There's no doubt that money is one of the most sensitive subjects in the working world -- and when the job market gets tough, the sensitivity meter goes especially haywire. These days, IT folks are happy to have a job. For some, asking for a raise seems out of the question. And those out hunting for a new position are equally wary of playing hardball when it comes to salary negotiation. After all, many times the cupboard is bare.

"Technology budgets have really gotten whacked in the past couple years," says Andy Zaleta, managing director for executive recruiter Korn/Ferry's advanced technology practice in New England. But getting more money is possible, according to recently interviewed experts. They offered their advice on several strategies.

Asking for a raise
This situation is more unusual than you might think, says Nikolas Doty, the editorial director of techies.com, a technology career Web site based in Minneapolis. In readership surveys, he says, "Only about 20 percent of respondents have even asked for raises. And only about half that ask get the raises."

Those requesting a raise can improve their chances for success by taking these tips to heart:

  • Pick your time wisely. Never on Friday, when the boss is thinking of the weekend, and never just before or after a business meeting, says Doty. He recommends a midweek meeting.
  • Do your homework. Do not assume that longevity and loyalty at your company entitle you to a raise. "You have to be able to prove that not only have you done your job, you've excelled at it," says Zaleta. He suggests that employees go through their job description and list ways they've exceeded their career goals for every objective. Smart workers make notes on their performance on a monthly basis, he says, and can draw on that history as needed.
  • Quantify your worth. Whenever possible, assign a number to your contributions, and if possible, tie your contributions to the company's bottom line, says Doty. For example, for positions like system or network administrators, "There are a bunch of metrics associated with those jobs that are easily quantifiable, such as network uptime," according to Doty.
  • Don't demand. "Nobody wants a direct report that issues ultimatums," says Zaleta. "Don't even ask for a specific number. Just put it out there that you think you've excelled at your job and back it up with facts and figures." Keep away from emotions, and don't expect an immediate response. Compensation issues have to work their way through a startling number of corporate layers before they get the green light.

Negotiating salary at a new job
No doubt about it, times are tough for technology job hunters, says Myrna Hoover, associate director at The Career Center of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. She says that her office has run across numerous alumni who've had to downgrade their salary expectations dramatically. Nonetheless, once an offer has been made, it may be worthwhile to try to negotiate the salary. "This is the time when you have the most power to negotiate salary until your next job offer comes along," Hoover says. Successful negotiators should take heed of these ideas:

  • Don't talk money too early. Interviewers frequently want to know your salary requirements, but it's a loaded question. You don't want to price yourself out of the running with a number that's too high or sell yourself short with a low number. For when the question comes up, Zaleta suggests a riposte along the following lines: "While money matters to me, it's not the most important thing. I'd like to first find out more about this opportunity and whether it's a good fit before we discuss salary."
  • Research, research, research. If you know more about typical salary ranges for the position you are being offered, you will be better able to respond to an offer. So, do the research as the interviewing progresses. "You want to look at peers in the industry and get an idea of what the pay mixes are," Doty says. He suggests that job seekers compare salary levels at similarly sized companies in the same industry and geographical location to get the closest comparison.
  • Be creative about compensation. Although the holy grail of negotiation is an increase in base pay, this isn't always possible, and smart negotiators will have other ideas to put on the table. Perhaps an extra week of vacation, or a signing bonus would get the thumbs up instead.

Of course, discussing pay with the boss isn't fun, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it. As Zaleta puts it, "If you never ask, you'll never get the answer. You just have to know how to read the tea leaves first."

Show me the money
Need to find out more about money? The following Web sites can help:

JobStar Salary Surveys
One of the largest collections of salary surveys online.

Careerjournal.com
Salary guides as well as useful money-related articles.

Salary.com
A rundown of salaries by industry, job position and geography. Basic information is free; a salary report customized to local market, industry and career level will cost you.

www.techies.com, www.dice.com
Links and salary resources with the techie in mind.

For More Information:

>> Which IT jobs pay the most? Find out in SearchSecurity.com's salary survey

>> Which job titles demand the most money? Find out in SearchNetworking.com's salary survey


This was first published in April 2003

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