Be prepared and weigh risks in pay bargaining

Negotiating requires an investment in time

November 02, 2003|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

If you love your job but wish you were earning a better salary, you might have to find another job. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to take it.

Instead, use your job offer as a bargaining chip, suggests Peter B. Stark, a consultant and co-author of The Only Negotiating Guide You'll Ever Need: 101 Ways to Win Every Time in Any Situation (Broadway Books, $14). Stark says that even if you have no intention of leaving, entering wage talks armed with a counteroffer could mean the difference between getting the money you want today, a year from now - or ever.

"It doesn't matter whether it's a marriage or a business. The side with the least commitment to the relationship is going to hold the most power," Stark says. "If you're willing to go out and secure another job, then you might be able to secure the raise you really want to stay."

Salary negotiation is all about what you're worth. And you might be worth 10 times more if your employer believes you are about to jump ship. But it can be a risky game.

"I wouldn't play 'Call my bluff.' We're still reading about companies that have a goal of cutting 8 to 10 percent of their work force. So someone leaving may fall right into those goals," Stark says.

Before entering a salary negotiation, workers should assess not only the risks but how they intend to demonstrate their worthiness. Be prepared for the company to cry broke. Most companies do when asked to shell out anything beyond the annual scheduled wage boost.

"Almost always, there is money. It's a decision about what to spend it on," Stark says.

Salary negotiation requires an investment of time. Stark suggests preparing for a year before entering wage talks by keeping track of accomplishments and measuring their value against the company's bottom line. Measuring your value is easy if you're working in sales but may be more difficult if you are, say, a secretary. There are ways around that, however.

"You can find skills, such as `I'm good at catching mistakes,' or `Two people used to do the job and now I'm handling it as an individual," he said.

Stark says workers should compare their wages with industry standards, taking into account regional differences and the source behind the data.

"The Internet tends to have salary data published by headhunting firms. They usually publish the highest-paid positions. So that data can be very misleading," he says.

Stark also suggests that whatever percentage increase you're seeking, ask for 2 percent to 5 percent more so you'll have room to negotiate.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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