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Winning at IT Salary Negotiations

Here are five tactful but effective ways to boost your paycheck, whether as a new hire or existing IT employee.

For members of the IT workforce, few moments are more personally impacting and dreaded than the salary negotiation. Should we negotiate an offer we have just received as a new hire? How will that be perceived by our future employer? What is the most artful way to ask for a pay raise and a promotion that we think we deserved

These are not topics typically covered on the way to obtaining a degree in technology, but they can make a drastic difference in the amount of income earned over a lifetime. A $10,000 difference in starting pay, with a standard raise of 3% instead of 2% per year, can lead to a $1 million difference in earned income over a 30-year career in IT.

And, with IT workers’ constant development of technical skills rather than interpersonal skills, learning how to articulate and advocate for one’s own pay can seem a daunting task. According to a 2018 survey conducted by staffing firm Robert Half, 61% of workers did not try to negotiate a higher salary during their last job offer. It’s a good guess that IT workers skew even higher on that measure.

Negotiating salary - whether as a new hire or an existing employee - essentially comes down to tact. Ask tactlessly, and a new hire could find themselves in the doghouse before they’ve even started. Ask confidently and tactfully, and an existing employee can tap their own well of goodwill and perform their jobs with gratitude instead of resentment.

Here are 5 questions that will orient your salary negotiation properly, so you can get what you want without damaging relationships:

1. New hires: “When are you looking for me to start?” This question is a bridge builder. It shows that the candidate is interested in the job, and it can begin the conversation on other asks the new hire may have. It is also a meaningful question in IT, where new hires are often brought in to plug a critical gap.

By signaling that starting at this company is even something you’re considering, you are generating goodwill and a willingness to work with them. Start here, before proceeding with any of your requests.

2. New hires: “Is there any flexibility on the salary?” This is about as softly as you can pose the question. That deft touch is critical in a new hire’s salary negotiation.

By asking if there is any flexibility on the salary, a new hire is essentially asking for permission to negotiate. It’s like dipping your toe into a pool before jumping in.

3. New hires should ask, “Is it possible to have X?” “X” can be any perk, such as a signing bonus, health/dental/vision insurance, paid parking, one day of remote working per week, laptop/phone preference, and other job benefits.

By phrasing the request as a question and using the word “possible,” you are asking very softly and you are also asking very broadly. In other words, if it’s not possible, this likely means that no one at the company has that perk.

4. Existing employees: “How can I help you more in your job?” Everyone needs more help at a company. By asking your boss how you can better serve them, you sound selfless rather than selfish. Ask if there are managerial roles you can fill. This is not only helpful for your boss, but it shows you are thinking like a leader.

Your success in obtaining a pay bump and a promotion shouldn’t be about you. Show that you are a team player, and show your service mentality in asking your boss what more you can do for them.

5. Existing employees: “What do you think is my most important contribution to the company?” By asking this question, you are essentially making your boss an advocate for you. Let them use their own words to remind themselves why you are so valued.

Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that if someone hears him or herself saying good things about another person, they will subconsciously align their internal thoughts to be consistent with their statements.

In the busy humdrum of the modern workplace, it is so easy to get caught up in demands rather than questions. By reframing an upcoming negotiation as an exercise in questioning and problem-solving, you are much more likely to build relationships, while getting more of what you want.

Hamilton Chan, Visiting Professor of Business & Technology and Director of Executive Education at Loyola Law School. Professor Chan teaches Negotiations to executives through Loyola Law School’s Executive Education program.