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How to negotiate a higher salary during the recruitment process

Published on Saturday, 14 Dec 2019

In Hong Kong’s skills short market, skilled job candidates are in a strong position to negotiate a higher salary package. Here’s how it can be done as part of the recruitment process.

No matter how promising an opportunity may be, salary is always a major trigger in accepting a role. So it makes sense to take steps to that be sure that you’re comfortable with your starting salary. Heading into a new role feeling that you are being fairly compensated can have a major impact on job satisfaction.

The good news for job seekers is that Hong Kong’s ongoing skills shortage, is putting top candidates firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to salary negotiations. Research by Robert Half confirms that nearly one in two (48%) Hong Kong business leaders are using higher salaries to attract top talent. In addition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is driving Hong Kong companies to increase headcount, and more than a quarter of Hong Kong CFOs see this as a key factor behind increased salaries and expanded hiring budgets.

The upshot is that if you don't raise the possibility of a higher salary, you could be leaving money on the table, especially if you have specialist or in-demand competencies.

The key is to know how — and when — to broach the issue of salary, and importantly, to have a realistic idea of your value in the market.

Here are seven steps to follow to negotiate a better compensation package.

Understand industry salary trends

When it comes to conversations around salary, information is your best ally. And that means undertaking some background research.

You need to be able to justify any figures you put forward to a hiring manager, and basing your salary proposals on credible data will lend weight to your negotiations.

Consulting annual Salary Guides is an easy way to tap into up-to-date details about current salary levels for your role, industry and geographic region.

Choose your timing with care

Armed with the latest salary information, the next step is to consider when to broach the issue of compensation.

You don’t want to create the impression that salary is your main motivator. So it can pay to wait until you are confident that you are right for the role — and that the company is right for you. Holding off until the second or third interview can make sense. By this stage you can be reasonably confident that the company is interested in you, giving you more bargaining power.

An ideal time to introduce conversations around salary is when the hiring manager indicates that the company would like to make an offer. At this point you can open discussions by asking questions around benefits and other compensation.

At all stages of the hiring process, let your enthusiasm for the role shine through. Employers want to know that you are really keen to be part of their team, and enthusiasm can stand you in good stead when it comes to salary negotiations.

Provide a specific figure

When a hiring manager asks about your expected salary, it can be tempting to provide a range of figures. After all, you don’t know what sort of package other candidates will be pitching for. Suggesting a range can seem like a way of hedging your bets without pricing yourself out of the opportunity.

However, it’s a strategy that can backfire. If you say you’re looking for between $350,000 and $400,000, chances are you’ll be offered $350,000.

A better approach is to state your baseline figure — the lowest salary you’ll accept without walking away from the role. Alternatively, suggest a narrow range.

This is where your earlier salary research becomes indispensable. It lets you discuss salary levels with confidence, knowing that the figures you suggest are in the market ballpark.

Be prepared to negotiate

If the company offers a salary that doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s okay to request additional compensation.

Be prepared to negotiate. Frame your request in a way that reinforces your abilities and career experience.

Resist the urge to bluff

In Hong Kong’s job market, where in-demand professionals may often be considering multiple offers, companies know they need to build some flexibility into their salary ranges.

But no matter how eager you are to secure a higher salary, resist the urge to exaggerate either your current salary or any job offers you’ve had from other firms.

Misleading a hiring manager is a poor way to begin a role, and there is always the risk of being found out. You’re likely to have far more leverage by emphasising the value you can bring to the role rather than by bluffing your way to a higher salary.

Think beyond the pay packet

Just as you set a baseline salary of your own, employers will typically set an upper limit on the salary they will offer. There can be good reasons why a hiring manager is reluctant to overstep this benchmark even for an outstanding candidate. A new start-up for instance simply may not have the current resources to agree to a higher salary.

This is when it’s worth taking a holistic view of what’s on offer rather than concentrating on salary.

Many Hong Kong companies are diversifying their incentives to offer a more balanced lifestyle. Along with a higher salary, remote working and flexible working arrangements are the top three initiatives Hong Kong business leaders are using to attract top talent, and non-monetary and lifestyle benefits are often tailored to the individual employee’s needs.

Bear in mind too, the role may offer intangible benefits. Opportunities to learn and grow with the company for instance, can compensate for a lower starting salary.

Formalise it in ink

Once you and the hiring manager have agreed on your starting salary and overall package, be sure to note down was agreed upon as soon as you leave the interview. This is especially important if you are applying for a variety of positions with different companies.

Before accepting a job offer, make sure that have an offer in writing that clearly states your starting salary. Cross-check this with your own notes to be sure the figure, plus any other benefits that were discussed, are accurate. It’s never a good idea to formally accept a job offer without seeing it in writing, more so if there has been some to-and-fro over your salary.

Putting in a little extra time during the recruitment process is the key to earning your preferred starting salary. Any niggling doubts about compensation can quickly snowball into dissatisfaction and resentment, and that can see you once again looking for a new position not long after you’ve just got started.

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