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Salary Negotiation 101 with Marjorie Kalomeris

A live interview with onomy and Marjorie Kalomeris, founder of MKcareercoaching, discussing salary negotiation.

Marjorie Kalomeris

onomy.co x Marjorie Kalomeris

Marjorie Kalomeris is an interview and career coach with a strong background in recruiting. Currently the founder of MKcareercoaching, Marjorie has had past experience working in senior roles at LinkedIn and HubSpot.

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onomy: Welcome back, Marjorie! Can you run through what the basic structure of compensation is?

Marjorie: It really depends on the company that you are interviewing with. I think some people just think of it as being base salary only, and that’s all that goes into your compensation, but there really is so much more. The key is really to ask the company that you’re interviewing with, what is the structure for you? It can look like base salary and bonus, if it’s maybe a client facing role or more of a sales based position. There could be a commission structure — that gets a bit more complex — and then there could be equity or options involved as well. Depends on whether it’s a private or public company, so there could be so many components to it and not to mention benefits in perk. That’s a whole other category of negotiation.

onomy: What are some of the levers that you might be able to use to negotiate your salary and your compensation?

Marjorie: It depends — for some people it’s flexible working hours or maybe they’re working, part-time not full-time. For other people maybe they’re taking a course, an external course outside of their day job, something that will help advance them in their career, getting the company to partially sponsor you to do an external course or certification. That could be another great benefit. I know some companies have mental health stipends, wellness stipends, education stipends, things like that, that really at the end of the day are money in your pocket. And really you can add on to your compensation as well.

onomy: Generally, would you say that salary is something that you can negotiate, whereas say your health care package might be something that’s completely fixed?

Yeah, absolutely. Some things are more company wide and policies, whereas with salary, there’s typically a range and that your skills have to match up with a certain level within. But that’s where you’re going to have more room, whereas something like a bonus could be fixed for the company or for your level. And you might not be able to negotiate that as much. But there might be a sign-on bonus potential. So it really depends on which levers are fixed for each company and which aren’t because every company is very different on what they can and can’t do in terms of flexibility. I would just say don’t take it personally. 

When is that even appropriate to ask if signing bonus is an option? Could it be in your first job ever? Or later, in the second or third job?

It really doesn’t have to do with the number of job, if it’s your first job, if it’s your third or fifth job. It really has more to do with the culture of the company, and if they offer sign-on bonuses. Some do, they offer you a bonus to kind of incentivize you to sign sooner or to pull out of your other interview processes or things like that. But it doesn’t really matter, it could be your first job. It could be your 10th job. It could be somewhere in between. But some companies just don’t offer that and some do. Also, it’s a one time thing because it has an impact on your year one compensation, but then it doesn’t roll over after that. Whereas base salary, it of course builds on itself over time and compounds over time. So you really want to make sure that you are focusing on base salary versus a sign-on bonus, if you do have to focus your efforts in one place over the other.

onomy: What about equity? How should you be thinking of that in comparison to just your regular salary?

Marjorie: Yeah, sure. Well, I would say with any company that is hiring, going to market externally, equity is usually going to be a huge part of their package, if that’s something that’s going to be enticing to people, they’ll let you know. So it’s not really going to be like a secret thing that you’re going to have to really ask about usually.

If they offer it, they offer it, if they don’t, they don’t. But I would keep in mind, especially with private companies, it’s not public yet. So it’s not a publicly traded company yet. And I wouldn’t really factor anything you get in terms of options, things like that into your compensation too heavily. Of course there’s short versus long term risk and reward and you want to take that into account and it can be super exciting to be building something and part of something that could have a really huge impact in the future. But it’s not your base salary. It’s not going to come into your paycheck every month. So I would just be aware of that as well.

onomy: How much leverage do you have for a first job versus, say, a third job? Are there cultures of companies where if you try to negotiate, they could rescind their offer altogether?

In terms of leverage of your first job versus your third. Again, it’s not really a question of your first or your third. You should be negotiating for every single job offer you get. It’s a best practice and something I offer, as a suggestion, as a career coach to my clients. What matters more is the other offers that you have at that point in time, I would say the job market is changing so quickly. It looks drastically different right now than it did even a year ago. We’ve been in a pandemic this whole time and it can change so quickly depending on market conditions and it can be so volatile. So I think it depends: at a single point in time, what other offers do you have? 

It’s a good way for you to do some research for yourself as well, to understand your market compensation across a few different companies, if you’re doing a full job search also. And the question about how often do employers rescind offers? I would say this is not a very common practice at all. And if you are a company that’s rescinding offers to candidates, often something is broken in your process. And you’re perhaps not finding the right people or asking the right interview questions to know if they’re your people or not. 

So I would not be afraid of a potential offer being rescinded. I would say with negotiation, it’s less about what you say and more about how you say it. I see a lot of people kind of like coming out really aggressive or combative at a negotiation at the final stage in the process and that’s not at all how successful negotiations go. 

Are there any good resources that you would suggest to understand where you might sit in comparison to the rest of the market when you’re going through these negotiations?

I would say a lot of people turn to online sources, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, things like that. And while I think they’re always great tools to support, that’s not really good data to bring to a company and say, look, I’ve done my research because it’s not live data of a live role. It’s just so scattered. It’s across geographies. It’s across levels. It’s not going to give you the really rigorous data that you need to understand your own market worth. So I always advocate for making sure that in your interview search, that you’re getting a good sense of the ranges to make sure you’re not way above or below. And if you are, maybe there’s an issue with levels or even the role you’re going for specifically, but usually it’s the level, the title, things like that.

And also it can differ pretty drastically based on the size of the company. So to get a good idea, usually you’re interviewing at companies that are typically roughly the same size and roughly in the same industry to give you a good indication of what your market rate is. But I would say, don’t just do a quick Google search and call it a day because it’s not going to be accurate. Unless you’re really speaking to people in this role and asking them their salary, or you’re working with recruiters that are telling you this data.

onomy: Who is the right person to ask, and at what point of the process should one understand what that range is?

Marjorie: I get this question a lot from people saying, okay, but when we get to the end and we do our negotiations, what do I do? And I’m like, no, no, no, you’ve been negotiating since the first call, without you even knowing it. So really the recruiter is going to be a huge source of truth. I think people really underestimate just how much a recruiter can help you through your interview process. My background is in recruiting, I’m a recruiter, so I know how much we can really help our candidates through. And we want to, we want to give you as much information as we can. 

And on the first call, that’s really, when you’ll be asked by a recruiter, what are your salary expectations? We want you to have a good idea of your own market worth, and it’s really not to kind of like trick anyone, but really just get a sense of what people want, what they’re looking for, what they’re going to accept because at the end of the day, recruiters all want you to accept their offer and make sure that it’s not going to be a waste of their time, a waste of your time, et cetera.

So that’s always going to be a good source of truth to get a sense of, how what you want falls within their range, what is their range? A lot of recruiters will willingly give this information to you. So it’s really all about helping them be your advocate. And then I would also say another good source is people who are in the role already. If they’re willing to share salary information, which I think of these days, a lot of people are. There’s a huge push towards compensation transparency, even within companies as well to make sure that even pay is being given across all backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, et cetera. 

I think it’s always a great idea to ask other people who are in the role that you want to be in. Maybe if you’re doing an informational interview or something and it makes sense and you have that relationship with the person. But the recruiter is going to be the number one source of information for you as a job seeker.

Confidence is really important and understanding kind of what you’re bringing to the table. How do you think it figures in determining whether a certain role is right for you from a compensation perspective?

Confidence is like a muscle. It takes time to build up the confidence to run successful salary negotiations. I think a lot of it is really just building that relationship with the people you’re interviewing and especially with the recruiter and asking them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice; be like, how does this sound? Am I way lowballing myself? Does this sound accurate based on what you’re hearing from other candidates? They’re really a wealth of information and can tell you a lot about your worth in the market at this point in time.

What are some common pitfalls that we should avoid when negotiating salary?

Marjorie: As a recruiter, I’ve seen people acting like they don’t really want the job. Like not acting enthusiastic at all, trying to play it cool. It totally backfires. You want to have other things in the pipeline as a candidate, but you don’t want to act like you could care less about this job because I’ve seen that really affect a candidate’s chances. It can even affect their chances of getting an offer in the first place if the company thinks that they probably don’t really want it. They weren’t engaged in the interviews and the follow up and other things like that. Don’t play it too cool, I would say is the most important thing to remember for sure.

Besides that, I would say a common downfall is acting very aggressive or being shady about not giving a number or sharing your expectations because at the end of the day, I always advocate for people asking for what they want, because if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Just see how it goes. Of course, do your research, give a range, always. Make sure there’s room for flexibility. You can still negotiate further, but don’t be super secretive about what you want, because then the company’s going to be in the dark, you’re going to be in the dark. You don’t want to get to the end of the process and realize it wasn’t what you wanted or aligned with your expectations. 

The recruiter wants to help you. They want you to get the job. So help them help you. And the more open you can be and transparent about what’s important to you the better. 

I mean, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. Most people as candidates have only done a few salary negotiations in their life, but recruiters do this every day. So it’s not a big deal to them and they won’t be shocked by whatever you’re asking for. Especially if you’re doing so in a respectful way — it’s kind of in line with how you built a relationship with them, it’s going to go well if you’re being respectful. With enough practice, it becomes a lot easier and less stressful.

onomy: If you enjoyed hearing from Marjorie, follow MKcareer coaching and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more quick tips on making adult life easier! 

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