Ask Dr. Job’s chief contributor, Sandra Pesmen, is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and author of “DR. JOB’s Complete Career Guide.”

Winner of several journalism awards, Pesmen is a graduate of the University of Illinois Media College at Urbana, and is listed in several Who’s Who editions. She also has been Corporate Features Editor of Crain Communications Inc., founding Features Editor of Crain’s Chicago Business and a reporter/features writer for The Chicago Daily News.

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Negotiate That Initial Offer

Almost everyone you know complains about being underpaid, or not being paid as much as others in the office that do the same work. And in most cases it's because they took the initial job offer-without even trying to negotiate a better one.

Most people don't bother negotiating because they sincerely believe the first offer is acceptable and don't want to "rock the boat." Especially in these time of high unemployment, it may seem foolhardy to ask for more compensation when they're really glad to just fine a job.

But according to Gail Geary, author of "Your Next Career, " (Jist $14.95),
job seekers who shy away from negotiations miss out on a rare and great opportunity to improve how they'll be compensated for their work.

"I strongly encourage all of my career clients to negotiate offers," says Geary. "Ninety-nine percent of my clients are successful in their efforts because they understand the right steps in the negotiation and know what to say and what to do."

Below Geary explains the five steps you can take to achieve success similar to her clients':

Step One: Discover What You Are Worth
"When you enter the job market or are seeking a contract or self-employment opportunity, research the value of the position in the city where the opportunity is located," says Geary.

A number of print and web resources can help you do this. Some information and reports are free, but you may have to purchase other, more extensive reports. Geary suggests looking at a minimum of three different sources and deciding whether the free or customized report is more appropriate, given your experience and job targets.

"Make sure you take into account whether you are in an entry-level, midrange or senior-level position. In higher-level positions, I would opt for the most complete report and pay for it," she says.

Step Two: Delay Revealing Your Salary Expectations
Pressing candidates to reveal their salary expectations is a fundamental strategy recruiters and hiring managers use to screen candidates out of consideration.

When asked about your bottom line or whether you'd be willing to accept a lower salary, you'll probably feel pressured to respond with a definite answer. Don't! According to Geary, it's best to delay this type of discussion until after you've been given a job offer. Until then, she offers the following advice:

"The way to handle the salary question when it first comes up is to say, 'I am flexible with my salary and I'm expecting to earn fair market value for the position.' Then ask them, 'What is the salary range for this position?' If pushed to answer the salary question, respond with your research, saying, 'I have researched this position through two major salary research sites, and for my midlevel position the range is $78,000 to $85,000. Is this what you have in mind?'"

Step Three: Handle External Recruiters and Applications
Employers often pay recruiters a percentage of the hired applicant's first-year salary. Therefore, recruiters want to know that the salary you expect coincides with what the employer will pay. When speaking with recruiters about salary, Geary suggests you refer to your researched salary range first.

When filling out applications that ask for salary history or requirements, Geary suggests you fill in the blank with the phrase "discuss in person." On applications that do not allow this tactic, Geary recommends you answer the question truthfully based on the value of your last salary and bonus or your future salary expectations.

Step Four: Wait 24 to 48 Hours Before Accepting or Negotiating the Offer
You should do several things when given an offer. Accepting it or declining it in a matter of seconds is not one of them! Instead, Geary suggests you
* Request a written offer.
* Thank the employer for the offer.
* Ask questions to understand the benefits, including medical insurance, vacation time, tuition reimbursement, 401(k) and so on.
* Request up to 48 hours to evaluate the offer and discuss it with your family.
* Create a chart outlining the written offer and the offer you desire. The difference between the offer and what you desire will be your points of negotiation.
After you've made your decision, Geary suggests you schedule an in-person appointment to respond to the written offer.

Step Five: Negotiate the Offer
If you're still interested in the job, but would like to enhance the offer, there are several steps to take during the negotiation process. To begin, Geary suggests you express your gratitude for the offer and your excitement to work for the employer and go over all of the features of the position that appeal to you. Then indicate that there are a few concessions you'd like to be made in other areas before you can join the organization.

"Begin with your number-one priority, salary, and consider this scenario: You indicate that your expectations were for a base salary in the neighborhood of $90,000 based on your research of the fair market value for the position. The hiring manager indicates he is authorized to offer up to $85,000. You indicate that you will accept $87,000. The hiring manager leaves the room to make a call and comes back with a revised offer of $87,000."

Next, bring up other issues of concern, such as bonus and vacation time. Some of these benefits may be negotiable, others not. You'll have to assess whether revising them is important enough to push for. ###


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