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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Negotiating a New Salary--Believing You're Worth It

This post has been included in the Carnival of Debt Reduction: Thanksgiving Edition hosted by Mighty Bargain Hunter. Do stop by and check out the other financially savvy advice. I'm also very pleased that it has been selected by Political Calculations as a one of the best posts of the week for their On the Moneyed Midways feature, where you can see highlights of other financial blog carnivals.

I just came across a cool site,, where you can plug in a zip code and a job title and get an instant report of salaries from recently advertised jobs at that location.

Other than being nosy, this tool is enormously helpful in providing third-party objective data in salary negotiations. For more on why this is important, I highly recommend the negotiating classic Getting To Yes.

When I accepted my new job a few weeks ago, I was working through a retained recruiter. So she was going to get paid no matter who they hired. It was her job to screen applicants and "package" them for the employer. (Packaging in this case meant reformatting my carefully formatted resume into the recruiter's house style and asking me to write a summary of my experience for her to submit.) Part of the screening was to see if the salary was in the ballpark.

I'm sure you all know that as much as you like a recruiter, he or she is being paid by the employer, and everything you tell them goes straight to the employer. They are the employer's "agent."

In my screening call with the recruiter, she asked me how much I was making at my old job. I decided to tell her.

Then I pulled a trick. The hiring company was a not-for-profit organization. Tax returns (Form 990s) for not-for-profit organizations are available, for free, at Guidestar. And 990 forms list the highest-paid employees of an organization--with their salaries.

So, I did what any good negotiator would. I looked up my predecessor's salary. And found that she had been making substantially more than the hiring range they had given me.

So, when I got my job offer, I asked for more. I asked for less than what my predecessor had been making but more than they offered me. The recruiter was a little bent out of shape because she knew they had offered me more than I was making, and she knew I wanted the job, so she thought she was done. It was uncomfortable for a few minutes. I explained that I had a lot of experience, that I'd be expecting a raise in a few months for my existing job, and that I was disappointed that there wasn't more of a bump in salary in their offer. She asked me what I was looking for. I named a number.

I let the silence go. She said she'd ask. There was a time delay. The employer came back with a "split the difference" offer--all brokered through the recruiter. To be honest I was almost ready to say I'd take it. But the recruiter did something strange. She said she would go back and ask for the full amount again. She did. I got it.

Those 10 minutes or so of extreme discomfort with somebody I will probably rarely if ever speak with again went further toward decreasing my debt than a whole year of penny pinching would have.

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