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By: Robert Half

A human resources executive once told me, "If I offer a job to a candidate at a specific starting salary, and that candidate doesn't at least try to negotiate a better offer, I question that individual's sense of self-worth."

Ironically, I've heard more than one accounting major say, "I'd be uncomfortable asking for a better salary if I'm offered a job I want. I'd be afraid of losing it by trying to negotiate for more."

Both points-of-view are understandable, although I think they're unrealistic.

Most human resources professionals or other hiring authorities I've known over the years expect someone who is offered a job to negotiate a higher salary or better benefits. But only a few share the view fo the HR executive quoted above, that to fail to do so diminishes one's sense of self-esteem.

For recent graduates, fear of appearing presumptuous by asking for a higher starting salary is the norm rather than the exception, particularly for someone seeking that crucial first job.

Every human resources department shares its company's goal of keeping costs as low as practically possible. Because salaries can constitute a company's biggest expense, HR professionals try to bring on board the best possible talent at salaries that are competitive, but not overblown. The goal is to bring people on board at a market rate of pay that rewards and motivates them without disrupting the company's or the department's pay scale.

Within most salary structures there is some flexibility. An initial salary offer is often viewed as a starting point for negotiations and, possibly, a counteroffer. For entry-level professionals, hiring authorities on the other side of the desk may have the upper hand because of his or her experience in handling salary negotiations. They're comfortable with the process, and adept at determining whether requests for a higher salary or enhanced benefits are warranted, and whether any given candidate's potential contributions to the company justify offering more.
What's working in your favor is that the company, after interviewing other candidates, has decided it wants to hire you. This is the reason, whenver possible, any discussion of salary should be put opff until a job has actually been offered. If, early in the interviewing process, an interviewer asks you what salary you're seeking, an appropriate response may be, "Right now, I'm interested in finding out all I can about the job, what contribution I can make to the company, and the potential for the future." If pressed, you may have to give a range based on your research of compensation for similar positions. But emphasize that you're open---the opportunity to join a growing firm is your primary goal.

There is nothing wrong with asking whether the salary being offered can be increased or exploring the possibility of beter benefits. Be realistic, however, and base your request for a slightly higher salary on what you're confident you can achieve for the company, not on personal needs.

If the employer stands firm on the salary offer, the decision will be yours whether to accept, or to look elsewhere. But remember, you're starting your career, and your worth to the firm and its goals will take a while to establish.

The starting salary should be fair. But more important, the job should provide a challenging and enriching learning experience. It's your entry into the accounting profession.

Make your ultimate decision based more upon whether it will enable you to learn and grow, while helping your employer meet its objectives, rather than on salary alone.


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