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Making counter offers

Kurt Wilkinson -- I am a graduate with a degree in engineering. I have been searching the local engineering market for the last year, and I finally got an offer today. It is much less than the national average for my profession. I would like to make a counter offer, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

Welcome to the club! We all have danced around the salary expectation question and wound up getting a disappointing offer. I have three suggestions.

First and foremost, ask yourself: Why did I start this job search in the first place? If the answer is purely financial, then you're probably right to turn it down.

Second, comparing your offer against a salary survey is fruitless. Surveys are a snapshot in time with variables and standard deviations that statisticians and actuaries concoct. You have to start with some figure, agreed, but relying on a national or even regional salary figure is too constricting and, unfortunately, not always valid. Throw out that survey.

Third, since you got yourself in a pickle by not stating up front your salary expectations (or at least touching on it), you have to get creative. Job seekers can save themselves heartache and time by spending 30 seconds going over this delicate matter in the first information gathering interview.

You must be prepared to hear "No" from the prospective employer on this issue and walk away with nothing -- or everything. Prepare a handwritten list of your current monthly expenses. Include a number of savings areas like retirement/IRA, college tuition, new automobile, etc., along with rent/mortgage, food, leisure, and other sundry expenses. Contact the employer and ask him for another face-to-face meeting to discuss the offer. Try to avoid this over the phone. But if you can't, make the necessary tactful responses required and read on.

State that you are very interested in joining the firm and that you believe there is synergy and mutually beneficial reasons for coming on board, then state that you have prepared a counter offer. Do not use the salary survey in your presentation. In a fair but firm manner, show the interviewer your list. Explain that you have expenses to meet, plans for your future, and a budget required to live in this increasingly expensive world. Play on the person's "fairness nerve." Give him or her the number you have in mind. Tell the company that you are ready to accept on the spot if they can increase the offer.

They may say absolutely not, so your back-up plan is to ask for a salary review in 90 or 180 days, and, based on performance, a percentage of salary increase at that time. If that is a no-go, you are doing yourself a favor by walking away from this employer and continuing your search. You will never feel great about joining them if you lose on both fronts. Remember, the priority here is whatever is most important to you. You know you can get a similar offer from another company, and next time you do, spend a minute or two discussing your current compensation and a realistic salary increase in the first interview. If you don't, you are most likely doomed for another disappointing interview process and less-than-optimal offer.

Kurt Wilkinson is the principal of Wilkinson SoftSEARCH, Inc.

(c) 2002 CareerBuilder.com

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