How to Get a Great Job: Ready to Negotiate!

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So: You’re armed with some hard figures on what the salary range should be for the position you’re being offered, you know what you need and what you want, and you’ve practiced some negotiation scenarios. Sounds like you’re ready!

Beginning Tactics

Much like when you started interviewing for the position, you want your interviewer to give you some information before you jump in.

“The basic rule of thumb is that whoever brings up salary first loses. The company very often doesn’t want to reveal what they can pay, and the job seeker shouldn’t want to reveal what she wants.”
— Cheryl Palmer, CECC, negotiation expert and president of Call to Career

Some interviewers will simply come out and say, “This position has a salary range of $34,000 to $38,000.” Most companies are likely to have salary ranges set for each position; but that doesn’t mean those ranges are set in stone. “Usually HR sets the parameters for [salary and benefits], but it’s driven by the budget of the department or company that’s hiring,” says Jill Silman, SPHR, vice-president at Meador Staffing Services and a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). So if the stated salary range isn’t as high as you had expected or hoped, keep up the negotiations!

Other interviewers will ask you what you’d like to earn. It’s OK to dodge the question by asking if there is a set salary range. “However, you can’t continue to hedge indefinitely,” says Palmer. “After you go back and forth a few times, you’ll have to answer the salary inquiry. At that point, give a range, based on the research you’ve done. This is a good time to mention your research and the sources.”

IF the salary range stated is too low and does not match your research:

  • State, “I understand that your organization has a set salary range for this position, but I’d like to make a case for increasing that range in this case.”
  • Point out your salary sources and the industry averages. (Don’t use your own previous or current salary as an example!)
  • Remind your interviewer of several of your top selling points, illustrating why you are a valuable candidate.
  • Don’t turn down the job right away, but make it clear that you are concerned about the money offered.
  • If at this point it seems the top end of the range stated is as high as the organization will go, consider whether it’s worth negotiating on other points. (See below.) If you can’t get a package that suits your needs or wants, end the interview politely but try to leave the door open in case the organization’s decision-makers change their minds.

IF the salary range is in line with what your research reveals:

  • Negotiate for the highest end of the range. Reiterate your selling points to show your value to the company.
  • Try for a higher salary rather than a middle-range amount with the promise of a bonus or future raise; your agreed-upon starting salary will be set in stone, unlike promises of extra cash in the future.
  • Even if you get the salary you wanted, continue to negotiate benefits and perks.

IF the salary range is higher than you expected:

  • Don’t express excitement or delight. You still want to negotiate the best salary and benefits you can get, so push for the higher end of the range.
  • Consider that there may be a reason the pay is higher than usual. You may be expected to work longer hours, or travel extensively—so make sure you continue negotiations!
  • Wait to see if the benefits package is decent. Is the higher salary range compensation for lack of health insurance or a retirement plan? If so, use your “thinking time” before accepting the offer to research how much of the high salary you’ll spend making up those benefits. Is it still a good salary?

Be reasonable in your requests when you make a counteroffer to the initial offer or statement. Bernice Kao, job/career specialist and job service outreach librarian at Fresno County (California) Public Library, recommends, “Lay out your counter offer two steps above the original offer. Reassure [your interviewer] of the experience and benefits you will bring.” Ideally, your negotiating partner will meet you in the middle, which is what you wanted in the first place. Here’s an example:

HR professional: “The Sales Associate job is what we call a “grade 2” position, and has a salary range of $28,000 to $32,000. We think that is generous for an entry-level position.”

You: “That range seems in line with my research. I know this is an entry-level job, but I worked an internship this summer at a company like yours, so I bring some recent experience as well as my Bachelor’s of Marketing, so I think I would warrant $32,000 a year.”

HR professional: “That wouldn’t give you any room for a raise or cost of living increase. Why don’t we say $30,000 to start.”

You: “That makes sense. But I’m confident that I can prove I’m worth more. Can we agree to schedule my first performance review for six months from my start date, with a potential raise based on my performance?”

Once you agree on salary, go on to review the benefits and perks that come with employment. These, too, are negotiable—so if the final salary offered is not what you had hoped, consider ways to make up the difference in either benefits or quality of life factors. “They’ve already made the offer, so see what you can get,” advises Kao. “You might give them five options and they’ll take three. Give them a choice, but base it in reality.”

What’s Negotiable?

The answer, in short, is “everything.” Most job candidates focus on the size of the paycheck offered—but that’s not all you can (or should) negotiate.
“It’s easy to be dazzled by what appears to be a higher salary—but the total compensation package includes benefits like a retirement plan and health insurance,” Palmer points out. “You have to look at that whole package.”

For Instance…

“One of my clients left her job in IT and got an offer that she was delighted with. She was excited about the higher salary, but when I pressed her for information on her benefits, she didn’t know. She hadn’t asked before she accepted the job. Well, it turned out that her previous employer had 401K matching—and the new job didn’t. She was actually making less money.”
— Cheryl Palmer, CECC, negotiation expert and president of Call to Career

Look at the entire package. “These things will affect your pocketbook and your life,” Palmer stresses. You can negotiate:


• Flextime / telecommuting from home
• Health insurance: If you are already covered by your spouse, or by the military, can you negotiate a higher salary instead of health coverage?
• Vacation time
• When you get your first salary review (Negotiate it earlier, in hopes of getting your first raise sooner)
• Retirement plans
• Bonus plans
• Tuition reimbursement
• Stock options
• Signing bonus
• Relocation allowance
• Start date

These days, more people are negotiating based on time. Parents of young children and Generation X in general value time off, so workers are bargaining for flextime, shorter days, or more days off. “Time is the new currency,” says Silman.


The Final Step: Ending Negotiations

Once you and the employer have reached an agreement on all the factors of your salary and benefits package, conclude with these steps. If the negotiations occurred in person, you can state them; otherwise, it’s a good idea to send in an e-mail immediately:

• Acknowledge the offer.
• Make sure the terms of the offer are clear. If not, ask for clarification.
• Thank the employer for the offer.
• Ask for time to consider. You want to think about the job, the salary, and everything that goes with it—anywhere from overnight to two days should be acceptable.
• Find out who you should contact with your final decision. It may be the HR person or the hiring manager.

Don’t Want the Job?

It’s still a good idea to ask for time to consider. You want to be certain of your decision. And if you’re not happy with the final package offered, there is a slight chance that the organization may re-open negotiations.

Need More Time?

If you need more than a couple of days to consider the final job offer—such as when you are juggling more than one offer (or hope to be any day now), ask for more time. Be honest and let the employer know why you’re asking for extra time, because this may be an imposition for them. It’s OK to explain that you’re waiting to hear about another offer, or have a follow-up interview scheduled at another company. (But keep it honest; trying to use another job offer to leverage a higher salary can backfire!)

Keep in mind that if you’re requesting a lot more time than the employer has planned to make a final decision, the employer may refuse. The best practice is to pick up the phone and discuss your situation. Make it clear that you’re interested in the position, but you need more time. Try to be exact in how much time.





book cover: How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To HandbookThis article is adapted from the book How to Get a Great Job: A Library How-To Handbook by Editors of the American Library Association published by ALA Editions.






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