D-Day has arrived! Your efforts have paid off and you've received a job offer. Now it's decision time: Do you accept the job on the terms offered or do you try to negotiate more money or better benefits?
If the salary you're offered seems low, don't lose hope. You may be able to coax a better offer from the company. Hiring managers often leave some negotiating room when extending the initial offer. Some even have discretionary power to go above the normal salary range to attract an exceptional candidate.
If you've checked around and believe that the going rate for the job is higher than what you've been offered, bring it to the company's attention. But be ready to provide data supporting your claim. You can find information on average salaries for specific job titles in your city or geographic region on online salary sites, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site, or in professional magazines' annual salary survey issues.
That said, you don't want to make the mistake of playing hardball. There's always the possibility that the first offer was final. The company may have some budget restrictions on the starting salaries it can offer or it may have a predetermined, non-negotiable range for a given job title.
If you find that's the case, there's something else you can try: Ask whether the company would be willing to schedule a salary review in three or six months instead of waiting a year. That would give you the opportunity to prove yourself worthy of higher compensation. But if you decide your numbers are just too far apart, it might be best to pass on the opportunity.
Though job candidates tend to focus on the salary, it's important to consider a job offer in its entirety. Before you decide the money's too low, look at the company's medical and dental plan, stock options and retirement benefits. You may find that it's worthwhile to forego pushing for a salary bump when you can get better dental insurance and come out ahead financially.
Here's something else to consider. If the company stands firm on salary, it may be more flexible elsewhere. Perhaps you can negotiate for tuition reimbursement for continuing education or certification programs, opportunities to attend annual conferences, or memberships in professional organizations. Maybe the company can offer you subsidized childcare services, a health club membership or extra vacation time. The perks need not be costly. Flexible hours, four-day work weeks, and the freedom to work from home are all factors that can help seal the deal. (A word of caution: If you're hoping to bargain for better medical or retirement benefits, you may be disappointed. The hiring manager may have little negotiating leeway with these types of benefits, which are often administered according to a companywide policy.)
One last tip: Sometimes a candidate is better off not handling the negotiation process himself/herself due to personal involvement. Recruiters can be very helpful as objective middlemen (and women) for both parties.
Editor's note: This is the sixth and final installment of a multi-part series on job hunting. Read part one: landing your dream job | Read part two: writing a killer resume | Read part three: you've sent off your resume, now what? | Read part four: live and in person! | Read part five: sit up straight and don't mumble!