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October 09, 2008


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One thing I noticed when interviewing new applicants is that they get hung up on starting base pay too much. You really need to really look at the total compensation which includes possible bonuses, profit sharing, pension, benefits, etc.

I was once offered a promotion-level position with another company and was dismayed when the starting salary was only a tiny bit more than my previous job. They promised a lot of other compensation and, although I was skeptical, I thankfully took the job. At the end of the first year my total compensation was nearly double that of my previous job. One caveat is that often these extra compensations are often not guaranteed so there is a little risk involved.

This is often a hard concept to get through to new applicants and unfortunately I've lost some great potential hires. (Yes, I realize my firm should just raise their base pay but that's the way they roll and it's not my decision anyway.)

It is okay to ask, but if turned down, be careful how heavy you continue to push (that is if you really want to have the position).

Monkey --

They detailed what you COULD earn, correct? Your comment implies that maybe some of the extra compensation wasn't specific and you took the job on faith -- but I'm sure that's not what happened. Is it?

It depends. When I am applying for a position I like to know what the salary range is for the position. I explore to get the range. Another factor is the size of the company. A large company will tend to be on the high end of the range (but not always), smaller companies on the low end.
The next step is to understand your value to the potential employer. If you are just starting your career it may be unrealistic to ask for top dollar. I use the mid-year bonus approach in this case. Let me demonstrate what I can do for you, if I meet certain objectives I expect and X% increase in six months. If I am an experience employee that can value immediately I go for top of the range.
In a recent job offer I was offered top of the salary range, thus did not counter for a higher number. I brought a great deal of experience to the table and they recognized my value.

Another are for negotiating more money is relocation. If the area you are relocating to has a higher standard of living, do your homework and present the information to the employer. I got a 30% increase that made me whole. You cannot argue with the data. Typical data includes: gas prices, food costs, commuting distance, real estates taxes, sales taxes, housing costs, personal property tax.

I don't think you should always ask for more salary just on principle. There are downsides to being overpaid -- expectations you can't possibly live up to, being the first to be laid off in a money crunch because you're the most expensive, etc. You should do your research and ask for what's appropriate. If you're already being offered a salary you are happy with and it's towards the higher end of the appropriate pay range, take it. You can always try to negotiate something else, like a couple extra days of vacation or tuition reimbursement.

FMF - Correct. We're pretty much limited to saying something along the lines of "we have an aggressive bonus structure and over the past 3 years for someone at your pay-grade it has averaged 45% of your annual base pay." You can't really get more detailed than that and you definitely are not allowed to make guesses as to what the bonus will be in subsequent years. Some with the other areas -- you can specify the compensation programs in place, just not what the actual numbers will be.

As to the initial question, as someone who has done a fair amount of interviewing, I was often given a range of starting salaries and as long as I stayed within that range I could seal the deal without additional approval. My initial offer was nearly always within the middle to lower range of that range so I was usually very open to raising the initial offer.

What about government jobs where you're salary is predetermined? Like you get a GS-9 salary? Is it appropriate to ask for a GS-10?

Got offered a promotion. Was given a standard policy of 10% internal increase. Made a counter offer. Was then offered a 15% raise and an early review opportunity. Accepted, scored 97/100 and picked up 3.5% more at the early review. Throw in a 1.5% COLA just before the review, and it was a pretty good year.

Government jobs have have 10 steps in each G level. The top step in any level makes more than the bottom of the next level (see

A strategy with government jobs is to get the highest G level, even if the salary is the same (or less) than a lower G level. The reason is that it is easier to get promoted up steps within a G level than to get promoted to the next G level.

The same can be applied to business. If you understand how the various levels are designated, a coming in at the bottom of a job job designation might allow you more raises faster.

Anon --

I guess so! A pretty good year for sure!


Thanks for the heads up as I'm applying for some government jobs soon! That table was blank though, what was intended to be filled in the chart? I'm hoping to get hired as a GS-9, but since I lack some of the major skills, maybe they'll toss me as a GS-8... but I'll keep that info in mind for sure and try as hard as I can to be a 9 or better :-) I don't mind if I'm at the bottom of the food chain, just means I go up from there! :-)

Try this:

Good luck on the job search

If you can justify your 'ask' go for it. But I don't think it needs to be a standard process- don't dull yourself down into making it a habit. Every situation is unique and deserves the time and analysis to properly ensure both parties (employer & employee) can walk away with good value and satisfaction with the deal done. Making this process routine and putting your negotiation style on autopilot is not recommended.

-Big C

When I negotiated for my first job, I didn't really know what I should be asking for and asked for way too much. They just said, 'no that's totally unrealistic' and we negotiated at a lower level. Just asking, and making a mistake, really didn't harm the situation.

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