How Do You Negotiate a Fair Salary?

Questions about salary and benefits are often frightening to those new to the workplace, as they're not issues that have had to be considered before. If you're a recent graduate and the closest you've ever come to negotiating a salary is getting a raise from minimum wage to a dollar more, you may feel like you're in over your head.

Not knowing what to ask for, some first-time job seekers tend to clam up when the subject of salary looms. However, talking about salary with a potential employer does not have to be as scary as it sounds. As long as you prepare for the inevitable mention of the topic, you should do just fine.

Essential

Make sure your career plans are realistic. If you're a recent graduate, know that you have to start somewhere and most entry-level jobs are low paying. Also, if you're coming back to work after a long hiatus, it is not realistic to think that you'll be offered the same salary and benefits as before.

Know What You're Talking About

Again, before talking about salary with a company, you should be well aware of what the going rate is for someone with your background (education, experience, skills, specialization), in your position, and in your geographical area. This entails some research, and one place you can start it is by contacting the human resources department. Often, they will provide you with a salary range. You need a range in order to gauge whether you're at the low or high end of the salary offer. If, however, they are reluctant to tell you the range, you'll have do some research on your own.

If you have a contact within the organization, he may be able to give you some information. If not, try to locate a company within your area, maybe a competitor that does similar work, and see if the human resources department will give you a salary range or a median figure for a job comparable to the one you're considering. If you find out that the median salary is $35,000, tell a recruiter (if and when asked) that you were looking for between $33,000 and $38,000.

Negotiating a Salary

Depending on the company you are dealing with and the position you're applying for, a company will do one of two things when asked to negotiate a salary: stand firm or negotiate.

You can easily determine whether or not a company is willing to negotiate on a salary simply by asking if there is any flexibility in the offer. This lets your interviewer know you are seeking more money. The question is a very common follow-up to the big salary disclosure, so the employer should not be surprised to hear it. If a company says it is willing to negotiate a salary, your next move is to justify the increase. You want to be on the high end of that salary range.

To achieve this, you must first assure your employer of your keen interest in the position while at the same time explaining why the proposed salary probably wouldn't be enough. You may need to do some more research to back up your claims. Rather than saying simply that you are worth more or want more money, provide solid evidence as to why you need more money. Check out the following websites to find out what you should or could be making:

Armed with your research, you will be able to explain why the company's offer doesn't sufficiently cover your living or moving expenses. Remember that the art of negotiating is not a one-sided battle, in which the job seeker names a price and the employer says yes or no. Negotiating entails listening to the employer and considering her offer, even if it's not as much as you were looking for. Set realistic expectations for salary and it's much more likely that an employer will be willing to match it.

Essential

If your new job involves a long commute, find out whether the company has a location closer to where you live. Even if they won't let you work there every day, they might be willing to let you put in some time at the location that's more convenient for you.

Fine Points

There are other negotiating points you can try for if an increase in the salary is not negotiable with a potential new employer—or even if it is. For example, signing bonuses are sometimes used to beef up a new hire's first-year salary. Extra vacation time—an additional week or two—might be negotiable. Even the timing of your salary review—shortening the period of time you would have to wait for a raise from twelve months to six—may be something they would agree to do.

Fringe benefits are another area for negotiation. If you can think of reasons to justify them, you might get an expense account for yourself or a company car. If the new job is in a different geographical area and you have to relocate, you might be able to get your new employer to pick up your moving expenses.

Fact

One woman who had a young child in school was able to convince her new employer to let her telecommute two days a week. It was a real perk for her, since on those days she would be able to see her daughter off to school in the morning and be there later when she came home.

How Much to Expect

Average salaries change with just about every aspect of the job. There are plenty of online sites where you can type in your job and geographical location and get back a list of average salaries for your position. Read the trade journals for your industry and browse newspaper help-wanted ads and online job posting boards for more information. It also might be worth it to ask the question in an online discussion group of industry professionals.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, which lists salaries and other information about a variety of jobs, is readily available online and may also be found at your local library. If you'll be relocating to a new geographical area that isn't too far away from your current location for your new job, plan to spend a weekend there checking out rentals and researching the costs of insurance and local taxes. Go to the grocery store and investigate the prices of food and other necessities. Are they higher than what you pay now? Take out your calculator, figure out the differences, and bring back those statistics to the bargaining table. They will strengthen your negotiating position.

Essential

Don't be timid. Employers often gauge a prospective employee by how well they do in the negotiating part of the job interview process. If you come in unprepared with no research and no hard figures to back up your claims, they will figure you're a pushover and wouldn't do well in negotiations with their clients.

Get It in Writing

If you receive an offer and decide to take it, the most important next step is to get it in writing. After you have discussed all the aspects of the new job, including both salary and benefits, be sure to ask if you can have the offer outlined in writing.

Asking for an offer in writing is a standard request from job seekers, and it's not something you should be afraid to do. What you should be afraid of is an employer who is reluctant to provide you with a written outline of the job offer. An offer like that is one you may want to rethink before accepting.

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