By Sara Eckel
Congratulations! You’ve received a job offer during one of the worst recessions of our lifetime. Now there is just the sticky matter of pay. Although the economy is technically in recovery, employers are still very pessimistic about the overall outlook. A study conducted by the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte found that 60 percent of executives surveyed believe that business conditions are the same or worse as they were last year, and as a result the majority report that they are freezing salaries.
That makes salary negotiations for a job offer especially tricky. And while now is not the time to demand sky-high fees or fancy benefits packages, experts say you can get a fair salary. It just takes tact, finesse and a few simple strategies:
1. Know Your Worth
There’s nothing worse than giving prospective employers your salary requirements and seeing them respond with coughs, sputters, and Adam-Sandler-style spit-takes. The best way to prevent this—or at least know when they’re bluffing—is to research salary ranges for your position, industry and city. Check sites like online salary database PayScale.com and query your business contacts for the inside scoop. This will enable you to keep your composure if the hiring manager suggests that your expectations are unrealistic. However, Ali Chambers, vice president with ClearRock, a Boston-based outplacement firm, warns against directly citing the data, since that could seem confrontational.
2. Navigate the “Pre-Negotiate”
In the ideal world, salary negotiations for a job don’t begin until after the position is offered—and the prospective employee has some leverage. Unfortunately, these days many employers are “pre-negotiating” compensation—requesting salary requirements during the first screening interview. In these situations, it’s best to get the hiring manager to throw out the first number, says Chambers, since that figure could always go up (whereas your number can only go down). But if that’s not possible, give a salary range rather than a hard number. For example: “Depending on the scope of the position, my requirements are between $70,000 and $80,000.” This will prevent you from being eliminated immediately, but will also give you leeway to up the figure after details of the position—such as the amount of travel, or number of direct reports—are revealed.
3. Leverage Your Health Insurance
With health-care costs in an upward spiral, many businesses are struggling to maintain their insurance benefits. If you’re married and are on a spouse’s plan, offer to forgo your prospective employer’s health insurance in exchange for a higher salary. While larger companies may not be able to accommodate this request, many smaller employers will eagerly accept this deal. After all, it saves the company money and enables you to swap something you don’t need for cash. “This could easily be worth several thousand dollars,” says Silver Spring, Maryland, career coach Cheryl Palmer.
4. Get on a Review Fast Track
If your prospective bosses won’t budge on their figure, request a six-month salary review that will be based on a measurable objective—like increased sales, higher productivity or lower costs. This will give you an opportunity to bump up that figure after the economy has (hopefully) thawed—and you’ve had time to prove that you’re worth it. “Negotiations begin right after you receive a job offer and occur in many conversations all year,” says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm. “That’s why a review request should be your first priority in the negotiation process.”
5. Negotiate Non-Monetary Benefits
Money isn’t everything. And some perks may actually be more valuable to you than few thousand dollars a year—an extra week of vacation time, a flexible schedule, the ability to work from home a day or two a week. When companies are cash-strapped, they are often happy to cut these deals because they don’t involve actual dollar amounts, says Chambers. But she notes that such benefits must fit into the office culture—the president of a small internet start-up may be happy to let you bring your dog to work; the senior partner of a large corporate law firm probably won’t.
6. Just Ask
Many employers use the economy as an excuse to low-ball, but the majority are willing to go higher than their first offer, says Colorado-based executive coach Debra Benton. So if you aren’t thrilled by the initial figure, ask if there is some flexibility with the salary. If they ask why you want to know, corporate trainer Laura C. Browne suggests that you simply explain that based on the job requirements and what you bring to the position, you were hoping to make a bit more. “Then stop talking,” she says. “See what happens. Sometimes, there is flexibility and this can get you a little more money.”
More from PayScale About Salary Negotiations with Prospective Employers: