Be ready to negotiate pay

PERSONAL FINANCE

July 11, 2006|By EILEEN AMBROSE | EILEEN AMBROSE,SUN COLUMNIST

For many new college grads it's time to learn a skill that will serve them throughout their careers - negotiating a salary.

Yes, even those seeking entry-level jobs might be able to squeeze a little more out of a prospective employer by playing their cards right.

An improved job market favors new graduates. A few years ago, they were lucky to get any offer. Now some are getting more than one. And competing offers put job seekers in an even better position to negotiate, says Brian Krueger, president of CollegeGrad.com.

(If you don't have a job offer yet, don't panic. But don't kick back, either. "It's time to double-down," Krueger says. "Your full-time job is job searching.")

The first step to negotiating is to be prepared, Krueger says. That means knowing what you're worth even before an employer talks money.

Salaries for new grads range from $25,000 to $55,000, says Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation for Salary.com. Liberal arts majors are on the low end; engineers and technology grads on the high side. To find income figures for your field and locale, check out www.salary.com.

It doesn't hurt to ask for more pay. "The odds of getting more salary are infinitely higher if you ask than if you don't," Coleman says.

But you need a good reason why you deserve more. "It shouldn't be, `I just want more,' " Coleman says.

You might be able to show that entry-level salaries in your field are higher than what's being offered, or that all those internships you did add up to a year's worth of experience, experts say.

Don't be greedy. "You walk a fine line," says Steve Schneiders, director of Sudina Search Inc. in Timonium. "If someone offers you $45,000 and you say, `I'd like to have $48,000,' that's reasonable. If someone offers $45,000 and you ask for $60,000, you're out of line."

Don't overlook the value of benefits. One company's perks might be rich enough that you're better off there than at another job that pays more.

Some benefits are more meaningful to young adults than others, too. A generous 401(k) match from an employer is like money in the bank for young workers, Coleman says. Term life insurance, though, is less valuable for young adults with no one dependent on their income.

Prospective employers that can't budge on salary might negotiate extra perks, like additional vacation days, experts say.

So that job seekers don't forget to ask crucial compensation questions, CollegeGrad.com has compiled a "Job Offer Checklist" on its Web site that grads can keep by the phone if an employer calls.

Of course, a job is more than just dollars, particularly the first job out of college. The skills and connections you'll pick up at a company can be priceless.

"What you're doing is building the foundation of your career," Coleman says. "What is important is what you are going to learn, who are you going to know and what you get to put on your resume when it's time to move on."

IRS e-mail bogus

It's not us!

The Internal Revenue Service last week renewed its warning about con artists sending out bogus e-mail claiming to be the agency. The schemers tell taxpayers they are due a refund and then try to trick them into divulging personal information. The IRS has identified 99 schemes since November, with 20 of them cropping up last month alone. Academics and others with e-mail addresses ending in ".edu" are frequent targets.

The IRS says it doesn't send out unsolicited e-mail or ask for personal or bank information online.

Special-needs help

Many parents create special-needs trusts for children with disabilities. That way, when the parents die, there are assets set aside to care for the adult child without jeopardizing valuable federal benefits, such as Medicaid.

Families sometimes put a house in the trust, so the child can continue living there. One concern, though, is what happens if there's not enough money in the trust to cover the cost of home maintenance.

Maryland law changed last month to address this concern. A special-needs trust with limited assets can now apply for state programs designed to help low-income families with home repairs.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

Questions? Comments? Write personal.finance@baltsun.com

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