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Negotiating Starting Salaries: How to get your money’s worth

Katja Mayer 04.07.2016
“How much do you expect to get paid?” Questions like this are bound to come up during a job interview – and can make some applicants feel slightly uncomfortable. Because answering this question means having to show your true colors and quantifying your own value. But it also means: salaries are negotiable. 

In order to be able to get the most out of it, you need to be professional. Ultimately, the person sitting across of you is definitely a pro – a professional negotiator. The way to impress him (or her) is by leveling the playing field and negotiating as an equal. Show him that you are well aware of the standards of your industry and know your market value. Confidence and self-assurance can ensure an up to 20% higher starting salary than if you were unprepared.

Lay down the ground rules

Professionell und souverän auftreten bei der Gehaltsverhandlung

To negotiate successfully, you must clarify in advance, how much money you can actually ask for. This is determined by your (future) profession and your industry. Similar jobs have remunerations that differ by a few thousand Euros annually. The same applies for different positions in the same industry.

Naturally, there are also regional differences in salary. You can demand a higher salary in Baden-Württemberg than in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In big cities, higher salaries compensate for proportionally higher living costs. Sometimes, medium-sized firms pay more than the big firms. The big companies consider their reputation alone to be a kind of currency, and thus may hold back significantly on salary.

On the other hand, it is the big companies that hold the financial potential to pay much higher salaries later on. And certain companies in economically weak areas pay extra attention to monetary compensation to attract the best talent.

For more detailed information about starting salaries, visit the annual Salary Report 2102 by Alma Mater (only available in German). Apart from that, you should look up company assessment platforms, for real examples of salary benchmarks at companies. These platforms give you a good insight into the company too.

Gather your arguments

For the actual negotiation you should put together a few arguments. Three factors determine how aggressively you can negotiate your terms:

  1. Hit rate: The amount of salary you can demand is directly proportional to the amount of the desired qualifications you possess. If you bring more than the desired qualifications stated on the job ad, you can negotiate at the upper limit of the salary range.
  2. Experience: The more experience you were able to gather before starting your professional career, the better your chances at a higher salary. Relevant internships or honorary appointments can be very helpful in cinching the deal.
  3. Exclusivity: If you compare yourself to your colleagues, you will notice a few points like exclusive capabilities that differentiate you from them. Having a positive USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is important and increases your chances.

Paying attention to the recruiter you are negotiating with will give you important insights and hints about your own USP: What feature on your CV did the recruiter find most impressive? Is it safe to assume that your experience holds real value for the recruiter? If yes, you can be bolder in your negotiations. It is crucial that you clearly represent yourself and everything that sets you apart during the interview. The better you are at communicating your plus-points (see 3. above), the more the job holds in store for you. Self-confidence is essential. Self-assurance tends to leave a very good impression with the recruiters – and opens the door to higher salaries.

Fix a strategy

Before starting the entire process of job interviews you should clarify for yourself, how much you would like to earn. And to allow room for negotiation without making a big loss, make sure your initial offer is set higher.

As long as you remain within a set range, you don’t need to worry: failure to close a contract is rarely due to a demand of a few more hundred Euros. Recruiters are most influenced by your qualifications, and only after that does salary assume importance. Remaining within a “set range” means your demand should be neither more nor less than 20% of the industry average.

Now you’re safe to take the initiative during negotiations. The recommended strategy of not bringing up the subject of salary yourself and waiting for the recruiter’s initial offer instead could turn into a trap. If the firm doesn’t make the first offer, there’s no opportunity to go beyond it and you are forced to accept the figure in the contract.

Ablauf einer Gehaltsverhandlung

Ideally, you should ask the recruiter how much the company is willing to pay towards the end of the interview. This way you lead the conversation and the recruiter responds. If the recruiter doesn’t respond, you should insist and then compare the offer to the figure that you had fixed for yourself in advance. If the two figures coincide – you should accept the offer and if not – let the negotiations begin!

Alternatively, you could lay down your own demand first – and wait for the recruiter’s reaction. Here, you will probably face some resistance (if you don’t – your offer was probably too low…), so don’t be discouraged by the reaction.

If your demands are not met, don’t start backtracking. Just calmly state the reasons that justify your demand. Naturally, the recruiter will communicate his own justifications for his lower offer. By trying to refuting his claims, you can gradually approach a figure that satisfies your own expectations.

In the best case scenario, you should accept some of the recruiter’s demands, in exchange for fulfillment of a part of your demands. This way both parties come out winners. If the company is absolutely not willing to meet your demand, you could try to negotiate other forms of compensation. This could include success fee, employee discounts or travel allowance.

Alternatively you could also try to squeeze out other perks and bonuses, which could be non-monetary in nature: For example, flexible working hours or home office. This flexibility compensates for a few Euros lost in your negotiations – but your complaisance in this case may be a plus-point during future salary negotiations.

Reading Tip: 
Read more in the article in UNICUM BERUF "Über Geld spricht man", bringing you insights right from our loft in Berlin!

Editor: Katja Mayer in collaboration with the Karrierebibe