Salary negotiation in this economy

“More?? You want more??!” is the cry we remember from Oliver Twist’s warden when poor Oliver asks for more gruel at the orphanage. Well, this is actually not the common response from employers when candidates have negotiated their salary, even in this economy.

I have coached several job seekers in the last month to successfully increase the salary of job offers. Two come to mind in particular, both in local government jobs which officially had hiring freezes. In one of these two cases, the candidate was offered a position at a level 2 grade and wanted to make the case that he was worthy of a level 3 grade because of his master’s degree. I actually called one of my contacts at the human resources department and asked how salary grades related to education and other credentials, and was told that the grades don’t necessarily correlate with anything except the length of time an employee is in the job (in this particular city government). The HR representative actually said “I seriously doubt whether he would get any more than what is offered, because we are laying people off and have a hiring freeze.”

I conveyed all this to the candidate, but added that since he had already been offered the job and the department members were all very enthusiastic about him, he really had nothing to lose by just asking for a higher salary. We worked on a pitch in which the candidate emphasized how excited he was about the offer and how well he fit (and even exceeded) the requirements of the job. He made a strong case that his education and experience would allow him to bring the position to an even higher level than was asked for, and in the end he was successfully granted the level 3 grade of pay, which was significantly higher than the offered level.

My general advice about salary negotiation in this economy is that candidates should be especially respectful and careful about how they go about negotiating, and they might even start the conversation with a statement like “I’d like to make sure that I wouldn’t jeopardize my offer with you by just asking about salary.” After getting reassurance that asking the question wouldn’t lose them the offer, the candidates can then go about negotiating the same way as usual, emphasizing how they exceed the requirements of the job, and/or how the average salary in the field might be more than what is offered (after doing research on salaries). If an employer doesn’t have the budget to give more than the offered salary, they can say so, and you still haven’t lost anything. They can even laugh at you! But it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve at least tried.

The part that is the hardest in this economy isn’t the negotiating of salary, but the landing of an offer in the first place. That part is starting to look up a little bit, too. More candidates are getting interviews now than they were at this time last year. It still is taking months longer for candidates to land jobs than it did in the better years in recent memory like 2006-7, but there are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.

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