How to Negotiate Your Salary as a Safety Professional

Young woman safety professional with a yellow blouse working to negotiate her salary during a job interview

Most people aren’t used to talking openly about money, and that can make conversations about salary stressful. Luckily, since every safety professional will need to negotiate their compensation at some point in their careers, you’re not alone.

"You don’t get what’s fair, you get what you negotiate,” says Julius Rhodes, SPHR, Founder and Principal of mpr group, a human resources (HR) and management professional services firm. “That’s a common saying for a reason. Learning how to be reasonable-but-aspirational when it comes to your pay is a critical skill."

Understanding what you need to know about salary negotiation may take time. But Rhodes says he sees three common mistakes that candidates can easily avoid:

  1. Disrespecting your interviewer’s time by arriving late or neglecting to prepare.
  2. Maintaining unrealistic expectations about what you should be paid, regardless of the data.
  3. Giving your interviewer an ultimatum in an effort to speed up the hiring process.

Want more expert tips? Here are Rhodes’ recommendations for navigating financial conversations in the workplace.

Find Your Personal Board of Directors

One-on-one mentorship is invaluable, but before making significant career moves, safety professionals may want to consult several people with different points of view.

"We always used to talk about having a single mentor who you could go to and discuss things like salary or changing positions,” Rhodes says. “But these days you also need to build your personal board of directors — a cadre of people who give you the advice and confidence you need to achieve your goals."

Similar to the way many organizations select board members, consider the skills and perspectives that people in your network could bring to the table. For instance, you might start by identifying one contact who always tells you the truth, one who is in an entirely different industry and one who inspires you. Reach out to these individuals, let them know how much you value their insights and be clear about what their participation on your board would involve. Then, ask if it’s something to which they can commit.

"You might think you only need short-term advice, if you’re thinking of making a career shift or asking for a raise,” Rhodes continues. “But do yourself the favor of nurturing these relationships and making them last. If you’ve identified the right people, everyone will benefit from the arrangement."

Understand Your Rights and Value

HR professionals and hiring managers are required to work within certain regulatory guidelines. Understanding the basics of the laws that are in place for your protection during and after the hiring process could help you identify unfair or illegal compensation practices.

When you interview for a job with a new organization, for example, interviewers in many states are not supposed to ask about your salary history. Instead, they may ask about your “salary expectations” or the “salary range” you would expect in the new role, Rhodes says.

“The past salary question shouldn’t come up because it is viewed as discriminatory, particularly to people of color and women who are historically undercompensated and may have had different career trajectories than their counterparts,” he continues.

Once you know your rights, spend some time researching the market for your talent. What are others with your skills, education and experience being paid? Our recent salary survey, conducted in conjunction with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, is a great place to start. But in addition to the information you find online, don’t be afraid to conduct your own informal survey of trusted peers with positions similar to the one you want to hold.

Demonstrate Your Passion for Safety

People working to advance their careers often use degrees, certifications or references to stand out from the crowd. These things are helpful, especially if you’re using a resume and cover letter to get your foot in the door and land an interview. However, once recruiters have identified a smaller group of candidates who all meet the requirements of the role, Rhodes says your ability to demonstrate your passion for safety could be the deciding factor.

“Competition for safety positions has gone up over the years as the number of people with academic degrees and certifications has increased,” he explains. “So if all things are equal in those areas between candidates, the thing that will get you the most credibility with an organization is displaying energy, enthusiasm and a lifelong pursuit of learning.”

If you’re hoping to advance within your current organization or earn a salary increase, this advice largely remains the same.

“Your employer wants to see you attending conferences and publishing articles about safety,” Rhodes says. “Show your company that you’re committed to the safety profession and what it can do because you’re in the business of saving lives.”

Be Direct About What You Want

Many business authors tell candidates to refrain from sharing the first number when interviewers ask about salary. If you wait for an HR professional to share their budget for the position, the thinking goes, it may be higher than the amount you would be comfortable requesting and you could end up with more money. Rhodes strongly disagrees with this approach.

“I’m a bit of a contrarian on that point,” he says. “If you’re unwilling to share a realistic number that reflects what you want, then you can’t fault the employer for failing to meet your expectations.”

Instead, Rhodes advocates a direct approach. While this might feel strange at first, he says it could greatly improve your ability to negotiate a compensation package that makes you and the employer happy. If the answer to your first ask is no, use it as an opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework.

“Let them know that based on what you’ve learned researching similar positions at similarly sized companies, this is an appropriate range for someone with your background,” Rhodes continues. “If they continue saying no, you’ll need to decide if taking less money is something you can accept. But there are other areas where you might be able to compromise.”

Discuss the Benefits Package

Candidates often spend a lot of time thinking about the salary component of a job offer or promotion. But benefits usually get far less attention, despite comprising a significant portion of many employees’ total compensation packages. In fact, Rhodes says some candidates don’t even discuss benefits before accepting a job offer — and that’s a mistake.

“The quality of benefits such as paid time off or healthcare could make you see a salary offer in a completely different light,” he says. “Your employment decision should never rest on one dollar figure because there are so many things that could impact your experience with that organization.”

In addition to more traditional benefits, Rhodes encourages safety professionals to evaluate whether each potential employer values worker safety and health, helps employees maintain a healthy work/life balance and provides opportunities for professional development.

“I know someone who recently took a role where they gave up almost $30,000 because it was the employer they wanted and the location they wanted and all the other factors made the switch worthwhile,” he says. “You never know what you’ll decide until you assess the whole picture.”


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