Career Coach: Advice on negotiating salaries and other excerpts from our recent online chat

October 16, 2011

Last week, we hosted our first-ever Capital Business “Career Coach” chat online with Joyce E.A. Russell. A licensed industrial and organizational psychologist, she tackled a flurry of questions about jobs, negotiations and salary concerns. We’ve pulled a few of the salary-specific questions here, and you can read a full transcript of the chat online at www.capbiz.biz. This was the first of what will be a monthly chat. Submit your questions now for the Nov. 9 chat, where Russell plans to address leadership issues.

FROZEN PAY

Salaries have been frozen for my mother’s government-funded position for three years now thanks to the poor economy. By many accounts it doesn’t look like municipal budgets will be getting much better in the immediate future. Is there a way to negotiate for more pay? Is that harder to do in the public sector?

It seems that little can be done about salaries and raises if they are “frozen” for everyone. Sometimes though, the firm has a way of finding “soft money” that can be used for retention purposes, but often this is only used if a person has another offer somewhere else and the firm is worried about losing them. This is unfortunate, but often the case. So, looking at alternative offers is often a good strategy. Also, she might see if there are other perks that involve “soft money,” such as travel to conferences, money for materials, books, resources, professional certifications, training programs, etc. Sometimes these types of things can be supported even though there are not funds for salary increases. Good luck!

NEGOTIATING SALARIES IN ENTRY- LEVEL JOBS

What advice do you have for job seekers negotiating salaries for their first job out of college?

You can definitely negotiate, even in today’s tough economy. The higher the level of job, the more likely you can negotiate. Jobs after college paying between $20,000 to 60,000 have fewer opportunities to be negotiated than higher paying jobs, but there still are things to do. First, do your research on what the market is paying. You can look at numerous Web sites such as salary.com, payscale.com, simplyhired.com, among others. It is critical to arm yourself with information on what the job is paying. Then, you need to look at what skills, etc. you bring to the table to see if you should be at the higher end of these numbers. Once you get all this information, you still need to wait until you get a written (preferably) offer from them first. Once you get the offer, you can begin the negotiations. Having multiple job offers at once is your best tool to being able to negotiate with anyone.

SETTING YOUR OWN SALARY

I often see job postings that ask applicants to specify the salary they’re looking for. I hate doing this, especially because the short answer is that anything is better than being unemployed. What is the best way to give a proper salary requirement that doesn’t undermine your work, but also doesn’t automatically rule you out for being too demanding?

I would NOT put down a salary number or range if you can avoid it. You are right—it can limit them from even asking you to interview. You can just put “negotiable” or leave it blank since they will know you aren’t agreeing to work for nothing and will want to talk about it. Even if they say you must answer the question, you might still be able to very nicely tell them that you would be happy to discuss that issue once you learn more about the job and responsibilities. Only if you are forced to answer (or feel forced) should you give them a range (not a fixed number) and then you need to make sure it is based on research you have done in the market.

SALARIES ON JOB POSTINGS

I’ve noticed that many job listings online do not include salary information or even a range. Why is this? For many jobs the salary would be a key factor in determining whether I would even consider the position and that would be helpful information to have before slogging through the applications process. I imagine it’s inappropriate to ask that early in the game for their ideal salary, but is there a way to indicate early on what you hope the salary will be so that you don’t waste their time or yours?

Actually, it is NOT in your best interest to bring up the salary early in the process. But, I can understand your view that there may be some jobs you might not even apply for if the salary is way too low. You might ask what the range for the position is or what the range for current employees is. Sometimes, you can ask the employees themselves. Be prepared — once you ask this question, they may then ask you how you feel about the range, and this is generally NOT the best time for you to address this question since they have not invested anything in you at all.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has over 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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