by David Couper
The economy is growing slowly and while employment numbers have improved slightly, the job market remains tepid at best. How does this stagnation affect negotiation on a job offer? Should you gladly accept the first offer? Or can you ask top dollar without risking the job offer altogether? Even experts disagree.
Bettina Seidman, a career-management coach, says: “A candidate should always negotiate the package offered for a new job.” Abby Kohut, staffing specialist, puts it this way: “In many cases, it’s expected that you will ask for $1K-$5K more, and if you earn six figures, $10K.”
But others see it differently. “In the current market, getting more than the first offer is very rare,” says Erica Moore-Burton, executive director, Los Angeles Special Counsel, a national search firm. “There are so many job hunters that are willing to accept a lesser salary, that by asking up front for more, you definitely run the risk of losing out to the next best candidate.”
What is the answer? It depends, in part, on the industry you work in, the job you do and the location. Healthcare is rebounding fast, with some organizations projecting increased business because of healthcare reform. Nurses and lab personnel are in demand. Cities like Los Angeles, with entertainment, high tech and aerospace, are doing better than Detroit with its auto industry.
Finally, before negotiating you need a strategy. Is this a stopgap job — any job with almost any salary — so that you can generate some cash flow? [Editor’s note: This kind of job is also called a Survival Job.] If so, it makes sense to take a lesser salary without negotiation if you plan to leave in a year. The same applies if this job is just paying the bills while you retrain for another job, go back to school or start a side business that you plan to build to full time. Be mindful of your needs before sitting down to the negotiating table.
How can you be prepared when offered a job?
1. Do Your Research
Check salaries to find out the current market rate. “Begin with the facts. Also, have well-researched salary survey data documenting what other people get paid for similar roles, in similar companies and in the same geographic region,” advises Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Conversations.
In this economy, that intelligence-gathering can be challenging. Many companies either pay less for a job than before or, more commonly, pay the same but hire someone with more experience. Savvy candidates will take that trend into account when they do their research.
2. Know The Employer — They Want You, But Do They Need You?
Find out as much as possible about the job, the group, boss, company and industry. “Know how long the hiring employer has had the job open — the longer, the better for your negotiations,” says Diane Katz, author of Win at Work! The Everybody Wins Approach to Conflict Resolution.
3. State The Facts — Be The Best
It is important to answer these questions with facts that build a compelling case for your value. What can you do for the company and how will you make them money — in a way no one else can? What sets you apart different from other people — what makes you more valuable? Be ready to provide the facts, feedback from previous employers, customer recommendations and hard data that prove your value. For example, what level of sales you can produce? How can you improve the organization? How could you meet challenges of new regulation or changing technology to positively impact the employer’s bottom line?
4. Negotiate The Total Package — Do the Benefits Really Benefit You?
Know what benefits you must have and which are nice to have. Medical, if your spouse already has it, isn’t worth much, but it’s important if you don’t have coverage. In the past you might have negotiated benefits that would add to salary — vacation, tuition reimbursement, memberships, and even parking. Erica Moore-Burton notes: “A client of mine that once paid for employees’ parking has now cut back and is offering a $50 contribution to the monthly parking as opposed to paying for it outright.”
5. Negotiate For the Future — Baby Steps
In good economic times, the job-hunter would look to get their desired salary before accepting a job. In these times, it makes more sense to look for incremental steps rather than the big bang approach. So if you are looking for $100K, you could ask for $90K now with a salary review and bump to $95K if you are meeting your targets, and then upped to $100K on your first anniversary.
The economy has improved but the jobless rate is still near historical highs. Yes, it is harder to negotiate salary than in the past, but is it impossible? No! With these tips and techniques you can negotiate a better deal. The bottom line is that you will need to prepare, prove you are unique, will add value, solve problems and should be compensated accordingly.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Career Coach David Couper is author of Outsiders on the Inside: Creating A Winning Career… Even When You Don’t Fit In.