Tips for negotiating salary with a job candidate

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Job candidates are gaining leverage in salary negotiations Job candidates are gaining leverage in salary negotiations as the economy improves. Experts advise employers to be creative. Photo Credit: iStock

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

So you've found the perfect job candidate, and it's time to talk salary. If the prospective hire agrees to your terms, there's no problem.

But when there's pushback, particularly in this post-recession employment climate, employers need to step up their negotiation skills, experts say.

"As the economy slowly improves, the candidates are back in the driver's seat," explains Dina DeDonato, president of Solution Staffers Inc., a Port Jefferson Station staffing agency.

New landscape: During the recession, she saw salaries for even executive-level positions being slashed in half. "Now, you have to pay people closer to the mark of what they're worth," she says.

New mindset: Also coming into play is a change in the mindset of employees, notes John Coverdale, president at The Center for Workplace Solutions, a Blue Point human resource management firm specializing in small businesses and organizations.

"The younger generations have far less hesitancy to ask for what they want up front," he notes.

This can put employers in the position of having to negotiate beyond what they were initially willing to offer.

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Homework: That's why employers need to do their homework, says Coverdale, also a professor in the College of Business at Stony Brook University.

"You have to enter the process knowing what your parameters are in regards to salary and benefits," he says. Know what the market pay ranges are and know how much flexibility you have.

Online help: If you're looking for salary guidance, look online, suggests Dawn Fay, district superintendent for Robert Half International's New York/New Jersey market. Robert Half's salary calculator (bit.ly/1p8kO44) is a good resource, she notes.

"You need to know what's going on in your marketplace for similar-type positions," says Fay.

Options: If you don't have a lot of flexibility with salary, consider offering some non-monetary incentives (i.e. extra vacation time, flexibility to work from home, discounted gym membership, etc.), she adds. "These things are really important to people."

You can also consider giving employees equity in the business or creating a profit-sharing structure, notes John Dano, founder of The Entrepreneur Center LLC in Melville, which offers training and coaching for solo entrepreneurs and businesses with one to five employees.

Dano recently worked with a client who could only pay a prospect a base salary of $35,000, but offered the opportunity to earn up to $20,000 more through sales commissions and profit sharing if the company hit certain goals.

This type of agreement has to be "honorable and based on a strategic plan and projections," notes Dano.

More responsibility: The same goes for existing employees who ask for a raise. Open up the dialogue and discuss what else they can do to create new business, grow sales, etc.

There's got to be some qualifier to giving them a raise, says Dano. This could be increased performance or taking on greater responsibilities.

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With current employees, you have performance indicators to look back on. With new employees, it's trickier to gauge whether they're worth what they're asking.

Limits: Keep in mind what your other employees are making so you don't exceed your cap. "Make sure your internal team is appropriately compensated," says Fay.

And don't violate your limits, adds Coverdale. Remember salary and benefits are a recurring cost, he notes.

To gain an upper negotiating hand, "never stop interviewing," advises DeDonato. Even if you find the perfect candidate, cast your net wider. "Find a sharp number two you can be happy with," she says.

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