Questions about salary history and expectations often elicit feelings of anxiety, particularly when times are tough in the job market. Many who have been unemployed for several months worry their power to negotiate has diminished. Others know they are overqualified for the positions they seek and fear their salary history will screen them out of consideration.
Fortunately, there are ways to sidestep these obstacles and enhance a job offer -- even in this economy, says Laurence Shatkin, a leading occupational expert and author of the recently released book "Your $100,000 Career Plan." He stresses that the most important thing to remember about salary questions is to delay discussing them until after a job offer has been made.
"Employers often ask for your salary expectations or salary history very early, perhaps even as part of the job application form or letter. This makes it easy for them to screen out a large number of applicants who don't match the salary figure they have in mind. Don't screen yourself out by giving this information," Shatkin warns.
In his book, Shatkin provides a framework for answering such questions and outlines steps that will better prepare candidates to launch negotiations. His tips include the following:
Before an interview
· If there's a blank on the job application demanding a figure, write "Negotiable."
· If the employer refuses to interview you unless you indicate your salary expectations, give only a ballpark estimate and make clear that you expect both parties will be flexible as you learn more about each other.
During an interview
· When asked about your salary expectations, shift the conversation back to your qualifications. For example, you might want to respond, "I'm sure you pay your employees fairly, and I expect you to pay me a fair wage for a person with my background. So let's discuss my background and what I can do for your business."
· If you think you must specify your expectations, give a broad range based on research rather than on wishful thinking.
· Inquire about how much competition you're facing. If you're the only job candidate remaining, you'll be able to negotiate from a stronger position.
· Use every opportunity to explain how you can improve the organization's bottom line, because that is what justifies better pay.
· If the offer is more than you expected, congratulations! But you may get an even better one if you don't jump at the first offer. Pause long enough to give the employer the impression you may be expecting more. You may even ask for time to think over the offer.
· If another employer has made a better offer, that's the most powerful argument you can use.
· If you have no other offers, but your research tells you the going rate is higher than what the employer is offering, say so. Keep in mind that the employer probably has also researched the employment market, so be sure you have good sources to point to.
· If the employer won't raise the offer enough to suit your expectations, ask the employer to agree to review your salary sooner than normal.
· Employers who won't budge on salary offers sometimes are willing to make concessions on benefits or perks that you want. Maybe you can get stock options, extra vacation, use of a company car or the ability to work at home part of the week. Sometimes you can argue that you both will gain from the benefit; for example, if the company pays your tuition expenses for night classes, it will profit from your improved skills.
· You may also be able to get concessions on certain work responsibilities you either want or want to avoid. For example, you might ask to be given a managerial task that's not normally part of the job, and this eventually could lead to a higher-paying position. Any tasks you ask to avoid should be lower-level so that ruling them out would not interfere with your growth in the job.
· If possible, do all your negotiations face-to-face, rather than by telephone, because you can gauge people's reactions better in person. Sometimes, candidates will say and do everything right during the interview process and during negotiations and still won't achieve the job offer they were seeking. In these instances, Shatkin suggests telling the employer, "that the job is one you would like if the salary were appropriate, and thank them for their time and consideration. It is possible that they will not find someone else to fill the position and will reconsider hiring you at the salary you asked for."
Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. She is also the author of JIST's Job Search and Career Blog (http://jistjobsearchandcareer.blogspot.com/).
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