The Best Ways to Negotiate a Higher Salary

By Anne Fisher, Senior Writer

Some employers actually think less of candidates who don't ask for more pay, according to one survey. Plus, do private companies offer skimpier severance? And a few thoughts on office romances.

February 15, 2006

NEW YORK - Dear Annie: I was intrigued by your recent article, "Are you underpaid -- or overtitled?" because my situation is the opposite of what you described: I haven't gotten a promotion (that is, a new title) in the six years I've been at this company, yet my responsibilities have doubled. So, in researching my market value, I keep finding that my actual job description should command more money than I make now -- and, unfortunately, more than employers are offering me based on my lowly title. Is it okay to try and negotiate a higher starting salary? Or should I settle for less money now and try for a raise later, after I've proven what I can do for them? --Bargain-Basement Bob

Dear Bob: "Attempting to negotiate a better offer is almost always in your best interest," says Richard Castellini, a vice president at CareerBuilder.com.

The job site surveyed 875 hiring managers a few months ago and found that about 60% of them leave some wiggle room when they extend an initial pay offer, while just 30% say their first offer is final. (For the rest, it depends on the candidate: For the right person, they'll up the ante.)

About one in ten said they actually think less of a candidate who doesn't try to nudge the numbers up a little.

When asked what was most likely to persuade them to sweeten their offer, the largest group (34%) said they want to hear you explain why you're worth more by highlighting specific accomplishments -- something you, with your redoubled responsibilities, should be able to do pretty easily.

Another 30% said they rely on references from past and present peers and bosses in deciding whether to offer you more money, so try to make sure these people will give you rave reviews.

Let's say you get a juicier offer from another prospective employer. Should you use it as a bargaining chip? Probably not: Only 13% of the hiring managers polled said that would sway them.

So yes, if you really believe you're being lowballed, try to make a strong case for a higher starting salary. If you still end up accepting an offer that's somewhat less than your true market value, bear in mind that starting pay is just that. Ask whether your compensation can be reviewed in six months and, if so, then do a fantastic job in your new role and see if a raise (or a performance bonus) is forthcoming then.

Dear Annie: I was laid off from my job managing 15 data analysts in a privately owned company. (The firm has about 1,500 employees total, has been in business for over 55 years, and is highly profitable.)

When I asked what kind of severance package I would receive after eight years of service, I was told that management had notified me two months before my termination date that my position was being eliminated, so that I'd have extra time to find a new job.

Translation: The advance warning they gave me was instead of severance pay. Other managers were let go at the same time I was, and I'm not aware of any of them having gotten severance either. Is this usual for private companies? To avoid it in the future, should I apply to publicly held companies only? -- Just Wondering

Dear JW: What's usual for private companies is a bit of a mystery, since they aren't required to tell anybody. Among the published research on severance benefits that I was able to find, the only clue to private employers' relative stinginess (or generosity) is a brief mention in consulting firm Compensation Resources Inc.'s "2005 Severance Survey": "Generally speaking, privately held companies [unlike publicly held ones] do not provide outplacement services."

But if you think about it, it's logical: For better or worse, senior managers no doubt find it far easier to hand out cash that belongs to anonymous shareholders than money that would otherwise go into an owner's pocket -- especially if the owner is the one making the decision.

With that in mind, you probably would fare better if, next time you get laid off (perish the thought), you're working for a public company. It's also not unheard of to ask about an employer's severance policy up front, in a job interview, and some executive coaches recommend doing so.

But I'd think twice before bringing this up. Even though you'd just be asking for information, striking any pessimistic note in an interview can too easily send the wrong signal.


Friends, Valentine's Day was this week, and it's interesting to note that just 36% of U.S. workers now believe an office romance would jeopardize their careers, down slightly from 39% last year, and that 27% say they have kissed a co-worker. These figures come from a poll by Harris Interactive and a staffing company called Spherion, which recently quizzed 1,405 working adults on the topic of cupid amidst the cubicles.

One intriguing finding: Fully 50% of men would consider dating a colleague if they were single, while just 28% of women would.

Guys, here's something to ponder: If this survey is any guide, there is a 72% chance that the hottie down the hall does not want to go out with you. And there is a 100% chance that your company's lawyers would prefer that you not ask more than once. How unromantic!

Now, bring on the e-mails from happy couples who met at work... I know there are thousands of you.