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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Job Market : PART TWO: GETTING AHEAD : Getting What You Want : The art of negotiating jobs, salaries and perks

May 17, 1987|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

You have found the prospective employer of your dreams--Wonder Wonkets, the world leader in the production and distribution of industrial wonkets and widgets.

You are dressed for the crucial interview in the most potent of pinstriped power suits. You have done your homework for this all-important encounter: You know more about the wonket business than most of the firm's managers. You are psyched but not wired, confident but not cocky. What else can you do to make sure that you get the job, the salary and the perks you want?

Experts interviewed by The Times agree that effective negotiation is an important first step toward job success and satisfaction. While negotiating is an art, they say, it is also a science, reducible to a set of relatively simple rules that maximize your chances of cutting the best deal possible.

Rule No. 1--Ask (ye may receive).

"Don't be afraid to ask for what you want," advises Curtis E. Plott, chief executive of the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Va. "There's a lot of research that shows that those who ask for more end up with more," says Plott, who heads the nation's largest employer-based training organization.

As an employer, Plott tries to meet a prospective employee's salary demands whenever possible. "I don't want somebody to come in here still rankled that they didn't get the salary they wanted. I want them to come in highly motivated and thinking this is going to be the best job they ever had."

On one occasion, Plott recalls, he agreed to pay a job candidate $10,000 more than he had planned because he was so impressed with the individual. Plott was willing to pay more, he says, "because I really felt that the individual would bring so much more to the job than I had originally recruited for."

Rule No. 2--Find out what the job usually pays.

"Effective negotiation usually requires some research," says David A. Lax, a member of the Harvard Business School faculty and co-author of the book "The Manager as Negotiator," published earlier this year by Free Press.

A job candidate should research a prospective employer's compensation policies and practices just as he or she researches other important aspects of the operation, Lax advises.

Plott agrees that finding out how much a company normally pays its employees is a prerequisite for effective bargaining. This information can sometimes be obtained from professional and trade organizations, he notes. But don't be afraid to ask the prospective employer directly. "At the end of the first interview, if it went very well, I would ask for a copy of the company's personnel practices, a description of benefits and a copy of the salary schedule," Plott advises. You may not get it, he says, but you probably won't be penalized for asking.

Rule No. 3--Think total compensation, not salary.

"In general, people tend to give undue emphasis to salary," Lax says. Instead of narrowing your negotiations to your annual wage, think hard about other ways the company might reward you.

As Lax notes, it's important to remember your employer's interests as well as your own when negotiating for compensation. Because of the tax structure, certain benefits that are valuable to you as an employee may be relatively cheap to the company. Compensation can take many forms besides salary: bonuses, profit sharing, equipment, additional education, moving expenses, a pension plan, a car, health benefits, a 401(k) plan or vacation time, for example. You may also want to negotiate the right to earn consulting fees or otherwise profit from work done outside the company.

Rule No. 4--Negotiate for the things you need to be successful.

Sometimes the things that will bring you the most satisfaction in a job have no price tag attached. If relative autonomy is important to you, for example, put that issue on the table and negotiate for it, the experts advise.

Surprisingly, in the turmoil of negotiation, many candidates forget to request the resources essential to do the job. No matter how princely the salary, you will find little pleasure in a job that doesn't provide you with the staff or operating budget you need to fulfill the company's expectations of you. "It's important to negotiate for the things that will make you successful," Lax says. Not to do so, Plott says, "is to set yourself up for failure."

Rule No. 5--Make a rational case for your requests.

Before Plott accepted his present CEO slot, he negotiated with the board of directors for the right to control hiring, firing and day-to-day management of the association. The board accepted the arrangement, he believes, "because they wanted me really badly, and I made a convincing argument for it." Among his arguments: that the board would be able to devote more time and energy to policy-making if it left operations and personnel decisions to him, and that the board would still retain ultimate control since he would have to answer to the directors for his actions.

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