How to negotiate your salary with a USAID contractor

Negotiating compensation is one of the most daunting and nerve-wracking aspects of the job hunt. “What are your salary requirements?” is perhaps the most dreaded question I hear job seekers discuss. Start with too high of a figure and you may scare off a potential employer. Start too low and you may be leaving money on the table.

How and when you negotiate salaries requires different strategies depending on the type of position and employer. For example, playing hardball with an international organization with strict pay bands isn’t likely to get much traction, but may work when negotiating a consulting day rate with a private company.

When it comes to negotiating salaries for international positions on a USAID funded project, there are a unique set of rules to consider. Here are three things to know when negotiating compensation for an international position tied to a USAID-funded contract.

1. Your salary history, not market rates, will dictate your pay.

While common advice suggests doing market research on prevailing salaries in your professional area to determine what you should be paid, market forces don’t have much weight when it comes to negotiating a USAID-funded position.

If you’ve ever applied to a job with a USAID implementer, you’ve likely completed the 1420 employee biographical data form, often referred to as a biodata or ebd. This document, typically required by all personnel charged to a USAID contract (but can also sometimes be used on cooperative agreements and grants) requires candidates to include their salary in the previous three years — excluding bonuses, benefits or additional allowances.

USAID will typically allow contractors to apply a modest 3 to 5 percent raise on your previous year’s salary and in some cases up to 10 percent with the maximum salary topping out at $648.85 per day (as of 2015). Trying to negotiate a salary beyond what your salary history dictates is unlikely to be successful and more likely to aggravate your would-be employer to the point where they may reconsider their offer.

This can become a challenge if you’re coming from an industry where, for example, a large percentage of your compensation came in the form of a bonus or you took a big pay cut for an otherwise great work opportunity. In these scenarios, the employer may try to advocate on your behalf for an exception, but often are not willing to jeopardize their relationship with the client to negotiate a higher rate.

2. Allowable benefits aren’t always budgeted benefits.

The United States Department of State publishes set allowances per country location that any contractor receiving USAID funds is allowed to bill to the government as long as it is provided for in the project budget. This can include post-differential and hazard pay allowances as well as rest and recuperation travel and separate maintenance allowances.

If you’re negotiating at the project proposal stage, when the budget is still being created, you have more leverage to request these allowable benefits as part of your package. This is especially the case if they see you as a candidate key to winning the contract and won’t want to lose you to the competition. However, if they are not aggressively recruiting you and instead you are eagerly pursuing the job, know that requesting all the bells and whistles could result in them selecting a candidate that won’t increase the budget as much.

If you’re negotiating for a position that has already been funded, there may not be budget available for all of the allowances you seek. For example, if the person who previously held the role had no children and you do, the contractor may not have any room in the budget to provide for an education allowance. How much the employer is willing to divert funds from other line items, if it is even possible, depends on how eager they are to hire you.

You can look up what is allowable per location on the State Department website.

3. Get creative in how you structure your deal.

If the salary and benefits an employer can provide is limited by a fixed budget or strict regulations, look for alternative ways to make the deal more attractive.

For example, if the project cannot pay your full day rate, see if they can arrange a fixed fee contract or increase the number of days. Request benefits like a housing allowance that can make up for a lower salary. If an assignment requires a lot of overseas travel, see if some of that work can be done from home — where your expenses will be lower — instead.

If you’re willing to take a cut in your total compensation package, opt for cutting benefits over reducing your base salary so you won’t impact future earnings based on your salary history.

Ultimately, there isn’t a lot of room for negotiation on USAID-funded contracts. What is perhaps more important than compensation is considering the reputation of the contractor as someone who treats their employees and consultants well, your passion for the mission of the specific project and your longer term career goals.


by Kate Warren

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