Dire financial headlines bombard us nearly every day. Does all of this mean you're no longer in any position to negotiate a decent salary for yourself? Absolutely not. If a company is hiring, many details about those new positions remain negotiable — including their pay scales. Consider these tips. 1Figure out the lay of the land. Are you not entirely sure what people get paid for the kind of position you're seeking? Talk to as many people as you can in that industry — and ideally, at that company — to get a sense of pay ranges. Check trade journals, salary-related Web sites with cost-of-living calculators, and the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook at stats.bls.gov/oco/home.htm.
2Have a number in mind. After doing your homework, close in on a target salary that's reasonable and fair for the position you're seeking. While it may not guarantee you'll get what you want, it could be a great source of clarity throughout the negotiation process.
3Don't be the first person to speak up. Let the interviewer raise the issue of salary. You have nothing to gain from bringing it up the too soon or blurting out your target salary. How do you know you weren't about to be offered more?
4Know how to handle salary questions on job applications. What if the application asks, "What are your salary requirements?" You could write "Negotiable" without specifying an amount. If you must disclose a figure, ask the employer for a salary range for the position. If that's not feasible, write down a fair salary based on your research. If the application asks, "What is your salary history?" write, "To be covered during the job interview." The trick is to avoid sharing too much information about your salary history or requirements so as not to limit how much you'll be offered.
5Take the right approach. Some job candidates portray themselves as the low-cost alternative for a position. This may get you in the door, but you're likely to be underpaid and underappreciated. Instead, sell yourself as a high-quality candidate and shoot for the higher end of the compensation scale.
6Be even keel. Never come across as difficult or unreasonable. True, you want to be paid what you're worth based on the research you've done, but that doesn't mean it's okay to issue ultimatums, act in a belligerent manner or fail to listen to the employer's position. Times are difficult for many companies, and you can let the interviewer know you understand that.
7Consider negotiating for perks. If you really want the job and the employer isn't able to pay as much as you want, you can ask for other things, including extra vacation, personal days, education benefits, a gym membership or higher car or cell phone allowances.
8Inquire about benefits. Be sure to examine the benefits package on its own merits, separate from any salary offer. Benefits can include insurance, tuition reimbursement, relocation payments, stock options, bonuses and outplacement services upon termination. In all of these areas you can do plenty of negotiating.
9Stay positive and emphasize your strengths. Throughout the entire interview and on into the salary-negotiation phase, give specific examples of your accomplishments, skills and successes that show your potential long-term value to the company.
10Don't pull the trigger too soon. It may be tempting to accept an offer on the spot, but it's usually in your best interest to wait a day or two. Tell the employer how interested you are, then explain that you need to discuss the matter with your family or trusted advisers. And remember, the company's first salary offer is almost always negotiable.
Sources: Monster.com; Salary.com; CareerBuilder.com
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.