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Have salary strategy in mind when it's time to seal the deal

| Wednesday, July 6, 2016, 8:27 p.m.

You nailed the interview and the company comes back with the words you've been waiting to hear: Congratulations, we'd like to offer you a job.

The deal isn't done, though. It's time to talk salary. And this, say job counselors, is no time to sell yourself short.

“If the employer states a number, do not simply accept it. Do the negotiation,” said Karen Litzinger, a career coach with Litzinger Career Consulting in Swissvale. “People often aren't comfortable with negotiating, especially women. That's your time of power.”

Job seekers often are too eager to accept the first offer when it comes to compensation — and they could be leaving money on the table. By doing a little homework and developing the right negotiating strategy, you could start a new job at a much higher pay grade than you expected.

Setting a baseline for how much you're going to seek can be difficult, though websites such as salary.com and payscale.com can help establish guidelines for particular positions, Litzinger said.

Dana White, a leadership consultant in Washington, D.C., said job seekers shouldn't be afraid to think big. White's rule of thumb is to apply for positions that pay at least $20,000 more than your current paycheck. It's an amount she believes justifies the trouble and expense of a job change.

That figure might not be realistic for everyone, but the loss of workplace contacts and friends, as well as associated travel costs or changes in benefits, should be factored into the new salary.

“When thinking about jumping jobs, make sure you're doing it for something that's going to be a real financial benefit,” said White, CEO of the firm 1055 Grady. “When you see it in your paycheck, you have to say, ‘OK, life got better for me.' ”

Be careful not to disclose your wishes too early in the interview, Litzinger said. Let the employer be the first to specify a dollar amount so you don't inadvertently put yourself at the lower end of what they would pay.

Employers sometimes ask for salary requirements before making an offer. Always be honest, Litzinger said, but it's fine to be vague and put the question back on the company.

“You might deflect it and say, ‘Well, what is the position budgeted for?' ” Litzinger said. “You might say, ‘I would expect the salary to be competitive.' ”

If the company insists you provide a salary requirement, give a range rather than an exact number, then justify during the interview why you should be at the upper end, she said.

Never lie about what you earn to command a higher salary, White said. Negotiating compensation might be a poker game, but bluffing can backfire.

“Never lie, because it's too easy to be found out, and then you've ruined your reputation for $5,000,” White said.

If the employer is firm on the salary offer, there might be wiggle room elsewhere. You could ask for more vacation time or flexibility in your schedule.

Some of these considerations apply to negotiating a pay raise with a current employer, White said.

Regardless of whether you're seeking a job or trying to improve a position you have, make sure you frame the conversation not as a set of demands but rather in terms of seeking the best for yourself and your employer, White said. Explain how you hope to develop your skills, learn and take on new responsibilities.

“Always get an employer to buy into your future and where you want to go,” she said.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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