reasonable figure, be ready to discuss and see if you can meet at a comfortable point. You should not shy away from discussing your salary expectations with a potential employer or recruiter who would say “the candidate seems so money minded.” Employers have come to value candidates who can demonstrate their worth and are willing to negotiate for a fair reward. Here are some tips on how to negotiate and nail that package you have dreamt of for a while:

Nailing the package
Get information on what the market (peer organisations) would be paying for a similar role. In many cases, employees change jobs because they want career growth. You don’t change jobs to continue doing what you have done for the past three years at another company. Aspire to grow and when the opportunity comes, establish how much the role fetches. Any salary survey data you find can be useful. If not, use your networks and ask about benefits, structure and career growth opportunities before you jump in.

Know your niche and market yourself. Shift your mind from a job seeker to the professional you are. If you sell yourself too high and fail to demonstrate the skills, competence and experience to back what you are selling, you will be disappointed.

Selling what you are great at ensures that the recruiter knows what would be at stake if they let you go. Get them to a place where it will be their call to try and ensure you reach an agreement to avoid losing you to a competitor.

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Be open about your salary expectations from the beginning. If you know your worth and have drawn a line on what remuneration would match it, it would not be considered impolite to state your expectations upfront before discussions deepen. You will come across as someone who knows what they are worth, is focused and considerate. Here is where, during the second call or meeting you would say … “I appreciate your interest in my skills and I like where this is going, but I feel I need to let you know my remuneration expectations so that we are all clear about this as we proceed.”

Thereafter, state your expectation and its rationale, borrowing from previous points above.
Many recruiters like asking candidates to share details of their current salary. Sometimes this is necessitated by job changes where the role being performed may not be changing. It has also become a smart way for HR managers to gather useful information from the market. Your salary details are personal and you should not feel pressurised to present such data.

However, withholding it may reflect negatively, like you are not honest and confident. My advice is; keep this to the very last minute and only share when you are sure you are getting the job. In situations where the new employer may have to make some payments to your current employer to secure your release, salary details may have to be shared.

Looking for that promotion?
We also have employees who seek internal job changes and career growth through promotions. Many may end up not getting a good deal especially if the benchmark is internal comparators. There are advantages of growing within a familiar organisation; the candidate feels the environment is supportive to their career growth, has a good boss, peers and business outlook. It becomes comfortable to stay and grow.

There are people who have known one employer for their entire career. If you were to compare their package with those whom they started working with but changed employers two or three times, their remuneration profile would be different and in favor of those who changed employers.

This means if you hope to build a career with the same employer, you have to negotiate that promotion harder, and since you are dealing with a team that is promoting you on merit, you can follow the principles stated earlier to ensure you get a good deal. If they don’t give you what you are worth, maybe they do not deserve you.

Total package
Notably, when you are looking for a job change, don’t just focus on salary. Be sure you know benefits that add value to you at each stage of your career. For instance, if you are in your late 30’s, you would probably be looking for an employer with a good house purchase scheme, in your 40’s maybe a better pension scheme, while at your early years you would be focusing on cash at hand or flexi terms to accommodate evening studies. Be sure to look at total benefits package before you turn down that offer.


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