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How to Negotiate Your Salary

Julie Stitt knows that salary negotiations are not easy. But she warns that you have to get in there fast or risk blowing your chance to get the best wage possible.

"The best time to get a fair salary and to get what you're worth is when you are starting a position because that's when you have the greatest amount of power in the process," says Stitt. She is the director of career services at a university.

Before you go into the interview and throw out an inappropriate offer, arm yourself with the best information. It's important to know the going rate for the job, as well as how benefits might factor in.

"A lot of our students want to come to us and get a particular number," Stitt says. "They want to know exactly what that employer should pay them. But in fact, what they need to be able to do is gauge the market, gauge the company, the organization, their own set of skills as compared with other candidates. They've really got to do a lot of legwork."

Stitt says that for early job research related to salary expectations, she directs students to the Internet and to professional associations. She says people can often "wrangle" information out of human resource departments in particular companies if they approach them with a little finesse and charm.

"Often they'll get some lovely soul on the phone who'll give them the skinny on what the actual salaries are," she says.

Lance Choy is the assistant director of career services at a university. He says that he directs students to the Internet for preliminary salary research as well. He also recommends checking out the website of your state government.

Once the early legwork is done, Stitt says, the next part of salary negotiation is to understand the salary as it fits into a big package. That's where options and benefits come into play.

In the past, benefits used to be simply a question of whether an employee received pay for sick time, holidays, a corner office and a pension.

"Nowadays, the sky's the limit," Stitt says.

She says the big perks that are becoming desirable in the workplace include being able to work from home occasionally, and a flexible schedule -- the option of working longer daily hours to shorten the workweek.

Paid professional development is another benefit she sees "over and over again." Other perks include company cars, access to free or inexpensive computers for home use and on-site day care.

Many students are apprehensive about going into an environment such as the interview situation simply because it is unfamiliar, says Choy.

"They're not used to negotiating," he says. "They're worried that if they negotiate, the employer will say, 'You're not that interested!' They're not used to doing that kind of thing.

"I tell them: 'They made an offer. They're not going to take it away just simply because you asked for more, as long as you're professional and courteous. People do this all the time. It's not unusual.'"

Choy says that if you are negotiating, it is a good idea to put out any other offers you have had, especially if they are higher offers. He also says that you should have prepared for the negotiation by researching the salary range for the area or field in which you are seeking work.

"If you're not happy with the salary being offered, you can suggest a range, saying, 'From my research with some of my colleagues or my friends, I understand the range is from here to here. I was looking more on the upper end of that scale.'"

"You're trying to respond to their action," Choy says. "So they can respond, and they can go up [in salary]. If they go up, you're happy. If they don't go up enough, I always suggest to people to talk a little bit more about why they should get it."

Asking for a raise while currently employed takes similar negotiating skills.

As in the case of the job interview, research is extremely important. An employee asking for a raise has to know the going rates, Stitt says, and what other employees in the same organization are being paid.

But simply knowing that you are making less than others and telling that to your boss as evidence of why you need a raise is not a convincing enough reason to warrant a raise, she says.

"Going into your boss's office and saying, 'You know what? I'm underpaid,' is not going to wash," says Stitt.

"You've almost got to make a compelling case for why a raise is in order," she says. "Usually, it needs to be a combination of successes. Certainly if someone has gone out, especially if they've done it on their own time or out of their own pocket, and completed some new certification or professional development, that makes them much more effective in their role."

It is worth the effort to get comfortable with the negotiating process. You want to avoid making the deadly mistakes such as beginning a salary negotiation before an offer of employment has been made, or exposing undesirable personal characteristics.

"I've had students be very brash and rude and arrogant," Choy says. "That's not helpful. I wouldn't want to have to work with a person like that."

Stitt says that a person has to understand themselves and the organization well. Only then can they go in and express why they want the position and be able to negotiate for what's important to them.

"That's the real essence of good salary negotiation," Stitt says.

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