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    Boost Your Compensation Using the SMPS Salary Survey: An Interview with Ching Valdezco

    If you’re anything like me, negotiating for a better salary or benefits is at best intimidating and at worst impossible. Even when you know that you’re worth more than what you’re being offered, negotiation can still be a daunting task.

    Thanks to the SMPS SFBAC 2018 Salary Survey, we now have the market data to support our negotiation goals, but some of us might still be asking how we can use the data successfully. Enter Ching Valdezco, consultant at Exec-Comm and communication coach focused on helping professionals successfully nail the negotiation conversation.

    Following her SMPS workshop on Negotiating to Win: Six Steps to Successful Negotiations, we caught up with her again to pick her brain on how to effectively use the 2018 SMPS SFBAC Salary Survey during negotiations.

    SMPS: For those of us who missed your workshop on negotiating to win, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
    I help people learn how to communicate, influence, and negotiate more effectively. My colleagues and I train leaders and their teams to help them get better results and strengthen their relationships. I’ve led teams for over 15 years, so I’ve been on both sides: as an employee negotiating new roles, and as a manager coaching my team with their careers.

    What about the salary survey makes it so valuable for a salary negotiation?
    The salary survey gives people confidence that they’re asking for a fair compensation package. Many times, we second-guess ourselves. We think, “I couldn’t possibly ask for this much” and we worry employers will think we’re overreaching. Market data gives us the confidence to ask for what we’re worth.

    At what point in the negotiation should I introduce the survey with the hiring manager?
    You have the most leverage when the company has said they want you, and you haven’t yet said yes. That’s the best time to discuss salary or negotiate your package.

    Ask the company to share their offer first. This keeps you from accidentally lowballing yourself. Another approach is to ask them, “What’s your salary range for this position?” In California, the law requires employers to share the pay range for the job, if you request it. Then you’ll be in a better position to share your pay expectations or make a counter-offer.

    What’s the best way to communicate the survey’s data without seeming like I’m just throwing numbers out of nowhere?
    Put it in the context of your conversation with them about their salary range. When they ask about your pay expectations, you might let them know that one factor you considered was current market data. If they ask more, you can explain about SMPS and the salary survey. Then ask a question to put the ball back in their court.

    One example might be to say, “One of our industry organizations recently conducted a salary survey of Bay Area marketing professionals. Tell me more about your planning process; how did you determine your range for this position?”

    What are key data points I should focus on?
    Key data points vary depending on what you want and what your counterpart is able to offer – and the other way around. Find data points in the survey related to what’s important to you. For example, if the salary survey shows typical compensation for a marketing director ranges from $X to $Y, and the company proposes a salary well below that range, it’s often helpful to ask the company what’s driving their initial thinking.

    The list of benefits is also helpful. These give you ideas of what to ask for beyond just salary. What kind of 401k match does the company provide? How do they handle overtime? Will they pay for professional development classes or conferences? You don’t have to say, “I saw these benefits in the salary survey,” but you might ask, “What kind of professional development support do you provide to your employees?”

    What mistakes should I avoid when negotiating with the survey?
    One common mistake is throwing out a figure too soon. Most of the time, you don’t know what the company’s target range is when you start the conversation. How do you know what your work is worth to this company

    When you give a figure first and it’s too low, you risk undervaluing yourself – especially if you were underpaid in your previous job. If your figure is perceived as too high, you risk someone screening you out right away without fully understanding the value you bring. If you get the right person to understand what you can do for the company, they might be able to raise the job level or increase the salary. So, learn everything you can about the company’s range before you state a figure.

    What would be an appropriate way to avoid giving that number too early if they do ask directly?
    Remember that you have the most leverage after they’ve decided they want you. If a recruiter opens the conversation by asking what salary you want, you might say something like, “I’m confident that as we get further into the process, we’ll be able to come to a number that works well for both of us. Before we go into that, I’d like to make sure I’m the right fit for the job – and that the job is the right fit for me.” Then ask a question to pivot the conversation: “Tell me more about the responsibilities of this role…” This turns the focus back to whether you’re the right candidate, and lets you showcase your strengths. You want the company to have a solid picture of the value of hiring you, before you talk about compensation.

    California law bars employers from asking about your past or current salary. All they can do is ask about your pay expectations for the role. And remember that they’re required to tell you the pay range for the job, if you ask.

    So, if the recruiter insists on getting your salary expectations, then you might say, “I appreciate that you want to make sure we have a potential for a good fit, and I don’t want to waste your time or my time if our expectations are too far apart. What’s the salary range for the role?” Just ask them the question, and then the ball is in their court to answer.

    Any final tips about how to use the survey in a negotiation?
    Confidence helps a lot. So, do your homework, look at the survey, and get advice from peers or SMPS members who hire people for the roles you want. The more you prepare, the more confident you’ll be, and that confidence shows through to the hiring manager.

    Another helpful tip, which we discussed in our Negotiations workshop, is to know your ‘currencies.’ Your ‘currencies’ are things that you can ask for or things that you might offer. Brainstorm a list of benefits you might want, like working from home, training funds, or more vacation days. The longer your list of things you might want, the bigger the chance that you and the hiring manager will be able to find common ground. Maybe they can’t increase your salary, but they’ll offer to pay for you to get a master’s degree – what’s that worth to you?

    Finally – practice. Practice your negotiation skills, and use what you learned in the workshop. Don’t let that dream job interview be the first time you try these techniques.

    If you’d like to learn more, or if you’re looking for hands-on classes to help you negotiate confidently, I’m always happy to help – reach out to me at

    Rachel Stainton is the Content Marketing Specialist for Northland Controls, a global physical security integrator. She writes for the SMPS SFBAC Shortlist and is a member of the Communications Committee. Visit Northland’s blog.

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