Because you're worth it

Career consultant Marty Nemko offers strategies for wringing money out of a Scroogelike boss.

Published October 27, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

today we kick off Salon's special series on money. Throughout the week in Media Circus, we'll clue you in on what people are getting paid in magazines, newspapers, TV, book publishing and the Web. Some of these lines of work pay so well, you'll be tempted to dust off your risumi. But first, whether or not you're ready for a change, you're probably ready for more money. To that end, we introduce career consultant Marty Nemko, who has been dispensing his frank, practical advice in forums as diverse as CNN, National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, CBS, Family Circle and the New York Times for more than 11 years. Here's a sampling of some of his wisdom, but it's not the last word -- Nemko will be answering your questions in Table Talk through Friday, Oct. 31.

OK, let's say you decide to go to work for a latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge because you're afraid that otherwise you and your family will soon be eating cat food. When Scrooge offers you a job, you accept his first salary offer, afraid that if you try to negotiate, he might retract his offer. You figure that in a few months, after you've proven yourself, you'll ask for a raise. Good strategy?

NO. The time to negotiate is when the job is first offered. That's when the boss is most unsure whether s/he can get you to work there and before s/he's seen all your warts. If you wait to negotiate until after your honeymoon period, you may find -- as in many long-term relationships -- the infatuation has faded.

When someone I know was offered a job, she asked, "How much was budgeted for the position?" Good strategy?

Yes. To low-ball you in response to that question, the employer would have to out-and-out lie, and even most (well, many) Scrooges won't do that.

What about asking a question like, "What's the most you can pay me?" How does that compare to saying something more specific like, "I need 20 percent more and and think that's fair"?

In past decades, the smarter strategy would have been the first option. The standard advice was, "Let the other person give the number," but by now, most negotiators are wise to that ploy. Today, it's usually smarter to state a high but not unreasonable number. It positions you as confident and powerful, yet because you're not saying, "Take-it-or-leave-it," there's little risk of Ebenezer retracting the job offer.

When you're offered a job, should you ask the employer to put the terms in writing?

No. If the employer puts the offer in writing, it's more cast in stone. Instead, when offered the job, ask to meet a day or two later to discuss the terms of employment. Side benefit: by not rushing to closure, you'll seem less desperate.

When asking for a raise, is it a good idea to send your boss a list of your achievements?

Not necessarily. That strategy works only with a boss who is eager to reward competence. Alas, many bosses aren't. Some are intimidated by supervisees who achieve too much -- it makes them look bad in comparison. With such bosses, list what you've done to make your unit (read, the boss) look good. For other bosses, the hot button is friendship. If you can stand brown-nosing, make extra efforts to be chummy with this sort of boss, and at the moment of maximum chumminess, hit him or her up.

What about bolstering your argument for a raise with a simple chart, showing how you're earning less than comparable employees in and outside the organization. Good strategy?

Yes. Research is the most important part of negotiating. It has been said that many negotiations are won or lost before the protagonists ever start talking with each other.

Let's say you asked for a raise, and your boss said, "Money's tight now. Sorry." Should you counter with, "Can we meet again in three months to reassess"?

Not bad, but you should add, "What can I do to maximize my chances in three months?" If your boss says, "I can't think of anything," propose something. If that doesn't work, pull out the big bazooka: "If our unit's profits (or budget or revenues) increase over the next quarter, can my salary increase proportionately?" It's tough to argue with such a fair offer. If you still get a "No," you're probably less valuable to the organization than you think. Dust off your risumi.

By Laura Miller

Laura Miller is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia."

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