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What are you worth?

William Murray -- After months of sending resumes, making phone calls and going to interviews, you finally get the call you've been waiting for: "We'd like to offer you the job..."

Great! There's only one small problem -- they don't want to pay you as much as you wanted. So what do you do? Your parents say, "Don't be silly, take the job!" Your friends say, "Don't be a fool! Keep looking for another job that pays what you want."

The real answer is: negotiate.

Many times employers will offer you a lower salary than they actually expect to pay you. You, in turn, will ask for more money. They agree and everyone goes away happy. But how far can you go without negotiating yourself right out the door?

According to corporate headhunter Frank Cumello, it all depends on how badly the company wants you. Cumello says if the company is in dire need and you are the one who best fits the opening, you can ask for more.

"Most companies determine what they are going to pay you based on your previous salary," says Cumello. Cumello advises that during the interview process you let the company know how much you're looking for in a base salary. "Tell them where you are and what you'd like to make," says Cumello.

However, there are other ways to get what you want. One method is the early review. If a company can't, or won't pay you what you want, ask for an early salary review. Many times employers will agree to this because it gives them a chance to evaluate you as an employee before committing the big dollars.

You never know what might happen. One employee of a research organization asked for an early review in lieu of the extra cash and ended up getting the original starting salary she had asked for.

Another method of negotiation involves benefits that are not necessarily included in your paycheck. For instance, ask for the company to pay for your parking or metro costs. Or, see if they will provide you with additional vacation days or stock options.

If you don't like the idea of negotiation, the interview process is the best place to agree to terms.

"The interview is based on chemistry and personality," says Cumello. "Then negotiation comes into play. If there is even a little doubt on the company's part, the negotiation is going to be more difficult."

Tell the company during your latter interviews what salary you're looking for. Once they offer the job take a day or two to consider the proposal. If they offered lower than what you expected, tell them. But be prepared for them to reject any counter offers you may propose. If that happens you have one of two choices: take the job and the salary offered or keep on looking.

William Murray is a freelance journalist working out of Washington, DC.

© 2003

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