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Job-Seekers Can Negotiate for Salary, Benefits or Other Perks : Employment: The secret to successful bargaining lies in the timing. Candidates do have leverage.

From Associated Press

Christina Brandt was delighted to finally get a job offer after more than five months out of work, though she was somewhat disappointed in the salary.

“I had wanted about $7,000 more a year,” said the 33-year-old former bank assistant vice president, one of thousands of bank employees laid off during the recession.

Despite the stiff competition for jobs, Brandt still managed to sweeten the deal, getting $5,000 above the original offer and extra vacation time as the new human resources director for a Connecticut market research firm.

“I was very nervous,” she recalled. “I was worried that if I negotiated too heavily they were going to say, ‘Fine, we don’t want you,’ and I would remain unemployed.”

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Many job-seekers have similar fears, especially in less-than-perfect economic times. But job counselors and other experts say most employers are prepared to bargain, much as home sellers expect to haggle with prospective buyers.

“An employer’s task is to get the most talent for the least amount of money, and an employee’s task is to get the greatest amount of money for the talent,” said Lamar Jolly, senior adviser with Bernard Haldane Associates, a Portland, Ore., job counseling service.

Companies are often willing to discuss anything from salary to who gets the corner office, but the secret to most successful negotiations lies in the timing.

“Put off all talk of salary to the latest possible instant,” said Ron Fry, who heads Hawthorne, N.J.-based Career Press, publisher of how-to books for job-seekers. “Otherwise, you could come in too high and price yourself out of the job or too low, in which case you might get the job, but you’ll be kicking yourself because you could have gotten more.”

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That strategy worked for Tom Pierce, a 49-year-old finance executive who recently landed a top management position with an Oregon electronics firm. He resisted attempts to discuss salary until after convincing the company he was the best person for the job.

“Your value goes up because they know you’re the one they want,” Pierce said. “They had wanted to discuss money the first time I met with them, but I just said: ‘It’s my practice to determine if I’m the individual you want. Let’s get that settled first, and I’m sure we can come to a mutual agreement later.’ ”

It was just as well, since Pierce learned beforehand that his salary requirements exceeded the company’s range.

To gain a competitive edge, a job-seeker should not only bone up on the company and necessary job qualifications, but also become familiar with the salary and benefits associated with the position.

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Reference books, trade groups, working professionals, college professors, even the Bureau of Labor Statistics can provide insights into salary ranges based on experience and regional locations. “Don’t expect to be paid too much above the industry standard--unless the boss is your daddy,” Fry said.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. Skilled jobs that require a creative flair can sometimes command a wide range of salaries.

“While there may be an average for what a creative director at an ad agency gets (roughly $63,000 in 1991), there can be a huge disparity from agency to agency,” Fry said. “If you go up the skill ladder and there’s fewer qualified people, then there’s more room to negotiate.”

Martin Yate, author of “Knock ‘em Dead: The Ultimate Job Seeker’s Handbook,” said, “If you’re going for a job where you wear a paper hat and a name tag, you probably don’t have much leeway, but if you’re a professional doing a skilled job, you more than likely will have some leverage.”

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Nursing is another field where demand dictates salary levels. Registered nurses can earn anywhere from $11.50 to more than $30 an hour at hospitals, depending on their specialty, educational background and type and location of the hospital, according to The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries.

Salary may also depend on where you live, because some firms compensate workers for higher living costs. For those in San Francisco, the average differential based on a $25,000 salary would be about 18%; in New York, 17%; in Houston or Cleveland, 1%, according to William M. Mercer Inc., a New York employee benefits consulting firm.

Sometimes you can trade salary and benefits. “If your spouse has an excellent benefits plan under which you’re already covered, then you could negotiate a higher salary or a couple of other perks,” Fry said.

Finally, get it all in writing, especially before tendering your resignation to your current employer.

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