Salary Negotiation Tips You Need to Know: How “Show Me the Money!” Could Show You the Door

Show me the moneyI hope that you are enjoying the beginning of summer!  As I mentioned in last month's column, I spent the spring traveling around the country attending events and speaking at conferences.  One of the conferences at which I spoke was the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium's (CLOC) 2nd annual Institute in Las Vegas in May (www.cloc.org).

At CLOC, my session was a dialogue on the topic of “Salary Negotiations for Legal Ops: Insider Tips on How to Successfully Negotiate" with my Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) colleague Mark Yacano. Mark leads MLA's Managed Legal Services practice group, and advises law departments on the delivery of legal services.

Following our presentation at the CLOC Institute, Mark and I prepared the following top ten list of salary negotiation tips for legal operations professionals. Since these tips apply equally to in-house counsel, I am sharing them with you here:

1. Prepare from the beginning for a successful outcome by being self-aware about what you're seeking and bringing to the table. Take time to consider why you're interested in the job. Are you looking for more money? Greater challenges? A better work culture, improved life circumstances or more room for growth? The "why" is a major factor in what success looks like when you negotiate your salary. Use it to determine your requirements in terms of money, benefits and location as well as the bigger developmental goal(s) you'd like to achieve in the position. It's also important to identify what you'll bring to the company by mapping out your skill set, past successes and history of meeting new challenges.

2. Context is key to negotiating intelligently.  Go in knowing what your peers are generally paid and what the industry benchmarks are for executive and non-executive pay in your vertical.  Be sure that you're also equipped with a broad understanding of the company's particular compensation structure and culture.

3. Start talking compensation with the right people at the right time. How you discuss compensation in interviews will shape their perception of you as a candidate. Don't come across as a mercenary. Ask for directional guidance on the company's compensation structure—if the parameters are right, shift your focus to the culture and contours of the position.  If you have a recruiter, leverage them for insights, but avoid discussing salary requirements during interviews with potential peers or direct reports.

4. Approach negotiations with the right attitude.  Salary negotiations shouldn't be treated as a strictly commercial transaction, win-or-lose proposition or tactic to gain leverage over your current employer.  If you view them as a recognition of the value you will bring to the organization and vice versa, they're an opportunity to show firmness and purpose in a positive way.

5. Secure a formal offer letter prior to any negotiations.  If you both agree to move forward, ask them to put together an offer letter with all the specifics and essential terms.  Be honest about your compensation history if they inquire. If they ask about your salary expectations, indicate that you want to be fairly compensated within the framework of their compensation structure. After your initial discussion, send an email to confirm the substance of your conversation and next steps. Be sure to express your enthusiasm for the role and indicate that you're looking forward to getting a formal offer.

6. Think through the offer letter carefully before responding. Discuss its contents with your recruiter and/or a trusted advisor. Highlight the terms you agree with in one color, areas of disagreement in another, and points to clarify with a third.  Outline your "Asks and Questions" in advance of arranging a call to discuss the offer. Try to limit yourself to one or two asks.

7. When it comes to talking money, make requests fact-based. Use your homework to negotiate on base salary, explaining your required figure and the rationale behind it.  The same goes for bonuses—give circumstance-driven reasons behind your request, such as moving expenses, lost stock options, etc.

8. Come to an agreement as quickly as possible while ensuring there's a process in place for revisiting tabled issues. Avoid "One More Thing Syndrome." Decide which terms are most critical, and signal that you're ready to commit if they meet them. Often, the prospect of closure creates the framework for accommodation. If some of your terms aren't met, ask for an agreement in writing to address any open issues, for instance, during a six-month performance review.

9. Protect your brand. Remember that how you handle negotiations will pave the way for how you're welcomed aboard. Hard-nosed dealings might get you more dollars, but they may also give rise to hard feelings. Set the right tone by being gracious, professional and rational from the start.

10. Flip at your own peril. People who enter negotiations in bad faith, using offers simply to get more money out of their current employer, generally don't last much longer. Be wary of creating institutional mistrust that can not only sour your current position but also damage your overall reputation and future career prospects.

There you have it!  Remember: salary negotiations occur at a very vulnerable time in a professional relationship, where both sides have demonstrated interest, but the final commitment has not yet been made. If mishandled, the professional consequences can be severe. Be smart and strategic in this business communication as in all others. As the old saying goes, "pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered." Too hard a push for a potential short term gain can lead to big long term losses in reputation and opportunities, within your company, in the industry – and with recruiters. I know more than one in-house counsel candidate whose lack of deft handling of salary negotiations led to the job offer being rescinded entirely, which did not reflect well on the candidates and did nothing good for their reputations. You should definitely try to get a fair salary deal, and you almost certainly will if you are thoughtful, measured and informed in your approach. Don't let a "Show Me the Money!"; attitude lead to your dream job showing you the door.

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This feature originally appeared on In the House,' June 21, 2017. "Real Talk" is a monthly column focusing on career-development issues for in-house counsel.

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Sonya SomSonya Som is partner in Major Lindsey & Africa's Chicago/ Midwest office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking, business development and marketing initiatives for our In-House Practice Group team throughout the Midwest.

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