Let’s make a deal

Your ability to negotiate will determine the salary and benefits you get

So how much money are you looking to earn?” It’s never the first question the interviewer asks when you sit down in their office. But it can be the one through which an answer can disqualify you as a contender. You definitely don’t want to blurt out a number that’s too high, because that might knock you out of the running. Likewise, you don’t want to go so low that you won’t be satisfied in the long run. What do you say?

“It’s premature to talk about salary until you get a handle on what the hiring manager needs,” says Nancy Friedberg, a senior career consultant with the Five O’Clock Club, a national career counseling organization. And to make sure you get a satisfactory and competitive salary package, you need to do some homework. Friedberg suggests the following:

  • Talk to friends and headhunters in your profession and contact professional associations, which often publish salary surveys. Newspaper ads and career-related Websites are also a good source of information.
  • If you’re a seasoned pro, ask for something at the top of the range. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, expect to be at the lower end unless you have exceptional, distinguishing skills or degrees that are in demand for that particular business. If you’ve been in your field for a few years, shoot for something in the middle.
  • If you’re moving to another industry or from a large company to a small one, take differences into account. If you can’t get the amount of money you’d like, consider trading off for perks, or ask for a salary review and a possible increase in six months, if you can meet certain goals and prove your worth. Know what’s standard for that particular industry or business.
  • Know what your bottom line is as far as salary goes and what types of benefits you want. Lots of vacation time? A flexible schedule? That way you can focus on bargaining in the negotiation process.

Once you’ve done your legwork, you’re ready to negotiate. Friedberg advises her clients to follow the Five O’Clock Club’s four-step salary negotiation strategy:

  1. Negotiate the job. Before talking money, make sure you understand what the job is and what the hiring manager wants. If asked to name a figure early on, stress your interest in working for the company and learning more about the job. If you’re still pressed for a figure, ask what the range for the position is and say that salary won’t be a problem.
  2. Outshine and outlast the competition. During the interview, it’s important to find out how you stack up against the competition. Don’t be afraid to ask the manager, “What kinds of candidates are you speaking to?” Play up any special expertise that will make you stand out.
  3. Get the offer. Once the manager decides you’re the person for the job, they’ll start selling you on the job. Make sure you get a firm offer, in writing, before you begin any negotiation.
  4. Negotiate your compensation package. Friedberg says to keep these tips
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