A tight employment market has many job seekers thinking they should accept anything that comes their way.
Yet there still may be room to negotiate pay and benefits without jeopardizing a job offer.
The key is to be grounded in reality, with a good sense of what you bring to the table and what local job-market conditions will bear.
"It's fine to be assertive as long as you have the facts to back it up," said career coach Stacie Garlieb of Successful Impressions LLC in Phoenix.
Job-negotiating tactics can be tough for anyone to master, but women's advocates say women appear to be less effective at it than men. Some observers believe ineffective negotiating is one reason female workers earn about 77 cents for every dollar earned by male colleagues.
"There are voices in our heads telling us not to be pushy and to be happy with what we have," said Jean Johnson, who helped conduct a recent Start Smart wage-negotiation workshop sponsored by YWCA Maricopa County and the Scottsdale chapter of AAUW.
The gender-wage gap starts soon after college and grows throughout the working years, she said.
Step 1: Preparation
At the workshop, participants were urged to become better negotiators by preparing in advance.
This partly involves becoming familiar with the salary range for specific jobs in your area using tools such as Salary Wizard at www.salary.com.
"Wage benchmarking is empowering because knowledge is power," Johnson said.
It also helps to know if you can live on the pay offered. To assess this, you might need to draw up a personal budget. Websites such as www.pay checkcity.com will run you through the numbers and show what your take-home amount would be.
Step 2: Understand the offer
Knowing the salary range and what you need to live on is a start. But pay negotiation doesn't really start until you receive a job offer.
If you do get one, recognize that you have an edge - even if dozens, if not hundreds, of other people applied for the same position.
"The fact (an employer) wants you gives you an advantage in negotiations," said Arlene Blunt, a coach of real-estate agents who helped lead the YWCA workshop.
"The employer doesn't necessarily think the other (applicants) have the best qualifications for the job - they're the fall-back choices," Blunt added.
That said, this isn't the environment to press salary demands too strongly or to puff up your earnings history, warned Michael D. Hayes, owner of Momentum Specialized Staffing in Phoenix.
"You don't want to risk annoying anyone," he said. "Companies are on tight budgets, and another $10,000 or $20,000 could push them over."
In today's job market, it's not likely you will be offered compensation that's much above your target salary. But you won't want to accept jobs for less than your minimum.
Step 3: Negotiation
The situations in the middle, where the offer is below your target but above your minimum, are where negotiating has most relevance.
As part of your interview preparations, learn what the company does and practice articulating your skills and talents.
"Be sure you know your qualifications inside and out," Blunt said. "You're not going to have a piece of paper to read from."
It's smart to rehearse the bargaining process with practice sessions with friends. At the YWCA seminar, instructors split the group into pairs so participants could rehearse.
If you can't get an employer to budge on pay, turn to benefits.
"There are many creative ways to get extra benefits, and employers generally are willing to discuss them," Johnson said.
Some participants at the workshop expressed surprise that perks are even up for discussion.
"I didn't know benefits could be negotiated," said Patricia Estrada, an administrative assistant who lives in Phoenix. "I always thought you got whatever was offered."
The benefits to discuss can include certain options on health and retirement packages to vacation time, tuition reimbursement, company cars, bonuses, travel assignments, overtime and subsidies for public transit.
Hayes suggests asking for a bit more paid vacation. "That's not usually a deal killer," he said.
Garlieb suggests asking about an early performance evaluation, which could put you in line for a pay raise sooner.
"Those things can be very negotiable," said Garlieb, who added that it's wise to prioritize benefits so you know what to focus on heading into an interview.
"The biggest error is not planning for what's most important," she said.
Step 4: The bottom line
Negotiating isn't easy. It's not natural to boast about yourself, and the process can become confrontational.
"There's a fine line between bargaining and intimidation," Estrada said.
Yet honing negotiation skills can get you off to a good start in a new job and keep you from wondering whether you could have done better.
"If you never hear 'no,' " Johnson said, "you haven't negotiated enough."
by Russ Wiles The Arizona Republic August 23, 2010 04:46 PM
Negotiate the best pay from new job
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