By Khalilah Starks

You’ve submitted resume after resume and finally get a phone call offering you the chance to interview for that golden career opportunity.  Being a savvy job seeker, you strategically put off the topic of compensation until you’re offered the position.  Then, the day comes that you’ve been waiting on.  You’re offered the job!  But, the salary isn’t quite what you were expecting, based on your research of comparable salaries in the market.  So, now what do you do?  It’s been such a grueling process, that all you want to do is accept the offer and move forward.

My advice – Thank them for the opportunity, express your interest in the position, ask for details regarding benefits (the other piece of your compensation package), and let them know that you’ll have an answer for them after reviewing the materials.  If you don’t at least consider the terms of your offer, you may regret it later.

Compensation 101. Here’s a very simplified view of compensation within a typical company.  For every job, there is a minimum and maximum salary that an employee can make.  This is referred to as a salary grade.  For example, an Assistants’ salary grade may be $25,000 to $45,000.  That means that all salaries for Assistant’s will be within that range.  Highly experienced and senior level Assistants will be at the top of the range, while less experienced Assistants will be closer to the mid-point or bottom of the range.  Employers use factors such as experience, education, and the salaries of current employees to determine what salary they will offer to a new hire.  Most employers will shy away from offering a salary to a new hire that is higher than the most senior employees in that particular job category.

Offer Assessment. Benefits can add up to 30 percent of your total compensation, so it’s important that you closely evaluate the entire compensation package once the offer is extended.  In some cases, you may find that the benefits can offset a lower salary.  Your offer may be better than you think!  For example, medical insurance rates vary across companies, which can mean more or less take home pay for employees.   You could essentially be offered the same salary at two different companies, but have significantly lower or higher take home pay depending on the cost of health insurance.   Other benefits can include vacation and sick leave, 401(k) plans, tuition reimbursement, paid holidays, stock options, pensions, parking reimbursement, and dependent care subsidies.  And don’t forget about bonuses which can be in the form of a sign-on bonus, performance based bonus, or profit sharing.  Even in today’s tough economy, companies are forking over significant sign-on bonuses to entice candidates to accept their offers.

Closing the Deal. Once you’ve evaluated the entire compensation package, it’s time to start the negotiation process.  In your discussion, you should reiterate your interest in the position and reaffirm the value that you can add to the organization.  You’re asking them to make an investment in you, so be prepared to provide examples of how your knowledge and skills will immediately make a solid impact from day one.  Depending on the company’s salary structure and where your salary offer fits within the salary grade, the salary may not be extremely flexible.  If that’s the case, negotiate other benefits such as vacation, flexible work hours, and working from home to get a sweeter deal.  You can also ask for a six month review to revisit the option of a salary increase.  Once you and the employer have agreed on the terms of your offer, get it in writing to avoid any future misunderstandings.

The idea of negotiating salary can seem scary and somewhat risky, especially in this market.  But, you should be ready and willing to successfully negotiate a great deal that will compensate you for the value that you bring to the organization.