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‘Ping-Pong’ game of negotiating salary takes some preparation

Knowing the pay range for field of work is first step

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Question: In every interview I am asked how much I want to be paid, and I answer, "I would like to hear what you are offering; then I'll share my feelings regarding your offer." In most cases, the interviewer seems agitated or annoyed with my answer. What do I do when employers demand an answer to this question? If I ask for too much, I price myself out of the job. I would appreciate your comments. — A.S., via e-mail

Answer: You are right when you suggest that the employer make the first move about starting income, and you also are right when you say that asking for too much might be dangerous.

The first question is: What is the range of pay for your field of work in your geographical area, and where do you fall in that range? How do you determine the current income range for your job and industry?

Research it in your public or university library, on the Internet, through network contacts and leaders in that industry.

When you have an idea of the salary range for your job category, you can prepare for what I call the "Ping-Pong game of salary negotiations."

Suppose the range for your job category is $35,000 to $50,000 and you're currently earning on the low side and believe you're ready for more responsibility and income. The interviewer's question comes bouncing over the net and you say something like:

"I understand that the usual range of pay for positions like we're discussing is between $35,000 and $50,000. Does your company's compensation plan fall within that range?"

Ping! The "ball" is back on the interviewer's side of the net.

What you do next depends on how the interviewer handles your question. Certainly you want to shoot for the high side of the range, but you must remember the following:

No one gets paid in advance. You must prove your worth.

A starting salary is not as important as your opportunity to earn what you are worth.

The most stress-reducing four-letter word in salary negotiations is "open," as in "I am 'open' for an opportunity to join your organization."

Marvin Walberg is a job search consultant and the author of "About Getting Hired: the Job Search." Send questions to P.O. Box 130757, Birmingham, AL 35213, or e-mail mwalberg@bellsouth.net