Negotiating: Getting What You’re Worth

Negotiating: Getting What You’re Worth

This week's career building best practice comes from Patricia Cole, one of MOAA's deputy directors for career transition services. A common misconception about the salary negotiation process---one often fueled by misinformation that abounds on the Internet---is that when it comes to salary negotiation, it's every man or woman for themselves. The prevailing belief is that since the prospective employer will do everything possible to get you as cheaply as they can, you'd better be prepared to fight for every single nickel. After all, you're worth it. Right?

Not so much. While it is perfectly natural to want fair compensation for your skills, education, and experience, treating the negotiation process as an adversarial relationship would be a mistake. Typically, the only previous negotiation experience a candidate might have is bargaining for a new home or vehicle, where the seller's objective is to get the highest price possible and your goal is to pay the lowest. However, the difference between this scenario and negotiating a salary is pretty significant. Once a house or car is purchased, everyone walks away and (ideally) will never see each other again. But after you've successfully negotiated a mutually agreed upon salary, you become the newest member of the team. What if you damage the relationship during the negotiation process?

Does the employer want to get you on board for the minimum salary possible? Absolutely. After all, saving money is always the bottom line. But the need to save money must be balanced against the equally important need of hiring new talent; talent the company has gone through a rigorous and time-consuming process to find and vet. In order to retain the new employee, he must feel appropriately compensated for his skills and abilities.

Most employment in the United States today is “at-will” employment, meaning an employer can dismiss you at any time and doesn't need a good reason for doing so. But there's a flip side to the coin: you, as an at-will employee, can leave the company at any time and for any reason. Since it takes a lot of time and effort to properly train and indoctrinate new employees, employers don't want that to happen. It is therefore in the employer's best interest to have a candidate who is satisfied with the terms of employment and the level of offered compensation.

Veterans are prone to a number of rookie mistakes since they've likely never negotiated a salary before. These are a few:

  • Treating the salary negotiation process as an event with winners and losers, rather than seeking a win-win outcome.
  • Sitting down to the negotiation table without an idea of what constitutes an acceptable salary range for the position. A good start in your research is to reach out to your networking contacts within the company, who can help you glean additional information about the salary norms for the company.
  • Focusing only on the salary itself and ignoring the value of the employee benefits package (true even for those who are retiring with military benefits). An employer 401(k) match, vacation time, and other desirable benefits should be carefully considered regardless of your military pension or healthcare situation.
  • Failing to renegotiate the original offer out of fear; there are no “do-overs” after you are onboard and learn you undervalued your skill set.
  • Countering the original offer without providing a detailed rationale of why you're worth the additional salary.

It's important to remain professional throughout the negotiation process, especially if you've inclined to decline the offer, since professional networks are much wider than you may think. The bottom line for candidates? Be prepared and always negotiate in good faith. MOAA Premium and Life members can go to and learn more about the salary negotiation process in the webinar “Salary Negotiation 101.”

About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole is MOAA's former Program Director, Career Transition Services