Are You Negotiating Your Starting Salary . . . Backwards?

By Stacy Pursell, CPC/CERS
The VET Recruiter®

Many times, the way that you approach a situation dictates what happens in that situation. If you approach the situation correctly, then you can expect a positive outcome, perhaps an even better outcome than you could have imagined.

This is often the case when it comes to negotiating your starting salary with a potential new employer. And believe it or not, this can happen before you even receive an offer of employment.

‘How much is the starting salary?’

You might be thinking to yourself, “How could I approach salary negotiations the wrong way if the employer hasn’t even made an offer of employment to me?” That’s a good question, and I have a good answer that explains exactly what I’m talking about.

Ideally, the actual negotiation stage of the hiring process does not begin until after the organization has made an offer of employment to a job candidate. So, for salary or salary negotiation to become a topic, someone has to bring the topic up before that stage of the process. The employer, of course, does not typically bring it up until they make an offer to a candidate. Which means that the candidate is the one who brings it up.

And once you bring up the topic of salary, you’ve started negotiating, whether you realize it or not. And the last thing you want to do is negotiate backwards. And once again, you might be thinking to yourself, “How can I negotiate backwards? That doesn’t make any sense.”

It does makes sense, and the best way to illustrate this is to relay a situation that I encounter on a consistent basis. It happens when I reach out to a professional about a career opportunity with one of my clients. I describe the position, the organization, and the opportunity in detail. (Remember, most candidates are passive in the market and not actively looking for a new position so, I usually reach out to that individual when I could have an opportunity, they could be a good fit for that may be better than the position they have now.) Even though they are intrigued by what I have to say, they may be hesitant to move forward since they have a good job now. Instead, they may ask a question:

“How much is the starting salary?”

When you ask this question, you’ve already started to negotiate the starting salary backwards, even thought it might not feel like you are. That’s because at that point, no one knows what the starting salary is going to be, and that includes the organization that is looking to hire. There is a simple reason why no one knows what the starting salary is going to be:

Because the starting salary for the position is ultimately determined by the amount of value that the employer believes the candidate will bring to the organization once, they are hired.

And if this is the first time that the candidate has heard about the position and the opportunity, then the employer could not possibly know how much value that candidate could bring to the organization. For the employer to know that, the candidate would have to be presented to the employer and the employer would have to interview the candidate. (Whether that’s an in-person interview or a virtual or video interview.)

This is what is meant by “negotiating backwards” in regard to your starting salary. It’s when you, as the candidate, is asking what the starting salary for the position is when:

  • You are the person most directly responsible for dictating the amount of the starting salary.
  • You have yet to meet the hiring manager or practice owner of the employer looking to hire.
  • You haven’t had the chance to prove your worth to the organization or convey the amount of value that you are able to offer.

I know what’s happening below the surface. Professionals ask this question because they want to know if the opportunity is worth their time before they decide to pursue it or not. However, the problem is that I, as the search consultant involved with the search, only know the salary range that the employer included with the original search parameters. Ultimately, I don’t know what the employer would be willing to pay in a starting salary if they encountered a truly exceptional candidate who they believe would bring an equally exceptional amount of value to the organization. I have often seen employers go beyond the range their originally provided because they believed the candidate brought more value to the organization. I have also seen employers offer a higher-level position to the candidate than originally discussed because they believed the candidate brought more value to the organization.

‘Tell me more’

The bottom line is when you’re presented with a career opportunity that may have the potential to be better than the job you have now and the first question you ask is how much the salary is, you’ve already started the salary negotiation process and you’re negotiating backwards. This is a reactive approach to the situation and not a proactive approach. I have long been an advocate of being proactive in regard to your Animal Health or Veterinary career, and that certainly includes being proactive when negotiating the starting salary with a possible new opportunity with another employer.

In that situation, don’t ask, “How much is the starting salary?” Instead, ask, “How can I learn more and why do you think I’m a good fit?” You’re not committing yourself to anything by hearing about the opportunity and learning more. You’re not promising to leave your current job. You’re not promising anything, actually, except the fact that you will consider the opportunity further to see if it could be a good fit.

Even if you explore the opportunity, you might decide that it’s not the right move for you. And that could be the case even if you receive an offer of employment from the organization. Just because you receive an offer does not mean that you have to accept the offer. You could decide to turn it down and stay with your current employer.

As a professional, it’s a good idea to practice communicating your worth and the value that you could bring to an organization. When you do that, you don’t have to chase more money. Instead, the money will chase you. And another way to be more proactive with your career is to align yourself with an Animal Health or Veterinary recruiter who has experience placing professionals just like you. They can keep you in mind as career opportunities come up that could be a good fit for you and help guide you through the hiring process, and more importantly, help you during the negotiation stage of the process.

That way, you can negotiate your starting salary in the proper fashion and receive a salary that is commensurate to the amount of value that you expect to bring to an organization.

If you’re looking to make a change or explore your employment options, then we want to talk with you. I encourage you to contact us or you can also create a profile and/or submit your resume for consideration.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1. By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2. By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.