Categorized | Job Hunting

Negotiating salary and benefits in a slow job market

Posted on 21 November 2008

It was the best of times, and now it may be the worst of times. If Dickens had written more about dot-com fall-out than the French revolution, we’d all be in better shape. As the job market weakens, job seekers may find themselves giving in to sub-par offers. However, knowing how to negotiate an appropriate salary and benefits package is essential, regardless of the market.

Do Your Homework
Research the expected salary ranges in your prospective company’s market before you negotiate. Calculate both what you want and what you need to live on. Keep in mind the lowest offer you can accept before looking elsewhere. Consider both the value of the job and your value as a potential employee.

Getting Started
Maryanne Wegerbauer, author of Job Offer! A How-To-Negotiation Guide, suggests waiting until you have been offered the job before bringing up salary or benefits. Without an offer, you have no leverage. “Once an offer is made, thank the hiring manager, affirm the positives about the offer, ask for a copy of the employee handbook, and ask for a time to get together to review it. This opens the door for further negotiating,” says Wegerbauer.

Salaries drop when more people are looking for work, but you can ask for other workplace perks

Wegerbauer suggests you consider the negotiation process in the same way you would a project, with both advanced preparation and communication of your needs to your potential employer.

“Manage your career as if you were building your own business. What does each company have to offer if not high salary? Does this company offer career growth and job satisfaction? If there is a development opportunity, it may be an acceptable trade-off,” says Wegerbauer.

Creative Negotiating
Salaries drop when more people are looking for work, but you can ask for other workplace perks. If a company offers you a lower salary than you want, counter-offer with a well-researched rationale on why you deserve more.

Genice Reed has gained much negotiating experience over the past five years in various human resources roles at Motorola. She meets potential employees with more on their minds than salary.

“Because things have changed in the market, all is fair. If it’s more important for the person to have fewer stock options and more salary, that’s okay. If the salary isn’t what you had hoped for, but you’d be happy with half-day Fridays, that’s okay too. Also, having a life outside of work is more important now than ever, so people are willing to trade certain benefits for others,” says Reed.

Ron Marshal is a headhunter at Synergy Partners, Inc., an executive recruiting firm in New York City. Marshal says that a job candidate should not push for more salary than is possible in his or her particular market. Health and 401K benefits are not usually negotiable either, but one can ask for tuition waivers, guaranteed minimum bonuses and stronger relocation packages. Marshal also points out that a candidate with two or more job offers has more power when hitting the negotiation table.

“You have more control when you know you’re getting more than one offer. The more offers you get, the more leverage you have in negotiating a salary and benefits package,” says Marshal.

Helpful Hints
There are many ways to get additional help when negotiating. A headhunter can often be beneficial. Since companies pay headhunting firms a 20-30% cut of your salary, it is in the headhunter’s best interest to help you get the best deal possible. These agencies also provide clients with detailed market research and offer interview training.

Wegerbauer recommends joining a professional organization in your field that can put you in touch with your peers and help you network to find the perfect job. Other helpful hints include contacting your local chamber of commerce and taking advantage of state-run “jobs and benefits” counseling.

Hanging On
When recent college grad Susan Jennifer hit the work force, she discovered that universities often quote salaries well above the market mean.

“In school, they tell you that finding a job will be easy, but in reality, it is a very difficult process. Your first year out can be intimidating and sometimes you may feel like you have no room to negotiate, especially with today’s economy,” says Jennifer.

She explains, however, that if you can show the company market data displaying the salary you want, you may find yourself with more money. Also, if you can reiterate your value to the company and demonstrate how you differ from other candidates, you will have more negotiating power overall. If you still come up short, Jennifer suggests looking into freelance or part-time solutions.

You may have to make short-term compromises, but keep in mind your long-term goals. Knowing what you want, when you want it and how you plan on getting there will help push you toward achieving a job and salary you can live with–until the slump is over.

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