Because of the down economy, today many job seekers are desperate for an offer – and willing to take any job they can get. But even if you are new to an industry or have been unemployed for a while, is it smart to blindly accept the first number that an employer throws out? I don't think so.
Once you are inside an organization, raises are small and promotions can often be slow in coming, so you have to do what you can to maximize your salary and benefits package right out of the gate. But how can you do this when the employer has the upper hand and hundreds of qualified candidates?
Lesley Gibson, a 30-year-old senior health-care professional in Boston, was nervous about overstepping her bounds when interviewing for a new job at the depth of the recession. "The offer was less than I was making before, so I felt I should ask for more," she says. "But the work environment was different from what I was used to, and I worried that they'd hold that against me."
Justify Your Pay Request
Ms. Gibson decided on a specific number she'd be happy with and in order to justify her request, wrote out a list of ways she intended to bring value to the company.
"When I called the hiring manager to discuss the offer, she countered with the salary I wanted," Ms. Gibson says. "The advance planning made me feel a lot more confident going into that conversation."
Mid-career professionals often think they have to accept a lower salary because their industry or job experience isn't a perfect fit. "You have to get out of the mindset that you're starting over," says Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Associates, a career-management firm. "However, you will need to convince potential employers why you deserve a salary closer to mid or senior level than entry level."
|More News From WSJ.com/Careers|
|Layoffs Hit Schoolteachers|
|When a Background Check Reveals a Misdemeanor|
|Firms Pare Severance Packages|
This means considering what your years of work experience will add to the organization and what you can do that will bring in more money today. Because functional skills are easy to pick up but problem-solving ability and business acumen are best honed over time, employers often prefer more seasoned candidates.
Know the Field
When applying for a job in a new field, understand what entry-level and upper-level positions pay by checking sources like payscale.com and having frank conversations with individuals working in the industry.
Experts like Ms. Varelas agree that you shouldn't be the first to mention salary in the interview, but if confronted about it directly, you shouldn't hesitate. "Tell them you're looking for compensation in X range and, at the same time, ask about the range for that position," she says.
Once you receive an offer, evaluate it realistically. Be aware that public-sector organizations compensate differently than private-sector ones, and that you are unlikely to replace your past salary 100%.
Also remember, however, that employers will expect negotiation and are likely to go up from the original number. If you're not entirely satisfied with the end result, see if the employer will agree to revisit compensation at six and 18 months of service.