Know your market value before talking salary with interviewer

ON THE JOB

July 16, 2008|By HANAH CHO

I've been thinking a lot about the job market and career choices lately. Could you blame me, considering the upheaval in the media industry and other sectors in this dismal economy?

Sifting through job sites and postings, I noticed that employers frequently ask you to submit salary requirements as part of the application package. I've always been stumped by this because you're often told to avoid throwing out the first number when it comes to salary negotiations.

I asked Eileen Levitt, president of Columbia-based The HR Team, a human resources consultant firm, and Mark Jankowski, president of Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore, which offers corporate training seminars, to share their thoughts on this matter.

Both Levitt and Jankowski agree that job applicants should do some homework to determine your true market value and also what the position you're seeking pays.

"When you're looking for jobs, in terms of salary, you should know what you're looking for in a salary and valid reasons to back that up," says Levitt, whose firm recruits and hires workers for clients.

Check out salary.com, payscale.com and a new site called glassdoor.com, which is the salary version of the popular real estate site zillow.com. Trade groups have good data on compensation, too.

But Jankowski and Levitt disagree on who should start talking salaary first.

For Jankowski, the ideal situation is to find out upfront what the employer is willing to pay. If you have to throw a number out there, follow the first advice. He cautions against using your current salary as a base.

Levitt, however, says it's perfectly acceptable to make the first move. And she says it's OK to tell a prospective employer what you make in your current or last job and ask for a reasonable increase.

If you offer a salary request based on solid research, yet the company counters with a lower offer, then "what does that say about the company?" Levitt asks rhetorically.

Don't offer a broad salary, though, because there's a difference between say, $50,000 and $70,000.

To create more room for further negotiations, Jankowski suggests adding a disclaimer, such as mentioning not only a salary figure but a general sentence about applicable bonuses. And of course, if the job duties end up being more than the initial agreement, you could also try to negotiate a higher base salary, he says.

One last thing, don't make any false statements or stretch the truth about your previous salary if you're asked about it. Prospective employers will find out.

And treat the negotiations with respect.

"Just remember ... you're not selling a used car or buying a used car," Levitt says.

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On the Job is published Monday at www.baltimoresun.com.

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