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Smart Salary Negotiation Techniques for Bilingual Professionals

For many bilingual professionals, salary negotiation can be the most intimidating part of the employment search process. It can be even more nerve-wracking if you happen to be a foreign professional who is unsure about the “rules” of salary negotiation in the United States.

While it may feel like an uncomfortable situation, U.S. employers are prepared for potential hires to negotiate compensation. However, says Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez, associate professor of psychology at Utah State University, people often have the tendency to be grateful for that first offer and fail to negotiate. But giving in to that impulse could be costly.

Just ask Marta, a Latina professional working in the insurance industry. She never negotiated her salary in her previous position.

“I didn’t want anything to ruin my chances of getting hired. Later I found out that I was making less than [my coworkers].” When it came time to interview for her latest job, Marta came prepared to negotiate. “I realized it wasn’t about being greedy, but about earning what I knew I was worth.”

By using some simple negotiating techniques, you too can increase your annual salary.

1. Research your Market Value
Before your interview, gather information about the current market value for similar positions:

  • Do you know someone who works at the company? Current employees can give you insight about salary.
  • Reach out to colleagues in the same field for information on pay ranges.
  • Check comparison websites like Salary.com that allow you to search salary ranges by profession and location.
  • Review salary information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Remember, many companies pay a premium for bilingual employees. Depending on the industry, you could earn as much as 20 percent more than colleagues who don’t speak Spanish or other in-demand languages.

2. Never Be the First One to Discuss Salary
During the interview process, always let the employer be the one to bring up compensation. If you broach the subject first, you risk looking as though you’re more interested in your paycheck than the job itself. And once the salary discussion is on the table, always let the employer name a figure first.

If you propose an amount before hearing the employer’s offer, you could price yourself well below what they were willing to pay. As Ann Marie Sabath, author of One MinuteManners: Quick Answers to the Most Awkward Situations You’ll Ever Face at Work, puts it, “He who speaks first loses”.

3. Once you hear their initial offer, stay silent
When the employer does propose a salary amount, you shouldn’t rush to respond. Stay silent for a little while, with a thoughtful look on your face. This simple tactic lets the employer know you’re not overly enthusiastic about the offer. Don’t say yes or no at this point, but move on to Step four.

4. Consider (and Negotiate!) Other Types of Compensation
Ask about other aspects of the offer such as medical and life insurance, 401K plans, vacation time, moving expenses, flex time, and other benefits. These extras may effectively increase your compensation, or they can be used as additional points of negotiation later.

5. Take Time to Think
You shouldn’t feel pressured to accept or decline an offer on the spot. Thank the recruiter for the offer and request a day or two to consider it. As Domenech-Rodriguez points out, “it’s important to disengage from the moment” and remove yourself from the emotion of the interview process.

6. Ask for More than You Expect to Get
Negotiators around the world know the concept of meeting in the middle. By asking for a higher salary initially, you are creating a situation where both parties are able to give up something and still win.

It’s always best to negotiate in person, so make an appointment to meet with the company representative. Briefly, remind them:

  • That you are excited about the opportunity
  • How you plan on contributing to their success
  • The special skills you will bring, including bilingualism or biculturalism

You are then ready to make your counter-offer. Although you will be asking for more than you actually expect, make sure that the amount is within the realm of possibility based on your market research.
You might say: “Based on my research and my understanding of the position’s requirements, I think an appropriate salary would be somewhere in the range of ‘$X to $Y’.”

If you have another offer on the table, it’s okay to mention it, as long as you are tactful (never pretend that you have other offers if you don’t).
You might say: “I currently have another offer for $X, but I am very excited about the professional opportunities that your company has to offer. I would love to join your team if we can get closer to that compensation.”

If you’ve gauged the market accurately, the employer should suggest a “meet in the middle” figure or at least improve their initial offer. In cases where the salary figure is firm, suggest additional perks or benefits that would make the offer more appealing to you.

7. Get it in Writing
Once you’ve come to an understanding, your last step is to make sure the company provides a written employment agreement covering not just salary but all the points you negotiated. If you agreed to revisit salary after a probationary period, get that in writing as well. Don’t skip this step: the person you negotiated with could leave the company or later forget exactly what they verbally agreed to.

Congratulations — you just negotiated your way to a higher salary!

Eric Shannon


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