by AnnaMaria Andriotis
With an average of five unemployed people now vying for each job opening, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, employers who are hiring can afford to be picky — and tight-fisted. Many companies are reducing compensation for their existing employees, which means they’re more likely to offer lower salaries to new hires, says Fred Crandall, a senior consultant at human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt. In April, 21% of employers had reduced employee compensation, according to a Watson Wyatt survey, up from 7% in February.
And while you may feel compelled to accept any job offer, failing to negotiate a compensation package can cost you. These days, employers who engage in such “lowballing” are offering an average 10% to 15% less than what they would have offered before the recession began, says Ford Myers, president of Career Potential, a Haverford, Pa.-based career coaching and consulting firm.
Here’s how you can find out how much you’re worth in this economy — and how to get it.
Know How Much Your Peers Make
Start your research at Salary.com, which offers free salary range reports based on your job title and location. You can also purchase reports that show salary ranges based on education and experience. Entry-level position reports cost $30 each, while midlevel and executive reports cost $50 and $80, respectively. Another free resource: the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which includes median salary statistics for hundreds of occupations.
For more personalized advice, team up with a headhunter who specializes in your industry, says Bonnie Monych, a career coach based in The Woodlands, Texas. Headhunters track average salary ranges and can tell you what skills are most sought-after by employers in your field. Public libraries and professional industry associations often keep lists of local headhunters. Your employed friends may also help with referrals.
Finally, consider broadcasting your request to your Facebook and Twitter contacts. You can’t just ask someone how much they make, but you’d be surprised how many people would be willing to share a typical salary range for their field, says Annemarie Segaric, owner of the Pelham, N.Y.-based Career Changer Company, which offers career coaching. LinkedIn users can join industry networking groups and post questions about salary trends.
Polish Up Your Skills — and Boast Them
Faced with tight budgets, few companies these days are willing to spend money on training new hires, says Joe Kilmartin, managing director of compensation consulting at Salary.com. Instead, they’re looking for applicants who can hit the ground running from the first day on the job. During your interviews, ask what the company is looking for and explain how you can fulfill those needs, says Robert Todd, head of compensation and benefits operations at Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, which is currently hiring.
Training or certification programs can hone your skills or acquire new ones. The good news: Many courses are offered for free. The Department of Labor’s Career Voyages program, for example, provides educational and apprenticeship information for auto workers transitioning to careers in public safety, marketing or sales. And many prestigious universities, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University, post the materials that professors use to teach their regular classes on the web for free. States also receive funding from the federal government for one-stop career centers. Services vary by center but include interview preparation and training events.
Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
Many employers won’t extend their best offer unless you negotiate, says Monych. So now is the time to use all that research and come up with a desired salary range. Don’t be afraid to ask for a 10% increase from your last salary -- especially if you were underpaid. Ranges for five-figure salaries should be within $10,000 (for example, $60,000 to $70,000), while six-figure salary ranges can be wider (say, $100,000 to $140,000).
When an employer doesn’t budge from their initial offer, try negotiating other terms, like an extra week’s vacation, says Segaric. Or see if your employer will consider a raise six months after you start working — assuming that you meet their performance standards.
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