Once you get a job offer, don't accept it on the spot, an expert says.

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Negotiate your salary? In this economy?

Many job seekers would be thrilled to be offered a job at all. How ungrateful and even risky, they may feel, to haggle over salary when the unemployment rate is so high.

But failing to negotiate can be a mistake that reverberates for years, says Linda C. Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in negotiation. Because most raises are based on percentage increases, she notes, all of your future raises — along with contributions to your retirement account — may well be lower than if you had negotiated a higher salary from the start.

Some people fear that a job offer will be rescinded if they dare ask for higher pay, and that the employer will move on to the next-best applicant. But Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, a career management firm in New York, says that is very unlikely if you negotiate reasonably.

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A delicate dance
Generally, if employers try to broach the salary issue early in the interview process, you should do everything possible to defer this discussion and, if pressured to give numbers, be as vague as you can, Safani says.

Once you get an offer, don’t accept it on the spot, she suggests. It is perfectly acceptable to say that while you are excited about the job, you need a few days to think about it.

Use that time to clarify your priorities, Safani says. Is making a certain salary most important to you? Or is it the vacation time, the hours, the responsibilities or something else?

Gather as much salary intelligence as you can about the position, before the first interview and after the offer. Research pay data in your industry, and talk to any people you know at that company or other ones like it. This will help determine your true value in the marketplace and can provide the basis for deciding how hard you should negotiate — even if you’re unemployed.

Coming to the table
In general, when you are ready to negotiate, “don’t ask for what you want, ask for more than you want,” Babcock says. “You could typically ask for at least 10 percent more than they offer you.”

Once you have your offer on the table, the employer might say, “Oh, we can’t possibly do that.” In that case, many times “the negotiation is not over,” Babcock stresses. “You say: ‘How close can you come to that figure?’ ”

If the company is reluctant to come closer, she says, you should consider asking, “Can we meet in the middle?” That’s often effective, she adds, “because it just seems fair.”
Sometimes, employers have a salary limit they cannot exceed, notes Rusty Rueff, a career and workplace expert for Glassdoor.com. Yet there may be ways to work around that so you still come out ahead.

Suppose you’re offered $100,000, but you ask for $110,000 and the employer says no. You could seek a bonus at the end of the first year if you meet performance goals, Rueff says, or — depending on the industry — try to arrange for an equity stake in the company.

You also might be able to negotiate a signing bonus, additional time off, parking privileges, expanded benefits, relocation expenses, work hours or job title and responsibilities.

Don’t bluff by saying you won’t accept a certain salary when you actually will. But if you state honestly and politely that the pay isn’t enough, that may be a catalyst for the employer to offer more. Just be absolutely sure of where your “walk away” threshold lies.