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Salary Negotiating Tips for First-Time Job Seekers

Salary Negotiating Tips for First-Time Job Seekers

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Career Tips

It’s easy for an employment agency to advise you to always have a salary range in mind when you apply for a new job. But what if your circumstances are like those of a woman I know who will soon retire from the military after 20 years of active duty? Joining the Army straight out of college, she’s had little experience in the civilian job market.

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Thanks to her two decades of service, however, she is well equipped to start a civilian career. But as an Army officer, her military pay might not approximate the same salary as a civilian.  “I have no idea what to ask for,” she told me.

Career counselors are geared to assisting workers transition from one job to another; they’re not usually expert at helping a mid-career military or government client find a first-time position in the corporate world. So quite often the job of finding a job devolves on you, the neophyte.

Wage Estimates for the US, States and Localities Can Be Obtained from Different Sources

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good place to arm yourself with a bit of financial information before you begin your job search. The BLS produces annual employment and wage estimates for nearly 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. National occupational estimates for specific industries are also available.

For example, the BLS listing for management occupations (a potentially good start for retiring military officers) includes the hourly and annual wages for top executives, general managers, administrative managers, buyers and purchasing agents, human resources workers, computer and information analysts and many more.

Financial media such as Kiplinger, CNN Money, Inc., U.S. News & World Report and state business publications are also sources of company and salary data. Indeed is a popular search engine for jobs and includes a salaries page.

Try Targeting Companies You Admire and Would Like to Work for

Another approach is to target companies you admire and would like to work for. But keep in mind that the most admired companies don’t necessarily pay the most, particularly in the entry-level range. Even if you’re no longer an entry-level candidate, the salary listings of these admired companies can give you an idea of their pay scales.

Korn Ferry, a provider of data for Fortune magazine’s annual list of “World’s Most Admired” companies, compared pay across different job levels for the most and least admired firms in the United States. The survey found that “entry-level work didn’t pay top dollar at the best in breed. On average, clerical roles at the most admired US companies are paid $41,771 in total pay, or 5 percent less than at the less admired companies.”

Tom McMullen, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in reward programs, explained that “best-in-breed firms may start out with lower salaries, but they aim to move stronger-performing workers up the ranks quickly.”

Kathryn Shaw, a professor of economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, has studied how workers are paid and promoted at major U.S. corporations. She says young workers will forgo higher pay for a satisfying culture. “You even see the willingness to take a pay cut to go work for the right company.”

That’s because admired firms offer workers the ability to “feel that the work they do is of importance to the company and that they are not just an interchangeable cog in the wheel,” she explains. In the end, the job satisfaction in the work is higher, Shaw adds, even if the pay isn’t.

Tips for Discussing Your Salary During an Interview

Whether you’re looking to join an admired mega-company or a smaller firm to get your foot in the door, there are a few questions you should be prepared to ask when the question of salary rears its inevitable head:

  1. “Besides the base pay, what other benefits are negotiable?” This can include medical insurance, support for education and training, paid leave, vacation time, moving expenses, and 401(k) contributions, to name a few.
  2. “How did you calculate this number?” By asking this question, you’ll be able to see if the salary you’re being offered is a hard cap or a potential springboard for negotiation.
  3. “What’s the outlook for salary raises or promotions?” Whether or not your salary offer is negotiable, it’s important to know what the future potential is for a raise or promotion.

These questions will signal to the interviewer that, despite your lack of experience in this workforce environment, you have done your homework well. That can be the deciding factor for landing the job with a salary that satisfies you.

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