FORT LAUDERDALE — Close to a job offer? If you've been unemployed for several months or longer, you are likely at a disadvantage in negotiating salary. Still, knowing the rules of the game can help you navigate a competitive compensation package. • "Whether out of work or not, don't talk about the compensation until you've been offered the position," says Joan Ciferri, president of David Wood Personnel in West Palm Beach. And, she says, "don't behave like you're more interested in the package than the job."
Ciferri recommends getting the interviewer to tip his or her hand first on the salary budget.
"Find out what range they have for the position. If they ask you what compensation you're looking for, turn it back on them: 'What range do you have budgeted for the position?' Once you have that information, you can negotiate."
Generally, unemployed job candidates in the recession have been offered pay that is less or equal to what they were making in a previous job. Look at salary information on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, www.bls.gov. But consider the entire compensation package, not only the salary.
"Make a business decision, instead of an emotional decision," she says.
One strategy is to offer your services for 90 percent of the midpoint in the pay range, says Barry Brown, president of Effective Resources, a consulting firm that annually surveys employers in Florida about pay rates. Most employers have not updated their pay ranges for two years.
"Ask an employer when the last time the pay range was updated," Brown says.
If you are more experienced, you may want to ask for at least 95 percent of the midpoint, he says.
Joe LoBello, managing director of staffing firm Stephen James Associates in Boca Raton, says what matters is the market value for the job. If an employer has identified a group of qualified candidates who were all making $75,000 a year in a similar position, "that's the new market value."
LoBello says he's seeing a significant jump in hiring activity, which also makes a difference in what a firm offers. If a candidate has other offers, "that gets employers excited. 'They must be pretty good,' " he says. But he's not suggesting candidates play games.
If offered less than the high end of the salary range, and there's another offer on the table, ask whether the salary can be addressed again. But be aware that that's always a risk if there are other qualified candidates.
Ciferri says even if desperate to take a job, unemployed workers have to know their bottom lines — what is needed to pay the bills. Still, "never say 'no' or end the conversation on a negative tone," she says.
Besides salary, there may be other forms of compensation, including bonuses, health insurance premiums, subsidized child care services, a company match on your retirement savings and extra mileage reimbursement or a gas card, if you commute. Executives can ask for profit-sharing and equity to improve their compensation down the road.
"Don't ask for a sign-on bonus," LoBello says. That went the way of relocation expenses for many in the recession. But job candidates may be able to ask for a tradeoff, such as an extra week of vacation, sponsorship for professional training or educational reimbursement, he says.
Negotiating compensation is all about timing, LoBello says. If someone is recently laid off and has a good severance package, even an unemployed worker may decline an offer substantially below his or her former salary. But job hunters who have been out of work for eight months or more should think twice about rejecting an offer.
There's also a case for being somewhere "in the middle" in salary in changing economic times, Ciferri says. "Businesses are not making what they used to make and have had to cut staff. . . . You don't want to go so far off the scale that you're the first one to go."
Still, Brown counsels employers not to take too much advantage when hiring workers in these economic times. "They will be the first people to leave when things turn around," he says.