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Home  > Article

Let's Make a Deal

By Martin Lieberman

Negotiating for a higher salary or more perks can be frightening at first, but if you let the offers come to you, you can end up with a deal on the table.

"A lot of people feel, when they go out into the job market, that it's the employer interviewing the person, and it really isn't." -Eric Levinson, Broderbund Software.
You attended the career center's job-hunting seminars, read the guidebooks, and drafted a killer resume. You then sent out what seems like a million resumes, called your connections, and went on plenty of interviews. Finally, you've gotten your first job offer. What do you do?

Like many first-time job seekers, you may fear that it will be the only offer you'll get--but remember that anxiety isn't a good reason to take a job. Of course, some industries are so competitive that just getting any offer is a major accomplishment. "If it's your first job, you should feel lucky that you're not paying them to work," says Todd Kaplan, Coordinator of Production Services at Fox Studios, summing up the thoughts of aspiring film professionals everywhere.

But this attitude is not an accurate reflection of what it's like in every industry. In most fields, you can expect to get more than one offer, which means you won't have to settle for the first one. While most entry-level job offers don't leave much room for salary negotiation, some do. And, sometimes, even if you can't get more money, you can request additional perks and benefits that are sometimes just as valuable as the cash.

Exude Confidence
With so many college graduates competing for jobs, distinguishing yourself from the pack is hard to do. Companies want the best person for the job, so you need to convince them that you are the strongest candidate in the pool. If you have confidence in your own worth, they are more likely to pay you what you're worth.

Know Your Worth
Do research on the field you're entering--find out about the most valued skills, average salaries are, and potential financial growth. Look for this information in "The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries," by John W. Wright, and on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics web site. The information you gather will allow you to market yourself in terms of industry specifics and will make you seem more valuable to potential employers.

Wait for the Offer
Application forms and help wanted ads often ask for your "desired salary," and some interviewers will even ask flat out what type of salary you're looking for. Try not to answer these inquiries--you'll be in a better position to negotiate if they set the starting point. If you must answer the inquiry, start high. That way you leave room for compromise and have a better chance of getting the salary you are after. Don't go too high, though. If a company feels that you're too greedy, or too expensive, you won't get a chance to make a deal.

Negotiate the Package
Most of the time, entry-level jobs come with a set salary with no room for improvement. While many entry-level packages include standard features-- paycheck, medical and dental plans, and vacation time--chances are you can negotiate other benefits that are just as valuable as extra money.

Develop a checklist to help prioritize each aspect of the job offer. If you know which benefits you value most, you will be prepared to defend your requests later on. For example, if your request an educational stipend, you can present it in terms of skill development and personal growth. If you have a plan, especially a course of study that relates directly to your career, that's all the better. If you are relocating to take a job, ask for reimbursement of some of your moving costs. These requests are realistic and practical, and don't require much out-of-pocket cash from your employer.

Other benefits that don't cost the company very much include daily travel expenses, extra vacation days, flextime, commissions, a cell phone, better technology, or participation in the company's 401(k) plan. In the investment banking industry, for example, many analysts receive a stipend for dinner expenses and are chauffeured home when they stay late. These small expenditures go a long way toward making employees happy and loyal.

You Choose
"A lot of people feel, when they go out into the job market, that it's the employer interviewing the person, and it really isn't. When you're out of college and you're looking for a job, you're interviewing companies," says Eric Levinson, Senior Programmer Analyst for Broderbund Software.  "Don't make any decisions until you have some good prospects to choose from. Then you're the one that chooses, not the company that wants to hire you."

In this period of intense recruiting in many fields, don't immediately settle for the first offer. Use these tips to increase your value-- and to score a lucrative entry-level employment package.

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