In last week’s opening section of Route1’s guide to salary negotiations, we discussed how to navigate preliminary discussions and manage an initial salary offer. But is this the point to settle? Or should you return to the table with a counteroffer?
6. Consider all pay elements
If the initial offer of the base salary seems low, do not decline the job in haste. Rather, take this as a clue to negotiate for other forms of remuneration. In some situations, it might make sense to trade a lower salary for more holiday time, flexible working hours, or child-care benefits. You need to decide what “perks” matter to you the most, and whether or not your potential employer is willing to provide them.
Weigh carefully, for example, the value of a medical and/or dental benefits package, gym membership, or travel assistance. And, where a gap remains, a signing bonus is often the way to bridge it.
7. Request frequent performance reviews
Another factor to consider in assessing your offer is the frequency of reviews. A position that pays a premium salary but is only reviewed annually – if at all – may not be as good a deal as a role starting with a lower salary, but where the associate’s work is reviewed, say, two or three times in the first year, and where there is a clear career progression plan, ideally to partner.
The absence of meaningful reviews should be a warning sign in this regard.
8. What’s your back-up plan?
If you are a good candidate, you will most probably be running interviews in parallel. It is a delicate decision whether, and how, to communicate this to a prospective employer.
On the one hand, revealing your hand can create a competitive tension between yourself and the employer. It could shut down the employer’s optionality on timing and potentially force them to return with an improved an offer… But, if you are running two or more processes to maximise compensation and this is apparent to an employer, this may come across as cynical. Securing that little bit of extra money for resultant loss of trust may come back to bite you at your new employer – remember, as discretionary elements increasingly comprise part of the overall compensation package, the boot will be on the other foot at bonus time.
Ultimately, if you do choose to disclose your plans, we recommend always doing this via our Engagement Team rather than directly. Employers do not like to be gamed directly by candidates.
9. Make a counteroffer
As we discussed last week, your potential employer is most likely offering the bottom range of salaries as they expect you to engage in polite negotiation. Many people are afraid to engage in salary negotiation but there is nothing to be afraid of here. In the worst-case scenario, all that will happen is the employer will tell you that it has no flexibility in the matter of salary and you can make your decision knowing you did all you could do. It is extremely unlikely that you will have a job offer rescinded because you tried to negotiate.
If you feel uncomfortable with salary negotiation, then doing so will be a good experience for you – and probably help you in your legal career. As a lawyer, you should have enough self-confidence and self-possession to ask for a salary that reflects your worth. Be polite but assertive and advocate for yourself in the same way you would advocate for a client. State your case! Explain how you are uniquely qualified for the position and how you will contribute to the overall profitability of the firm. As long as your salary request is in accord with your qualifications and market conditions, it should seem eminently reasonable to your employer. And if it doesn’t, consider how much they value filling the role.
10. Don’t be afraid to clarify
In informal compensation and benefit discussions, particularly when the salary figure has been negotiated, well-meaning employers, anxious to conclude the hiring process, will sometimes “sweeten the pot.” They will add elements to the total package in areas where they have a certain amount of flexibility. A new hire, for example, might be promised five weeks of vacation, rather than the firm “policy” of only four.
However later, when work piles up, or holidays are taken, these pre-employment assurances may be forgotten. Not necessarily through malice or duplicity, but through an oversight on the part of the head of the firm’s hiring committee. So make careful notes of any pre-employment verbal assurances. This does not mean a tight-lipped stenographic record of the conversation, but a casual noting of figures and promises at the time they are made.
Ensure all the terms that have been discussed are in the offer letter, and be sure to clarify any areas or arrangements on which you are not completely clear. If your informal understandings are not included in this letter, then refer to your notes. Write back your acceptance, including the terms as they were negotiated at your meeting and as you understand them. Your notes will make sure that no items are overlooked. Assumptions, especially when talking about working arrangements, can be dangerous and will likely backfire at the point of maximum embarrassment if you are not careful to keep records through the interview and offer process.
A final word
A salary offer is a window of opportunity. If you are fully prepared, and enter with the correct mindset, you have nothing to lose by asking. Remember, we are always here to help, and please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have further questions.
The Route1 Team