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By Savannah Ziegelbauer
MoneyMix Contributor

You've drafted dozens of cover letters. Tweaked your résumé countless times. Waited patiently to hear back from recruiters. Nailed the interview. Written the mandatory follow-up thank-you notes.

You learn that an employer loves you and wants to hire you. The job hunt has been demanding, but there is one last thing to settle before you and your new employer run off in occupational bliss: salary.

You know what it takes to land a job, but when it comes to getting the pay you deserve, the conventional wisdom is that the topic of salary is taboo. Don't believe it.

In a down job market, there often are dozens if not hundreds of other candidates applying for the same job you are. You might be left thinking that, since the market is competitive, you should take whatever salary the employer is willing to give you, right? Wrong.

The process of filling an open position is just as grueling for a company as it is for the potential job candidates, says Jim Camp, the bestselling author of "Start with No," based on a negotiating model he developed that's taught in MBA programs from Harvard to New York University.

Instead of feeling grateful that someone is willing to hire you, realize that you are the one the company wants. The last thing the hiring manager wants to do is go back, sift through a stack of résumés, and begin the interview process all over. That manager has just as much time invested as you do and most likely will negotiate.

Discussing payment can be intimidating, especially if you're new to the professional world. But bargaining for a higher salary can pay off in the end, and it's definitely worth your time to learn how to do it.

knowledge is power

Landing a higher salary is all about coming into the interview armed with knowledge.

Knowing the market value for your skill set and being armed with that information is crucial to getting a higher salary. 

Companies hire consulting firms and compare notes within the industry, Camp says. Find out how much people in your position are being paid, and you'll be in a better position to negotiate.

Take Lauren S., for example. She was applying for a Web editor position in Boston. She saw on the job listing that the salary offered was $50,000. Lauren did her research and learned that the average Boston salary for that role was actually closer to $60,000.

When it came time to negotiate, Lauren was glad she came prepared with that information; she knew the facts and was realistic about the salary she wanted.

"I think in other situations I would have been completely thrown off and probably would have low-balled it just to get the job." Lauren says. "Instead, I knew exactly what to ask for."

By the time it was over, Lauren bargained her way to a salary closer to what she should have been earning.

Knowing the market value for your skill set and being armed with that information is crucial to getting a higher salary, says Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of Capital Associated Industries, a nonprofit human resource management firm in Raleigh, N.C. He compares the process of understanding your value with buying a car.

"There's a market price to a car—and you can discover what that market price is," Clarke says. "You're going to go to different dealers and try to get a little bit better deal. And it's very similar to that job, where you're trying to get hired or you've been offered a job, except you're going to negotiate the salary."

Websites like,, and can help you do your research. Clarke says talking to peers with similar skill sets is probably the best way to learn your true market value.

lev-er-age (n.)—positional advantage; power to act effectively

If you have two employers wanting to hire you, presumably you're negotiating with the lower-paying one, not the higher-paying one.

Clarke says, if you're going with the lower-paying one, you should use the offer from the higher-paying position to leverage yourself a raise. Tell the company why you want to work there, whether that's because you connect with your potential manager or you believe in the company's mission. Explain that you have a significantly higher offer from another good company that would also be a good role for you.

"Ask them if they can match it—or if the spread is large and you genuinely want to work for the lower-paying employer, see if you can find a place in the middle," Clarke says.

Use these websites to research average salaries for individuals with your skills and experience:

Whatever you do, Clarke says, avoid displaying a take-it-or-leave-it mentality. No one wants to feel threatened. And understand, too, that the hiring manager might not come up in salary but the choice is still yours to take the lower-paid job.

Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant and director of professional opportunities at DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., says you should consider other factors besides salary when choosing between two employers.

"What else matters to you?" Langerud asks. "Time? Access? Resources? Education? In this economy, there are many ways to get a 'raise' that don't require an increase in salary. Just make sure it is something you really want to have from your employer."

the right attitude pays off

"My experience with Gen Y clients is that they often expect to start where their parents or other established professionals are today," Langerud says. "Unfortunately, they can't demand the salaries that more established professionals get."

Instead of focusing on entitlement, Langerud suggests directing your attention to outcomes.

Similar to how Lauren knew her market value, Langerud says if you wish to demand a premium for a salary, you had better be able to demonstrate that you are worth it. He recommends being clear about what your value will be to the company; to make explicit what its return on investment in your talent will be.

If you feel your emotions stirring during the negotiation, Camp recommends dropping a pen or taking a drink of water until you regain composure.

"This is about business, but we are talking about people, their lives, and businesses," Langerud says. "Know what you want, present your case, listen to the response, and make a decision."

Published December 13, 2011

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