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When it comes to salaries, I'm not average

By Andy Warren,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is out of the office.

Negotiating salaries is usually hard and often a bit awkward. The employee wants to maximize their earnings and feel like they are being fairly compensated based on experience, tenure, and ability. The employer generally wants to pay fairly, but not give away the store and are often constrained by HR, so they can’t give away the store. Both sides are looking for benchmarks to use to support their case.

Which benchmark to use though? Payscale is a commonly used one as is Salary.com. Glassdoor is worth checking. Those may be supplemented or replaced by others though. For example, here in Orlando, there is the annual salary survey of developers. Those of us in the data space might point people to the 2018 Data Professional Survey. I always supplement those by checking in with a couple of local recruiters. Any of them can be useful if you like the numbers they show!

As you look at the benchmarks be mindful that the job title matters. If your title doesn’t match the benchmark (or matches one that isn’t really the same), it hurts your ability (and that of your manager) to pay you more. Sometimes you have to work on getting your job title or description changed to better reflect the work you do before you can finish negotiations. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting them to put “Senior” in front of your current title. You also have to make sure the numbers are regionally adjusted. Wages and costs in Orlando are different than Austin and San Jose. Sometimes you’ll get an employer that will pay big market wages regardless of where you live, but that’s the exception. Most will want to be inline with the local market.

You do the research, your boss or hiring manager does the research, and then you sit down for the talk. I’d urge you to keep in mind that neither you or your boss is an experienced negotiator, so it may not go smoothly. Eventually the cards are on the table and it’s at that point you’ll hear something like “the market average for your position is …” as a reason they cannot pay you what you hoped to earn. I get it. I’ve been on both sides of the table and I know that the benchmarks come in to play.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion. It’s at this point I calmly say “I’m not average”. It’s a little funny how that disrupts things in a good way. It usually sets them back a step. They have to process that, then think about whether they see you as above average. If they agree you are above average, the same benchmark will support paying you more and they will see that. If they don’t see you as above average they have to have that conversation and while it may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, you’ll either convince them to reassess or you’ll get the definition of what you need to do to be above average when you next meet.

Using “I’m not average” is not a strategy for a beginner or someone without a good measure of self-confidence. The latter is important because most of us tend to overestimate our value, if not our skills, and it’s not going to be a great day if we find out we’re not as above average as we thought we were.

Think on it some and if you take nothing else away from this I hope you’ll look at every relevant benchmark you can find before you go into the next negotiation. An hour of research is time well spent.

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