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Negotiating the Job Offer

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Updated on Nov 30, 2010

Negotiation Strategies, When and How to Say "Yes" or "No" to the Offer

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU'VE BEEN offered a job…now you have to decide whether or not you want it.

Before you get to yes or no, it's important to realize that there is a correlation between how much experience you have and how much negotiating you can do. If you are just beginning your career, there won't be much room to negotiate. But you can strengthen your position if you know exactly how much the job is worth in the open market.

College career fairs probably gave you a good sense of entry-level salaries, but you can always do a little investigating on the Internet or at your local library. Most university and big-city branches have career-counseling offices in addition to copious reference materials. Many industry associations publish salary surveys. You can also check out the Salary Wizard on www.salary.com, which allows users to search— free!—average salary information by job title (and level), either by national average or specific to a particular U.S. city. The site provides a salary range (for base pay), the median salary, and additional information on a total compensation package (which would include the dollar value of possible bonuses, benefits—including Social Security, 401(k)/403(b), disability, healthcare, pension, and time off—and the net paycheck estimate), as well as other useful information. Or, make some calls to people you know who are already working in the business or industry you want to enter. If you got your job through an agency or a recruiter, ask the person you've been working with to advise you.

An important point to remember is that employers who hire a lot of recent college graduates are savvy about the going rate for jobs. They put an enormous amount of time and money into campus recruiting, so in all likelihood, they know even more than you do about the competition and what it can offer. Your best strategy is to look at the whole picture—not just salary—to determine whether a company is for you. For example, Company A may offer less salary than Company B, but perhaps Company A has a much better training program or an attractive bonus arrangement. Know what job features are most important to you, and give your priorities the most weight when making your decision.

The truth is that when you are looking for your first job, there is often little room to negotiate a better salary. If you really see yourself working at the company that wants to hire you, don't jeopardize a good job over a few hundred dollars—or even a few thousand. Having a positive feeling about your workplace is priceless. However, do keep in mind that you must be able to live on your salary (unless you are continuing to live at your parents' home or are otherwise subsidized)— it's very important to do the math while you're deciding whether or not to accept the job offer.

A great idea is to make a list of both the positive and negative sides of the job offer. Be sure to include facts about work environment, salary, benefits, and location; all of these aspects of the job will greatly affect how you feel about your job after the initial honeymoon period is over. It is extremely important to make sure that your goals are realistic. Try not to include unreachable goals and desires on your list (a promotion within six months or a six-figure salary, for instance); write down only what you could reasonably attain in your present position.

Sandy, an entry-level interpreter, offers this advice:

    Try to create a sample budget. Start with your rent—if you know what you will be paying. Then you will know the amount of your largest monthly bill. Ideally, your rent should be roughly one-third of your monthly take-home pay. Then there are utilities, such as electric and gas, cable, and phone. (Don't forget to include cellular and ISP charges, if you have these services.) Be mindful of student loans and credit card bills, too. In order to create or maintain good credit, you must pay these bills, in full, each month. Then budget for groceries, transportation, gas, furnishings for a new apartment, entertainment such as movies and dining out, and health insurance co-payments—it all adds up!
    Don't forget about taxes. If you are being paid $36,000 a year, do not expect to receive $3,000 every month. Chances are it will be around $2,200. (That's just over $26,000 per year. That may not even include 401K or health insurance.) Now, deduct all of the monthly estimated bills from your monthly take-home pay. Do you break even? If you're close to a balanced budget, but a bit over on the expenses side, try to trim your entertainment. Recalculate. If the amount you need to spend each month is still not close to your monthly take-home pay, then you have two choices: Call to decline the job offer because the salary is too low or find a way to supplement your income.

Lauren, a Web producer, adds this:

    Before you throw in the towel, be sure to tell the human resources representative that you're very interested in the job, but that you just can't make it on the offered salary. Add a few comments about how great the prospective team looks to you, and how you really picture yourself in the group. At this point, you've got nothing to lose except the chance at your dream job—inquire about overtime pay or the ability to do freelance assignments, maybe in another department.
    If there is still no flexibility for greater income, and you really want the job, consider other, part-time work that won't interfere with your career, such as waiting tables on weekends or working a couple of weekend shifts at the local bookstore or coffee shop. Although this is not optimal, you may need to sacrifice some free time to break into certain industries.
    For example, most media jobs pay very low salaries for entry-level positions, yet they continue to appeal to recent college graduates. For the young, independent folks who seek them, working a couple of nights per week the first year is well worth it. I stuck it out in my industry, and I often look back on the nights waiting tables, copy-editing, and tutoring as equally valuable training. I worked hard, balanced my budget, and even saved money to go on some great vacations. Just remember not to take on too much outside work—you don't want your boss to think that you're too tired at the start of your "real" job on Monday mornings.

Keep in mind, you will need to balance salary requirements with other aspects of the job opportunity. During the research phase of your job search, find out other positive qualities of a company. When you zero in on a job in a company that you really like, keep in mind that you will be spending at least 40 hours per week at this office. You will want to do work that challenges you, with people you like and can learn from. If these factors are sufficiently appealing at a particular company, chances are the financial issues will work out for you, too.

If there is something about a job offer that doesn't meet your expectations, bring it up as soon as you get the offer, rather than waiting for two or three days to say there's something on your mind. If you wait—and make people at the company wait—they will be less likely to negotiate.

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