Negotiating Salary: Too Risky Right Now?

Photo: Negotiating Salary: Too Risky Right Now?

Last fall I wrote about the great negotiations debate between applicants and employers: whose job it is to name a dollar amount first.

This fall I'm hearing recession-weary job applicants express a new concern: whether it's appropriate to negotiate at all given the country's recent financial contortions, or whether you should simply accept any salary you're offered.

VIDEO: What you need to know to negotiate the salary you deserve.
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Diana, a communications professional with four years of experience in the field, struggled with this decision when she received a job offer from a telecommunications firm in March.

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"I wasn't happy with the salary they offered," Diana said. "At first I thought I could just accept it and try to find a new job in nine months when the economy improved. But then I realized that I wasn't going to be satisfied if I didn't at least try to get them to pay me more."

VIDEO: Take control of your salary
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So she told the HR rep that she hoped to be happy with the company for years to come but didn't want to feel pressured to look for a better-paying position once the job market rebounded.

"I felt like if they made me the offer I must be the best candidate," Diana said. "They're going to want me to stay even after the recession ends."

Fortunately, Diana's would-be employer agreed: they increased their offer by 7 percent.

A Risk Worth Taking

Taking a page from Diana and being anything other than humbly acquiescent when offered a position may seem counterintuitive right now, even reckless. But many job hunting experts say that nothing could be further from the truth.

"People think that because the job market is so poor it strips their right to negotiate for a higher salary. That's simply not true. The rules for hiring did not change when the recession began," said Rita Ashley, owner of Job Search Debugged, a Seattle-based job search consultancy.

"People want strong participatory employees, even more so when companies are so fragile," Ashley explained. "And your ability to negotiate is indicative of self-confidence."

Nick Corcodilos, a headhunter in Lebanon, N.J., agrees.

"To me, negotiating is a smaller risk than not doing anything at all," said Corcodilos, who's author of "How to Work with Headhunters." "Being passive is the biggest risk of all."

Asking the employer to up the ante doesn't make you a blowhard, said Corcodilos. There is such a thing as being congenial while talking money.

To those worried the company will retract the offer if you ask them to sweeten the pot, your fears are unfounded, said Mikelann Valterra, director of the Women's Earning Institute, a Seattle-based organization that teaches women to negotiate the income they're worth.

"The hiring process is long and exhausting," Valterra said. "The company wants you to be the right person."

But if that doesn't convince you, maybe this will:

"All your future raises are based on where you start," Valterra said. "Two years from now when there's no recession, your raise is still going to be based on where you started."

Forget the Past -- Live in the Now

All this talk of asking for a little extra assumes that you did your best to dazzle the employer during the interview process. Many candidates think this entails little more than trotting out their past achievements and pointing to their research about what other professionals with the same experience level are making in that geographic region.

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