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Job seekers don't realize they can ask for more

"Gimme, gimme, gimme

Job seekers don't realize they can ask for more-lots more

By Kim Clark

Belinda Clark, who is helping to staff a Miami-area nursing home, has handled about 200 job offers this year, for nursing assistants, research scientists, and everything in between. All but about 10 of the candidates snapped up the initial offer without attempting to negotiate for something extra. Clark is delighted but puzzled. The job applicants apparently didn't realize the offers were usually just starting points. But, she says, laughing, "I don't say anything if they don't.

"It's the delicious little secret of recruiters: Despite all the headlines about a labor shortage, most job seekers don't push companies increasingly desperate for manpower. A survey conducted this summer by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 8 out of 10 recruiters were willing to negotiate pay and benefits with job applicants, but only one third of the job applicants surveyed said they felt comfortable negotiating.

Ask and ye may receive.
Of course, some job applicants, such as those applying for union jobs, shouldn't or can't negotiate individually. But while the current hiring boom is on, recruiters say the vast majority of Americans who change jobs can bargain for better packages. Failure to do so will cost workers a lot of money, says Larry Nadler, a professor of communication at Miami University of Ohio, who has studied negotiation habits.

A 22-year-old who secures a $2,000 increase in annual salary at his or her first job will, because of the compounding effects of years of raises to follow, most likely generate roughly $150,000 in extra income over the course of a 40-year career, Nadler says. What's more, if you don't negotiate for what you want in that brief window between your receipt of a job offer and your acceptance of it, you'll probably never get it, says Stephen Pollan, co-author of Live Rich and an upcoming book on negotiating.

"You are never more powerful than when you are responding to their offer" because it is the one time that the employer may want you more than you want him, Pollan says. In especially lucrative and worker-short fields, the negotiables are becoming the stuff of headlines. Top stockbrokers and financial research analysts, for example, are demanding-and getting-million-dollar signing bonuses. The variety of techie perks have become almost legendary.

Free parking.
Some high-tech workers chat with headhunters to gauge how marketable their skills are. When a job offer comes, they ask for things they'd like, no matter how outlandish: season passes for a ski lift, money to move horses to the new location, the right to hire an assistant, the right to take three-hour lunches (as long as all the work gets done), and for one Manhattan-based worker dreading the commute to Connecticut, a car and a free New York City parking space. Even the recipients of the largess acknowledge it's insane. It's a little less crazy outside Silicon Valley.

But the principles of market research and creative negotiating can work for even entry-level, low-tech-job candidates. Employers often leave 5 percent wiggle room in pay offers and are becoming more flexible about benefits and working conditions. Consider Andy Kovacs, who is hiring 120 retail clerks to staff a new Goody's clothing store in Gulfport, Miss. Kovacs typically offers applicants with some experience about $6 an hour. Most applicants jump at that, Kovacs says. They don't realize that he'd bump that up by, say, 25 cents an hour "if they sell themselves."

Or take Stephanie Havemeier, human resources administrator for Business Card Service Inc. of Burnsville, Minn., one of the nation's largest business card printers. She says she can't negotiate entry-level pay, but "there's room for negotiation" of other important fringes. The company might agree to move the review time to three instead of six months to give the worker a chance at a merit raise sooner, create a more impressive sounding title, or pay tuition for a business-related course.

Workers can take advantage of this new flexibility only when they overcome the stumbling blocks of naiveté, culture, and fear. The easiest to overcome is naiveté, says Miami University's Nadler. Even he jumped at his very first job offer, as a researcher for a Washington, D.C., think tank nearly two decades ago. Then he had lunch with an older worker who explained how he had negotiated higher pay for himself. "My jaw dropped," Nadler recalls. "I didn't know you could do that." But just learning that you can negotiate isn't enough to get many workers started.

Despite a culture that lionizes rowdy cowboy characters, most Americans tend to shy away from conflict, Nadler says. Women, his research shows, are especially averse to conflict. In a groundbreaking study a decade ago, he asked students to pretend they were negotiating raises. He found that women consistently negotiated smaller raises than did the men.

Table terror.
Even with all the practice in the world, it can be hard to overcome the fear that you are going to ruin a great job opportunity by daring to ask for more. Dana Zedd, who spent three years making and negotiating job offers for a Chicago accounting and finance consulting firm, was surprised to find herself terrified when she was on the other side of the table earlier this year. She was tempted to accept the first offer from Tiburon Group, an Internet recruiting firm she hoped to join. "You'd think, 'Duh, I should know how to do this from being on the other side.' And in 90 percent of the cases [in which applicants asked for something extra], we did give more money, or another perk." Still, she was afraid of losing the opportunity by being too demanding. A pep talk and strategy session with a friend helped steel her nerves. She carefully told Tiburon how much she wanted to join the company, but, she added, "I'm in a bind. You've offered me this, but..." She felt a fairer offer was $10,000 higher. Eventually, she and her new boss agreed on a smaller initial raise and a salary review in six months that held out the promise of more than making up the difference. It was the first time she had ever negotiated a job offer on her own behalf. "I was so proud of myself," she says. Now, she tells every job applicant she meets, no matter how scary it seems, "Never accept the first offer. Even if it is just for a small percentage more, always negotiate."

Whatever you do, remain calm.
Nancy Patt, 36, moved to Denver earlier this year and began to panic after four months of temping and coming up dry in her search for a good job. She was just about to call her parents to pack her up and drive her home when the University of Phoenix's Denver branch called to offer her a job managing relations with state student loan programs-just her professional cup of tea. Whatever hopes she had of negotiating anything better ended when she screamed into the phone with delight.


Try, 'Pretty please with sugar on top'
Most job applicants err on the side of caution, but employers have many horror stories about applicants who demanded too much and negotiated themselves out of an offer. So, if you can muster the temerity to ask for more, it is best to do so carefully and pleasantly. Recruiters and career coaches say it is best to plot your negotiating strategy and goals before you walk into an offer, follow these rules:

  • Be timely. Don't start negotiating until you have a firm job offer and a salary figure from the employer. And don't accept until you've at least tried to get what you want. You'll never have a better chance because, let's face it, you haven't let them down yet. Be enthusiastic but firm. When you get an offer, respond with enthusiasm. But then add: "Let me go home and think about it." Make an appointment to return the following day and state your negotiating position in person, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
  • Be reasonable. Ask industry associations and coworkers for the range of salaries and benefits of your target job. Tailor your request accordingly. Requesting something too far out of whack will lose you the job. Ross Gibson, vice president for human resources at American Superconductor in Boston, says he judges applicants by the way they negotiate-and withdraws offers from those who come across as immature or greedy.
  • Be consistent. Carl Kutsmode, founder of the Tiburon Group, an Internet recruiter in Chicago, says he just withdrew an offer to a database administrator who kept upping his price. "It became insulting," Kutsmode says. Be a one- or two-rounder. "Companies we work with typically negotiate once or twice but won't go any further," Kutsmode adds.
  • Be flexible. If the employer balks at adjusting the salary, think of other ways to achieve both your goals and those of your prospective employer. Robert Kenzer, chairman of Kenzer Corp., a New York-based headhunting firm, says "companies love to set up bonus and incentive plans" that reward their employees for helping the company improve profitability.
  • Be gracious. Allow your employer to feel that it has won some compromises. "You've got to live with these people after you join them," says Scott Kingdom, managing director of the Chicago office of Korn/Ferry, the nation's biggest headhunting firm.

Would you move my motorcycles? While your prospective employer wants to get you on board for as little as possible and you'd prefer to make as much as possible, the negotiation shouldn't be treated as a battle, says Leslie Prager, a career coach and coordinator of the career center at New York's New School University. Think of alternative ways to arrive at your goal. Prager has made a list of the 13 most common goodies to negotiate.


  • Bonus: Signing bonuses are increasingly common. If the employer balks, suggest a bonus for achieving certain milestones.
  • Salary: There's usually at least 5 percent wiggle room in most offers.
  • Severance pay: Going for a "parachute" (an attractive escape clause) requires great tact but is increasingly common.
  • Stock options or profit sharing: They're becoming one of the most oft-requested perks.


  • Accelerated performance review: if you're confident that you need only six months to prove you deserve a raise.
  • Clothing allowance: typical only in the fashion and entertainment industries.
  • Computer, cell phone, laptop, or other home-office equipment: especially common at technology companies but spreading quickly.
  • Flexible scheduling: Nonstandard work hours can be one of the easiest perks to win, since it doesn't cost employers cash.
  • Relocation: Ask for extra if you have unusual expenses, such as moving a motorcycle collection.
  • Memberships: including dues for professional organizations and athletic clubs.
  • Telecommuting: Since most companies still handle this worker by worker, it's a good idea to ask ahead of time.
  • Tuition reimbursement: Most large companies cover some costs of business-related coursework. But those planning to take several classes might ask for coverage of books, fees, and non-core courses.
  • Vacation: Both extra days and scheduling can be negotiable, as can your start date."

<Note from JobFairy.com: Read the Jobsiderata page under the Humor section... Our position is that when employers start to be honest about how much they REALLY could pay you, then we'll start to be honest about what we're REALLY getting paid. Ha ha, just kidding. The Statue of Liberty is more likely to put down her torch so she can blow her nose than any of us are to be stupid about compensation with a potential employer...>

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