Negotiating and patience are keys to landing a fair IT salary

When negotiating your pay, do your research and muster your courage -- or you could earn thousands less than you're worth

More than half of IT professionals accept the first salary offer they receive from a new employer, though most organizations are ready and willing to negotiate, according to new data from Dice.

Making a reasonable counteroffer shouldn't cost you anything more than perhaps a bout of anxiety if you're not the haggling type. Forgoing negotiations entirely, however, could cost you thousands of dollars and valuable benefits -- as can not knowing your market value or accepting bad advice from recruiters who care more about their commissions than your financial well-being.

In a survey of 838 hiring managers and recruiters throughout the United States, Dice found that around 54 percent of new IT hires accept the first salary offer. However, Dice also found that 33 percent of hiring pros would up the ante on a frequent or very frequent basis. Another 49 percent said they increased offers "occasionally." Seventeen percent said they would rarely or very rarely negotiate, and just 1 percent said they'd never budge.

Just how much more you can get if you stand your ground varies, depending on such factors as the size and location of the company, the position, and your experience and skills. (Hint: Cloud, mobile, and business intelligence skills are in high demand.) The Dice survey found that around 40 percent of employers tagged 5 percent as the average amount they'd be willing to add to their initial offer. Thus, with the national average salary for technology professionals pegged at $85,619, "not haggling costs [new employees] $4,300 on average," according to Dice senior VP Tom Silver.

Silver cited other costs to employees as well: "Performance pay, like bonuses, is usually rewarded as a percentage of salaries, not to mention, the compounding effects over a long career."

Knowing your value in the market can help tremendously when negotiating for a new salary, a point expressed by Philadelphia-based systems admin Mark Marra in a blog post about his recent experiences haggling over compensation with a prospective employer through a pushy recruiter:

"You need to use sites like glassdoor.com and salary.com to know what your market value is for your area. Salaries in NYC and San Francisco will be significantly higher than those in Philadelphia or Boston. ... Make sure you're comparing apples to apples," Marra advised. "You also need to make sure you're comparing your total compensation. Benefits can add ten thousand dollars or more to your overall package when you count retirement and insurance contributions, tuition reimbursement, training and certification reimbursement, etc. Can you put a value of work from home or flex hours? Try. Don't say yes or no to a number until you have the total picture.

Thanks to his pre-negotiation research, Marra discovered that this prospective employer was offering him a salary that was $30,000 below his market value. When he pushed back, the company upped the offer by $5,000, plus a week's vacation and a reserved indoor parking space. When he turned that offer down, the company threw in another $6,000 plus two performance reviews for the first year, which may have resulted in additional raises. Still he refused. "I still passed. We were too far apart," Marra wrote.

All the while, he said the recruiter kept pressuring him to accept each offer. "[He] kept telling me how big of a mistake I was making. The reality is that he was watching his commission walk away and was trying to do something about it. He didn't care that the offer was still about $20,000 short of being fair," Marra wrote. "This is how you need to handle negotiations. Trust your gut. Don't trust your recruiter."

Ultimately, Marra landed a new job as a senior architect at a consulting firm. "It's a much better situation than what I turned down," he wrote. "It pays to be patient."

This story, "Negotiating and patience are keys to landing a fair IT salary," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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