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3 Tips for Negotiating a Starting Salary

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 7/5/2011

There are no hard and fast rules to negotiating a starting salary; but there are a number of pitfalls along the way. Avoid selling yourself short while not giving an impression of being unaware with respect to baseline figures. Finesse the three steps of starting pay discussions with ease.

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    Start With Research

    “Handshake Negotiating a starting salary is a delicate dance -- especially in a weak economy with less pay -- that requires an equal amount of finessed timing and ironclad research. It is easy for a worker to either overvalue the position within the company or fail to understand just how crucial this job – done well – really is to the overall success of the business. What is an acceptable starting salary? In both cases, the worker’s response to a salary offer is inappropriate.

    On the flipside, a worker who understands that the median starting salary for a teacher(1) in an elementary school is approximately $40,000 has a better chance of negotiating from a position of strength. In the same way, a worker ready to change employers should be negotiating salary based on the overall experience and education the employee brings to the table.

    For example, a registered nurse starting salary varies by experience(2) and may fluctuate between $22 and $31 per hour. Do not forget to factor in that the average starting salaries vary not only by experience and size of the business but also by the state in which the worker seeks employment. Some employees may be in for a rude awakening when transferring from a lucrative high-salary state, like California, to one with lower pay, such as Colorado.

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    After the Salary Comparison: Timing the Discussion

    It is tempting to enter the negotiation by putting all the cards – or, in this case, salary research – on the table. This is a common mistake. Allow the employer to make the first step and present an offer. It is fair to liken this part of the negotiation to a dance with carefully measured steps.

    1. The employer presents a starting salary offer. The Payscale Blog(3) suggests that the new-hire should audibly repeat the offer and then allow there to be a brief silence. It is possible that the employer will amend the offer and go higher or throw in fringe benefits without prompting.
    2. Counter the offer with a figure that is roughly 10 percent higher – if the initial offer comes in on the lower end of median pay figures. Tread lightly! If prior research shows that the employer falls right in the middle of acceptable starting salaries for this position, only go higher by two to five percent.
    3. If negotiating a higher salary at the onset of employment is not possible, work with less tangible forms of remuneration, such as a sign-on bonus, an extra week of vacation, stock options, a company-paid cell phone allowance and other benefits that hold a cash value.

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    When the Salary Calculator and New Boss Don’t See Eye to Eye: Expanding on the Offer

    If at any time the worker gets the impression that the new boss is not impressed with the idea of negotiating a starting salary, it is time to change tracks and negotiate a pay increase (or bonus evaluations) schedule instead. For example, tie a certain wage increase percentage to an offer of measurable performance.

    This is also solid advice for the worker who is accustomed to making more money but who cannot afford to say ‘no’ to any offer, no matter how low. While this employee is coming from a position of economic weakness, prior experience and education may turn into measurable strengths that the business is willing to compensate for – after the worker shows proven results.

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    Sources

    1. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/All_K-12_Teachers/Salary
    2. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Registered_Nurse_%28RN%29/Hourly_Rate
    3. http://blogs.payscale.com/content/2007/10/how-to-negotiat.html

    Photo Credit: “Handshake" by Libertad y Saber/Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Negociation.JPG