imageContributing blogger John Long is a professional career coach and consultant in Atlanta who founded Two Roads Resources. He blogs at Atlanta Career Coach.

Q: I’ve received a job offer after several rounds of interviews with a company I’m interested in. But in the current job market, is there any point in trying to negotiate the salary level?

A: The current job market is extremely competitive and many companies are being quite cautious when filling key roles. Job seekers are well aware that the climate has changed and it’s natural to question if the rules surrounding salary negotiations have also changed.

If you are a strong candidate for an opening, then your work commands a fair salary. But what’s the definition of “fair” in today’s climate? Here are a few rules of thumb to follow concerning salary negotiations:

Do your homework before you speak. Many candidates are terrified to answer this question—“What are your salary requirements?” Whenever possible, provide a range that starts at your rock bottom number and ends above your expectation. This will give you wiggle room for negotiations.

Use web sites and databases, preferably within your industry, to gather targeted salary figures for the positions that you’ve held and the role that you’re pursuing. Consider information associated with your education level, experience, the size of the organizations you’ve worked in, as well as your geographic location. You need realistic data to negotiate effectively.

Negotiate from a friendly position of strength. You’ve obviously developed positive rapport with interviewers since you’ve received a job offer. Don’t jeopardize this with an inflated ego. Continue your dialogue in a professional and courteous manner and learn as much as you can about the perspective behind their offer.

Use that information to respond with quantifiable data to support your request. Revisit your background and career accomplishments and emphasize the contributions you believe you can make to the organization, both short and long term.

Carefully consider all the elements of the employment package. Don’t focus only on salary. Keep in mind that the company may also be investing in other very tangible benefits for their staff members, so get a good inventory of these. Medical, dental and disability insurance, employee assistance and discount programs, paid time off, tuition reimbursement—these equate to dollars invested by the company on behalf of the employee. When you’re comparing job offers and salary levels, focus on the entire package being offered.

Bargain for added benefits. If the employer won’t budge on the initial salary offer, consider bargaining with them to add a few more items to the overall benefits package. Since they do not have to pay matching payroll taxes on non-salary benefits, maybe they will consider additional days of paid leave each year, or an annual allowance for association memberships or professional development activity such as seminars and workshops. Maybe they would consider a signing bonus after three to sox months of employment or a performance bonus at 12 months. The answer might be no, but it can’t hurt to ask.

Be prepared to walk away. If you do not receive an offer that is at least equal to your minimum requirement, a salary level that will allow you to meet your monthly budget, then be prepared to walk away. A new career role offers the opportunity to rekindle your enthusiasm and creative energy for work. But when the pay is too low, your motivation drains pretty quickly. Plus, there’s additional stress when you can’t pay your monthly bills.

When deciding on your action plan for salary negotiations, consider how the guidelines above apply to your situation. Gather feedback from the interviewer and give yourself enough time to make an informed decision about the job offer.

Resources to use when researching salary data

Salary.com
Salary Surveys from Vault.com
Salary Info at the Riley Guide

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