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5 Steps to a Successful Executive Salary Negotiation

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As an executive-level professional, you already know that there’s no standard rate of pay for C-suite executive positions. While your potential new employer wants to bring in the best talent for the lowest possible cost, your own goal is to secure the highest base salary and benefits possible for your new role.

Enter the art of Executive Salary Negotiation.

In this article, we’ll review the different elements that you can (and often should) bargain for in your compensation negotiations, as well as the steps to take when negotiating your salary. Read on!

What is an Executive Compensation Package?

An executive compensation package involves everything given to you as compensation for your new executive role with an employer. For the most part, an executive compensation package includes three things:

  • Base salary: The reliable funds you receive on a standard basis, often in the form of a biweekly or monthly paycheck
  • Standard benefits: Such as health and vision insurance, paid time off, and 401k contributions
  • Fringe benefits: The less common benefits that you’ve negotiated into your compensation, such as industry association memberships, stock options, relocation stipends, etc.

While salary and standard benefits are fairly predictable, it’s the fringe benefits of your compensation package that often vary widely from one position or company to the next.

What to Negotiate in Your Executive Compensation Package

Fortunately, there are some components everyone should be looking for, regardless of employer and variations in the details. Here are some of the critical components in a viable package that signal its worth considering in a hiring process:

  • Core or base salary: This one is no surprise; the salary offered should be commensurate with the role and comparable to the industry for the same position and function offered in other companies, at least. Depending on the competitiveness of the market at the time, it could be higher than the average, which provides an up-front reward, making it the most important first component to negotiate.
  • Signing bonus: If you’re a highly sought after candidate, or the position is somewhat difficult to fill, it may be a prime opportunity to request a signing bonus to make the position more attractive to you, the candidate.
  • Stock options: In a close second to salary, stock options can potentially produce significant income, especially with new companies that become successful a few years later.
  • Relocation stipend: If you have to move to take the job—even if it’s just from one county to another—you can ask for a relocation stipend to help cover associated costs.
  • Performance incentives: Many executives negotiate performance-based incentive bonuses into their salaries. These bonuses establish departmental goals along with monetary bonuses based on meeting and/or exceeding them.
  • Paid time off: The potential new role likely already has a pre-determined amount of PTO included in the compensation package, but you can always ask for more time off.
  • Education incentives: In industries where ongoing education and certification matter, these career development costs should be covered in a related compensation package.
  • Travel/transportation stipends: With the extensive travel involved in many executive roles needing to be in multiple locations and client trips, travel is also a big expense that should be covered versus out-of-pocket.
  • Legal representation: Since an executive can be held personally responsible for the decisions he or she makes, professional legal protection is a must for many leadership roles.
  • Industry association memberships: Does the position come with coverage of your industry associations and affiliations? This can be quite expensive for senior executives when absorbed out of pocket otherwise but still needed to do the job.
  • Severance: Finally, because executive roles can change quickly with management, a severance package covering income needs for a certain length of time afterward may be worth including in your negotiations.

5 Steps for Negotiating an Executive Job Offer & Salary

Most successful negotiations involve knowing your targets, goals, and limitations well before entering the room for the discussion. With this homework in your pocket, whatever happens to be put on the table can then be effectively bargained for a result that could be close to or even exceed what you expected. Here’s how to do it:

1. Identify Your Salary Range & Must-Haves

You should always know three things when starting a salary negotiation: The posted salary range for the position at hand; the typical salary ranges for other professionals in this field and at this level; and your own salary requirements.

Consider what others in your field earn, along with the responsibilities of this position and your own experience and expertise. Think about any new job expenses you may take on, such as travel, association fees, specific professional clothing requirements, etc. Finally, craft your ideal salary range for the role, being sure not to undervalue yourself.

2. Review the Company’s Initial Offer

There’s a bit of poker involved with negotiation. Ideally, you want the employer to put their offer on the table first and then compare it with your own preferred range. If you put your limits on the table first, the employer will simply offer you the lowest that you’ve said you will accept. Instead, ask the employer for a first offer and work from there.

Once you have their offer, compare it with your salary range and benefit requirements, and make notes where differences occur. Consider whether the company is offering anything additional that is of value to you, and if you’d be willing to cut back on your own requirements for that reason.

3. Consider Your Experience & Make a Counter Offer

Next, think about the added value you bring to the company beyond what the job description is looking for. Consider any inside knowledge you may have from your experience that you can bring to the organization, as well as any of the costs you might take on by accepting the role. Quantify what these added costs and your experience is worth, and use it to bolster your argument for a higher base salary, a stronger commission rate, or additional perks.

This is where you do the work to sell yourself since the employer is already interested and engaged. Ideally, your counter offer would be framed in the same format as the company’s intial offer was presented, whether that was over the phone, via email, or otherwise. To present your counter offer, first thank your contact for the initial offer, then review your costs and added values. Finally, present the high end of the salary and compensation package you’d like to receive.

4. Engage in Negotiations

The most important thing to remember as you start your salary negotiations is that, this far in the process, the company you’re interviewing with has already shown that they want you. Negotiating for a higher salary is not going to cause them to decide otherwise.

Think of the salary negotiation process as a game. Each player takes a step toward the other until they both meet and shake hands ... but hopefully your hiring manager took bigger steps and is now standing on your side of the game board.

The back-and-forth nature of salary negotiation does rely on having strong negotiation skills—a trait that can be learned through practice. Luckily, there are several workshops and online courses you can take online if this would be helpful for you!

5. Review and Sign Your Compensation Plan in Writing

Once you and your new employer have agreed to a compensation package, there’s one final point to remember: Never settle and agree to a package based on discussion alone. Make sure all the details are put in writing, including sign-on bonus, salary and non-salary compensation. Every aspect should be detailed before you sign and commit to your new employment. And, with any documents the employer has you sign, be sure to secure a final copy showing both signatures for yourself.

The Bottom Line in Salary Negotiation Strategy

An executive compensation package involves a lot more than just a base salary. Crafting the right one happens with good research and homework, as well as strong negotiation based on your personal experience and added value. Planning properly will both impress a hiring manager as well as make it likely that the final package offered reflects your compensation needs better than the initial offer did.

If you’re open to a bit of professional advice, the executive recruitment team at TDS Global Solutions is happy to help. With more than 30 years in staffing and recruitment, we’re experts in placing qualified candidates in high-level positions that help advance their careers. Don’t go it alone on platforms like LinkedIn for a job search. Call us today to bring in the right help for your executive career search and the recruitment hiring process.

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