Dear Matt: I've been interviewing and I'm optimistic about landing a new job soon. What advice can you give regarding salary negotiations after I get a job offer?

Matt: Hopefully you've done your homework and researched what the positions you are applying for are paying. But keep in mind your paycheck is only one small part of negotiations. Don't think of it as a salary, think of it as a total compensation package.

Think compensation package

You may make more per hour at your new job, but if you will be spending more money on gas with a longer commute, or if your health insurance premiums are higher (or coverage is not as good) - you could actually make less money. Make sure you understand how the new benefit plan works (health insurance, dental, vision). Also, how long is the waiting period before getting covered by the company's insurance plan? What does their retirement plan look like? Is it a 401K? If so, what is the match and the vesting period? How much vacation or PTO time have they offered you?

Those are just some of the scenarios to consider. Employers actually are prepared for you to negotiate, and some expect it, says Bradley J. Lelemsis, human resources manager for Katun Corporation in Bloomington. It doesn't mean they will budge, but they know it is a part of the process.

Always negotiate

"If you negotiate thoughtfully and in good faith you should not only find that you have sweetened your offer, but that you have raised your level of credibility in the mind of your future employer," says Lelemsis. "I would even argue that you lose some credibility if you don't try to negotiate more. In fact, many organizations may not give you their best offer to begin with because they expect you to negotiate."

Be cautious about negotiating based on your personal circumstances ("we are a one salary household" or "we need to buy a new car so I need to make this much"). Your future employer may be sympathetic, but the value and skill set you bring to the organization are the driving factors that will give you the greatest leverage, says Lelemsis.

This may be one of the few times you get to negotiate - do your homework to get the best package available.

"There is no shame in asking and not getting," says Lelemsis.

Negotiating Tips:

  • Be realistic - your employer has a budget to meet as well.
  • Don't rely on salary calculators as your only methods of research - know the local market and what other factors drive the market in that area.
  • Make sure you don't give your notice to your current employer until you have your offer from the new employer in writing.

Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. The first Sunday of each month this column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to