They Like Me. They Really Like Me

By Lynn Friedman, PhD.
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 29, 2005; 3:53 PM

You've networked. You've interviewed. You've made a nice impression. They like you. They really like you. Now what?

How do you negotiate the terms of your position? How do you clarify your role? How do you establish the sort of work you'll be doing and your title? What salary should you seek? How do you know if you're coming in too high or too low? What about the other perks: vacation, sick days, personal days, educational benefits, health benefits, work schedule, flex time, flex accounts. There are endless possibilities.

It's one of your first jobs. You're a young person. Likely, there were many other contenders. And, hard though it is to admit, you are not yet "one of a kind." That is, you are astute enough to recognize that if you are perceived as too difficult, the offer could be rescinded. So, how do you go about watching out for yourself without alienating others? And, what should you be seeking?

Before negotiating, identify your long-term professional goals and ask yourself (and others) whether this position is a good stepping stone. Learn as much as you can about the career paths of people who held this sort of a position in the past. Did they acquire the requisite skills to earn a promotion or is the job a dead-end? It's important to assess this because at this stage in your career, developing skills and establishing professional relationships can be more important to your long-term financial well-being than current salary. Once you have established that you will be able to grow in the position, you can plan your salary negotiation strategy.

Find out what the job is "worth" and what benefits are typically associated with it. If the company has employed students from your college in the past, the college career center may have statistics on the salaries and benefits that the company provides. You also can seek the center's advice regarding your negotiations.

Contact the national chapter of the relevant trade or professional association. Find out if it has a salary survey. If so, obtain a copy (sometimes this information is even available on the Web); if not, offer to conduct a pilot salary survey under the association's auspices. Such an effort will allow you to establish some contacts in the area while gleaning important information. Search for additional facts on the Internet and in the library. Many companies publish valuable information about salary and benefits and post job descriptions on the Web. Carefully review the company's Web site to learn about its policies and hierarchical structure.

Learn as much as you can about similar jobs elsewhere, particularly in your locale. If you have friends in these positions -- after assuring them that you'll keep their information private -- ask them what they are paid, how they handled the negotiation process and what suggestions they have. If you don't know anyone in a similar position, try this: Contact people in a comparable city in a comparable job. Tell them that you are surveying people in their positions. If they'll talk with you, you'll maintain their confidentiality and you'll share a summary of the information collected. In this way, you'll know what people are earning in similar positions elsewhere. Better still, you'll establish a network of kindred spirits who are pursuing similar career paths.

Before negotiating, it is important to know your priorities. Take stock of your needs and wishes. Clarify your own earning and saving goals. What benefits are important to you? What hours would you like to work? In what sort of environment would you like to work? Describe your ideal work package, include job description, reporting structure, salary, hours, vacation, sick time, educational benefits -- anything that is important to you. What title will move you toward your career goals?

Now, how do you go about the elusive process of negotiating the terms of the position? First, before negotiating, make sure that you have been offered the position. Follow the advice in Jack Chapman's book, "How to Make a Thousand Dollars a Minute," and say, "Does this mean that you are offering me the position?" If the answer is "yes," ask about the responsibilities, reporting structure, hours, benefits, etc. If you hear back, "It depends on your salary requirements," say something like, "I'd really like to work for you and I really like the company; if you can describe what your needs are, I'd love to find a way to make it work."

If the offer seems reasonable to you (based on your research), say so. If it seems too low, follow Chapman's advice: Repeat the number. Fall silent for 60 seconds. During that time, you may get a higher offer. If you don't, say, "I was hoping for something higher" and give a range and then quietly wait for a response.

What if the figures are far apart but you really want to work there? Consider negotiating for benefits that are of value to you. Time is money. If the salary is a lock, see if you can negotiate a reduction in work hours. If you'd prefer to work from home or if you'd prefer flexible hours, attempt to negotiate that. If you are entering a profit-driven industry, consider asking for additional commission. If you'd like to pursue a degree, attempt to negotiate educational benefits. Ask for an extra week of vacation or an impressive title -- a title is something helpful an organization can provide at no cost. If you're offered a great position with mediocre benefits, remember that career opportunities often justify sacrifices with regard to salary and benefits.

Lynn Friedman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and work-life consultant in private practice near the Bethesda Metro. She can be reached at drlynn@mindspring.com. More of her work can be found at http://www.drlynnfriedman.com/.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company