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Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to Answer the Salary Question

Of all the anxiety-inducing elements of a job interview, discussing salary often seems to be at the top of the list of many job searchers, and even some interviewers. The key to discussing salary with a potential employer is to be prepared. Preparation includes finding out what the job type usually pays, and determining your own worth in the marketplace.

Instead of telling you directly what the job pays, many interviewers will ask you what salary you are expecting if you are hired. If you are working out the details with a new employer, it is critical that you approach the salary and benefits discussions from a position of strength. That means you must do your homework and determine an average salary for the position in your geographical area. The salary in New Orleans may not be comparable to the same position in New York City, or in a much smaller market. Start by consulting the U. S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. Visit There you will find an alphabetical listing of hundreds of job types. Click on your desired job type, and then click on "earnings." From there you can find a salary breakdown, state by state, and for some jobs you will find average salary information for specific markets.

There are numerous places on the Web to find average salary information, such as the Salary widget on your Talent Exchange dashboard.  Salary calculators generally display a salary range for a specific job title. Logically, if you are new to the job type with little experience, your salary is likely to fall into the lower end of the range. If you have a wealth of experience in the job type, you are in a better position to negotiate for a salary in the higher end. Further, if you are applying for a job that has specific educational requirements and you have met or gone beyond them, you should feel confident in mentioning a higher figure.

Determining your value in the marketplace is as important as researching average salary ranges for the position. What distinguishes you from other applicants for a job, or from your fellow employees? What is it that makes you necessary to the organization? For example, if you apply for a job as a graphic designer with an advertising agency, and you have a solid background as a writer, as well as a designer, you may have a significant edge over your competitors. The combination of writing and design skills is your USP. Your multiple skills represent a USP. Before approaching an employer for a job, think through both the added value that you bring to the company, and your USP(s).

Your income from a prospective employer does not stop with the annual salary. You must consider the benefits package, as well. Some benefits are fixed, and others are flexible. A company may have two or three health insurance plans from which to choose, for example, but the benefit structure within each plan is generally fixed and non-negotiable. Other benefits, such as vacation, flex-time, profit sharing and stock options may be negotiable. Let the employer explain the benefits being offered, and determine how the benefits affect your income. For example, if there is a 401K plan in which the company matches a percentage of your contributions, you should figure that into your income. As you review the benefit package, you may develop some requests for flexible benefits.

Salary often is influenced by the economy as well as the job type. In a sluggish economy, you may have to make some concessions for some job types. In a robust economy in which you are applying for a job that requires specialized training and skills, you may be in a position to push the limits a bit.

By Paul A. Greenberg - Employment Writer