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Negotiating Salary

For many job seekers, the most nerve-wracking part of the process is negotiating their new salary. According to career expert Elaine S. Rosenblum, Esq., of Courageous Conversation in Atlanta, the negotiation process can begin as early as when you file your application. Many application forms now ask for salary requirements. This seemingly simple question can baffle potential candidates right out of the gate.

How in the world are job seekers supposed to calculate this magical number? Should you ask for what you're making now? Ask for what you wish you were making? Aim high to give yourself room to maneuver? Or aim low, to get your foot in the door? Contrary to the beliefs of many, finding the right starting point is not a guessing game, Rosenblum explained.

Do Your Research
The key to negotiating comfortably and successfully is simple: "preparation, preparation, preparation," she stressed. Overcome discomfort by doing your homework before you apply for a job, she advised. Rosenblum suggested doing your due diligence by talking to people in the industry in the geographical area where you are applying.

Many people feel uncomfortable asking friends and colleagues about their salaries, but you can always ask for what salary range you could expect for a similar position in the industry, in the geographical area, without getting into specifics. 

You can also call recruiters or head hunters in the industry and ask if they have any similar openings and are willing to share the salaries. Most recruiters will give out that information or at least be willing to provide a range, which will help you hone your benchmarks. Again, make sure you are sticking to the same geographical area. Cost of living and salaries vary widely across the country. 

Also, be sure to check out Internet salary guides and statistics. "When you have all that information in hand, it makes you feel a lot more secure about the conversation you're going to have with regard to salary and it tends to calm your nerves," Rosenblum noted.

She also suggested applicants practice their pitch, whether with a trusted friend, or with a career coach such as herself.

Earn Respect
When does the real fun begin? Many people make the mistake of accepting the first offer they receive in their excitement at being offered the position without taking the time to mull it over, when they probably could have negotiated, Rosenblum noted.

Most hiring managers anticipate candidates will negotiate, so they give themselves some "wiggle room" by lowballing their first offer, she said.

Many young and inexperienced workers sell themselves short by taking the money and running, rather than opening up a dialogue by saying something such as "Thank you very much, I appreciate the offer, I'm very excited about the prospects of working for you and I need some time to think about it," Rosenblum reported.

This is the time when you should begin negotiating - when you have an offer on the table and you've had some time to think about it and talk it over with a trusted adviser.

You may even find yourself in a better position for having asked, by positioning yourself as a go-getter who will negotiate strongly for your future employer, and thus earning the respect of the hiring manager.

Lifelong Lesson

Don't Ask, Don't Receive
In the book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, the authors postulate women, more often than men, are finding themselves unwilling to negotiate their starting salaries, and it is costing them.

By not negotiating a starting salary at their first position, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60, the authors note. While men can feel exhilarated by the prospects of negotiating, 2.5 times more women than men feel a great deal of apprehension about negotiating.

The statistics are disturbing. According to Babcock and Laschever, women typically ask for and get less even when they do negotiate - on average, 30 percent less than men; and 20 percent of adult women say they never negotiate at all.
Negotiating doesn't end when you accept an offer, Rosenblum stressed. "Throughout your career, you always need to ask for more." Asking for higher pay can only help, not hurt you, as long as you ask in a respectful manner. "If you ask in a disrespectful or demanding way, it will come back to bite you," Rosenblum said, "but if you continually ask in a flexible way, (e.g., 'is my salary flexible,' 'is my salary negotiable?'), those are open-ended questions that are not offensive."

Rosenblum says anyone who doesn't negotiate his salary is doing himself a great disservice. "You might choose not to negotiate, but everyone else will, so you are selling yourself short should you choose not to," she noted.

As long as you keep her tips in mind when asking for more money, the worst that can happen is the employer says no, and then you can decide if the salary and position are worth it.

"Push hard," Rosenblum suggested, "just push respectfully hard."

Kerri Penno is an ADVANCE contributing editor


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