11.4   Computing Your Worth

Your relative value is determined by a combination of assets you bring with you.  

Your assets may include:
  • Your education (including degrees and specialized coursework)
  • Your specialized expertise
  • Your years of experience
  • Your skills (team, leadership, communication, organization, analytical, problem solving etc.)
  • Military experience
  • Maturity
  • Foreign language skills

Things external to you also enter the salary equation. The company size, the company's particular industry niche, the general economy (supply/demand), and the geographic location of your potential employer all play a role in the salary you will receive. The impact of these factors is constantly changing, and therefore, you need to stay current with your information. As an example, it used to be that salaries in Sacramento were discounted relative to the San Francisco Bay Area. Today in Sacramento, salaries for computer, electronics, and telecommunications professionals are quite close to those in the Bay Area.

Every company negotiates if they want you bad enough.  If you have the right stuff they want you and they are willing to pay for your talents. Amazingly- you are more often than not, in the driver's seat.

I learned this helping a new computer science graduate years ago.  He received offers of $60K in the San Francisco Bay Area from several companies and an offer of $54K in Folsom at Intel Corporation. Intel initially told him the offer was not negotiable, but when he started his negotiations he shared the info on the other offers he had received and Intel immediately matched them.

The more offers you have the better.  In other words, you can use higher salary offers to leverage offers where the job description or location might be more attractive but the offer is lower.  Although the San Francisco area is a higher cost of living area, employers in surrounding areas compete for the same talent and must offer salaries that are competitive.

You need information on what costs are in the cities you are considering offers in. You can be a lot more flexible with your salary demands if you plan to live in an area with a lower cost of living. In such an area, you might not necessarily expect as much, but you won't actually need as much. A good source for cost-of-living information is the Salary.com cost of living calculator.  Another is the Nerdwallet.com cost-of-living calculator.

There are actually a variety of cost-of-living comparison sites which allow you to input a salary offer in one city and see what salary you would need to meet the buying power of that salary in another city.  Maybe you know how far your salary goes in one place and you need to know what kind of offer you would need to have a similar life style in the other city.

If you like holding a book check out the "Places Rated Almanac" by Savageau and Boyer. This is a great tool to share with your family as you decide where you want to live. You can find the book at Amazon.com. This publication ranks metropolitan areas, comparing living costs, employment outlook, housing, transportation, education, health care, crime, recreation and climate.

Leverage is everything when negotiating your salary.  I worked with an experienced candidate in Houston who was offered a job with Siemens, a large, multinational firm. The job offer included a better work schedule, it was closer to home, and at a significantly higher salary. The offer came through a former co-worker who had joined Siemens earlier in the year.

When he submitted his resignation to his current employer they begged him for the chance to renegotiate the terms of his employment to keep him on board. He was stunned. The new offer motivated his current employer to work hard to keep him. The company exceeded all aspects of the international firm's offer. They arranged for him to work from home multiple days per week and increased his salary by 45% above the salary he had been working at in the same position.

The fear of losing a really great employee motivated his employer to sweeten the pot to keep him. He liked the company and his co-workers and really didn't want to leave his employer so he agreed to stay.

What else are they offering?  If the company you are negotiating with does not meet your expectations on the salary side, and they are unwilling to negotiate, you can explore other aspects of the package. Perhaps they can offer other inducements. Some companies pay tuition for your graduate degree. Other companies pay off student loans. I have also heard of companies offering additional weeks of vacation to entice a candidate. Signing bonuses, retention bonuses, and moving expenses are also common. There are also many things that you may consider advantageous like onsite childcare or adult care for family members that might make the salary less important.

Maybe they can give you an office, instead of a cubicle, or perhaps there is a stock option sweetener. Yes, even if the stock market is down at the moment in time when you are negotiating, it will go up eventually. Keep in mind that all of those Ferraris down in Silicon Valley were paid for with stock that was owned before the company went public.

The final task is knowing when to say "yes" or when to walk away.  Actually, this is something that you should have known from the beginning. Before you even ask if it's negotiable, you need to know your bottom line. It may change while you talk - as more information is thrown into the discussion - but you need to have available for reference or recalculation.

You can do this. Just remember, be reasonable, be informed, don’t be greedy, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask.