Last month, the nation had its strongest job growth in three years, but the competition is still fierce for job openings. That leaves many candidates wondering if they have any room for negotiation in the process, especially for those seeking coveted positions with government agencies or contractors — often seen as beacons of stability in what has been a fickle employment environment. • Here's how to make sure you take your best shot at checking off your next job wish list.
1Use your federal work history to your benefit. Previous government or military experience, or any experience working with government contractors, can save an agency or firm a lot of money and time, so play up your value. You'll be able to start working on sensitive projects immediately, plus your experience can help bring in a particular niche client for the firm and makes you more valuable.
2Do your research. Preparation is critical, especially in this economy. That means collect whatever internal salary and compensation information you can get about the agency or organization. Use your network to reach out to current employees to find out what people are earning. You also need to do your external market research to determine what the offer should look like based on your work experience and the other things you bring to the table, as well as the market averages for the region. Several Web tools — such as PayScale and Salary.com — can help you figure this out.
3Know the job. Ask a lot of questions about the level of the job and the scope of the responsibilities. This will help you determine how you should be compensated or a fair pay grade if you're applying for a government position.
4Prioritize. Think about what is most important to you — in this economy you're never going to get everything you want. Order your priorities. Salary? Signing bonus? Location? Start date? Vacation days? Focus on the one or two most important things and getting those first.
5Have an alternative. If you don't get the job, or you don't get the offer you want, what will you do? Ideally you don't want to take a job at a lower starting salary because that salary will haunt you for your career and is linked to future salary increases, bonuses, government pay scales, etc. But if you can't keep looking financially, then try to see what flexibility the organization may have with other compensation pieces, such as bonuses, relocation costs, etc. — any additional money. If you can't get the compensation, then find ways for the organization to provide additional training, development, certifications, security clearances, workshops — all of that will help you in your own marketability. We're all "free agents" now, and if you can continually enhance your skills, that will be worth something in dollars.