It’s Time to Get Comfortable Talking About Compensation

Posted by Ashley Jones

Salary and compensation discussions can feel like walking into a trap—we’ve all heard the notion that whoever says a number first loses. But let’s put our fears of winning and losing aside and destigmatize salary discussions.

First, realize it’s a candidate’s market. If nothing else, let that give you a little extra courage to negotiate for the salary you’re worthy of. In this market, some candidates are throwing high figures out there to see what might stick. Bravo to those folks for having such confidence, but a better strategy is to do some research so you can understand and ask for your realistic market value. Consider the following tips to help you determine your value and negotiate like a pro.

Know Your Value

We’d all love to receive a big pay bump when changing jobs, but don’t just pick a dollar amount at random—do your research. You can set your compensation requirements at XYZ dollars, but does it fall within the industry going rate for your labor category? You don’t want to sell yourself short or price yourself out of a reasonable offer. So do some research to get a lay of the land and set your value appropriately.,, and LinkedIn all have salary and market data that can be useful. But these are only a starting point. Take the next step and network with others in your profession to gather more specific data. Geographic location and whether the job is onsite or remote may play a role in compensation too. Knowledge is power, and it will help you gain confidence to discuss your salary range with recruiters and hiring managers.

Examine the Offer

You’ll likely discuss salary ranges with recruiters at the start of the hiring process to make sure you’re in the same realm. (Note, if you agreed their range was satisfactory, or you shared your own range at the start, don’t suddenly ask for a much higher figure once you get to the offer stage—those ranges were discussed at the beginning to not waste time on something that’s not the right fit for both parties.) However, once you receive an offer, it’s time to start making some real decisions.

Ask for some time to review the offer and determine your next steps. You can accept the offer as is, decline, or opt to negotiate. In the current cleared employment environment you should often counter and ask for something, whether it’s salary or benefits. Employers often expect a negotiation so don’t be afraid to ask.

Keep in mind that companies operating in the government contracting world are often confined to a fairly tight pay band. In this case you may have better luck negotiating some of the benefits such as bonuses, healthcare, 401k contributions, tuition reimbursement, time off, stock, telecommuting options, sign-on bonuses, and more.

Salary and benefits combine to form your total compensation, so don’t immediately discount an offer if the base pay is lower than you’re seeking. For example, if they’re offering full coverage healthcare for you and your family, that alone could be worth thousands of dollars. Consider the whole package and you may find some valuable benefits that balance the scales.

Plan Your Negotiation

If you’re going to counter your offer, consider one to two critical changes you want to ask for—not a long list. You must be clear on what you want and what you’re willing to accept before you start negotiating. Perhaps you’re looking for an extra $10K base pay or a different title.

If they say no, what’s your backup plan? While you’re only asking for one or two changes to the offer, you should have alternative options in mind. If they won’t increase the salary, can they give you a pay review after your first three months on the job, or give you an extra week of PTO instead? Think about your plan B ahead of time so that you can offer alternatives during your negotiation.

While you’re planning your negotiation, ask yourself if this is really a good match. If you want to change a lot of the offer, the job at hand may not suit your needs. Or if you realize you simply don’t want the job, decline the offer. Don’t waste anyone’s time with unnecessary negotiations. Instead, thank them for their time and politely decline.

Make the Ask

Once you’ve determined what changes to the offer you’d like to see, it’s time to call the hiring manager. Make sure you do this within the timeframe you agreed upon to review the offer. Be sure to keep the conversation positive, thank them for the offer, and convey what you love about the company—also addressing what your concerns are with the offer.

Balance is key here. You’re not giving an ultimatum. You’re asking for the specific changes you would like to see, supported with business reasons based on your value. For instance, as you understand the scope of the role, you would want A and/or B to do the job. You want them to see the confidence you have in your value and see why your request is reasonable.

Once you’ve shared the changes to the offer you’re looking for, stop and let them talk. You’ve come prepared with alternative options, but don’t share them just yet. See how they respond before showing all your cards. They may be able to give you an answer on the spot, but in some cases they’ll need time to confer with others involved in the decision making process. If they can’t meet your initial request, you can offer alternatives at this point—they might have some for you to consider too.

Give Your Decision

Research and plan in advance, bring one to two changes to the table, and have good reasons to justify your changes. The outcome of your negotiations will greatly benefit by taking these steps. When your negotiations pan out successfully, be ready to accept the revised offer quickly. But if the negotiation doesn’t produce the results you had hoped for, think back to what you determined you are willing to accept. Other factors like work/life balance, company culture, and opportunities for career growth may be enough to say yes even when other factors don’t come to fruition.

Fielding job offers and talking about money can be intimidating, but if you thoroughly prepare in advance many of those fears will subside. So set yourself up for success and bring your most confident, cool, and collected professional self to the negotiation table.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 10:10 am

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