How to Handle a Salary Counteroffer
If you want to get the pay you deserve, build a respectable career brand that stands out from all the other professionals with whom you're competing.
For some professionals, asking for more money is a touchy topic. Most professionals feel validated when they get a job offer. Others are simply proud the interview went well and a company has extended a job offer. When you don’t look at yourself as just an employee, but also a brand, you will always know your career worth. The best way to define your career worth is through getting the salary and benefits you feel you deserve.
When I interviewed for information technology roles, I viewed myself much like an all-star athlete, a Grammy-award-winning music artist or an Emmy-award-winning actress. I worked hard to earn my college degree and certifications, and also to become an industry expert through challenging career experiences. Salary counteroffers were normal in my professional world. They’re almost like a bidding war -- music artists, actors and athletes negotiate for more money when they sign contracts, and career professionals should do the same.
When I was a teenager, I listened to a rap group called the Lox, and they had a song with Lil' Kim called “Money, Power and Respect.” To this day, I think the song really describes how these are the keys to climbing the corporate ladder. If you want to earn a higher salary, you need to understand how to command the money, power and respect you deserve -- it’s time to stop letting companies lowball you with low salaries, lackluster benefits and poor work-life balance.
“Money, power, and respect. Help you sleep at night. You’ll see the light. It’s the key to life.” -- The Lox, Lil' Kim and DMX
Money: Know your worth
Think of yourself as a rock star professional right from the beginning of the hiring process. Look at your interviews as shows or performances. When you perform well in a job interview by displaying your expertise and positive energy, requesting the salary you deserve will be a little easier. I always strive to make sure I leave a lasting impression on the interview panel. Interviews are like auditions -- you have to display your worth.
Then, when you actually get an offer letter, compare the salary to the low, median and high salaries you find on Glassdoor -- I enter my city, state and job title to see what other companies are paying professionals in similar roles. I also evaluate the company’s offerings: paid time off (PTO), healthcare, work-life balance incentives and training benefits.
Power: Career control
Some professionals may have multiple job offers on the table; this is a powerful advantage when conducting a salary counteroffer. The best way to get the pay you deserve is to let the company you really want to work for know that you have received another offer with a better salary and benefits. At this point, because you have options, the power is in your hands. The real power is when you can leverage for extra incentives in addition to what’s found in your salary counteroffer.
I once interviewed for a well-known consulting company, as well as their competitor. These two Fortune 500 consulting companies are the Nike and Adidas of consulting firms, and they were always looking to bring in senior consultants like myself at the time. That kind of career control is power -- it empowers you to ask for what you want in a job offer. As an IT expert, I expressed high interest in both companies by negotiating not only my salary, but asking for more PTO and a greater annual training budget.
Respect: Career brand
You win respect by building a solid career that displays your professional worth. Just as actors, athletes and music artists gain respect when they negotiate contracts by providing their performance metrics and awards, career respect is validated through a salary counteroffer when you have a solid LinkedIn profile, professional certifications, college education and extensive professional experience.
In the last 14 years, I have mastered the art of career branding by winning IT industry awards and through features on CNN, Yahoo, CNBC and in The Washington Post. Since I look at myself as a brand, my career experiences and accomplishments have helped my resume and LinkedIn profile stand out. When I counteroffer a salary offer of $106,000 with $140,000 for a technical IT lead role, I express my value as a certified scrum master and former holder of a high-level security clearance. They loved my interview and expertise, so convincing them to respect my career brand was a piece of cake.
If you want to get the pay you deserve, build a respectable career brand that stands out from all the other professionals with whom you’re competing.