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As firms vie for talent, know how to talk salary

Bob Rosentel used his experience to land a new job, along with a 35 percent pay raise. ‘‘We danced around a bit. They came back with an offer . . . We ended up with something reasonable,’’ he said of his salary negotiations. Bob Rosentel used his experience to land a new job, along with a 35 percent pay raise. ‘‘We danced around a bit. They came back with an offer . . . We ended up with something reasonable,’’ he said of his salary negotiations. (Globe Staff / JONATHAN WIGGS)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / January 13, 2008

He put the spotlight on Tom Brokaw. He lit the stage for the touring production of Cats. He helped to develop video-on-demand for a cable company.

Bob Rosentel leveraged his experience as a lighting designer and developer of interactive technologies to land a $215,000 per year gig as a senior vice president of a New York educational media company. Rosentel, who starts his new job Feb. 1, negotiated about a 35 percent pay raise over what he was earning as a consultant.

"We danced around a bit," said Rosentel, 53, who lives in Nashua. "They came back with an offer. I negotiated up from that. We ended up with something reasonable." Intense competition for employees in hot fields such as high technology and healthcare, has prompted employers to dangle more pay and perks to attract top candidates, staffing specialists said.

"There's a definite talent war going on," said Nancy Mobley, chief executive at Insight Performance Inc., a human resources firm in Dedham. "Employers are competing for the same talent. Companies need to get a lot more creative and flexible as they negotiate to hire the best talent."

Peter O'Connor, principal at Kennison & Associates in Boston, said "the power has shifted back to the job candidates . . . Companies have been very slow to keep up, or to realize, that people now have good job opportunities."

Salary negotiations, whether you're changing careers or getting promoted, are hard work. New recruits and veteran employees alike should be prepared to roll up their sleeves to land the best deal. Some tips from the specialists:

1. Do your homework. Figure out how much you're worth by researching the market, or a company's financial performance. Go beyond the basics on a corporate website. Stock reports contain nitty-gritty details of publicly traded companies. They also can give a sense of a business strategy and overall financial outlook. Hoovers and other business information publishers collect data on public and private companies.

"You have to do due diligence," said Judit Price, a Chelmsford job counselor, who runs the website, careercampaign.com "The budget, the strategy, the culture. All those things will help you to negotiate."

2. Define yourself. Show your versatility. An engineering company should have a big pool of applicants. But an engineer who also knows how to market and sell a product could have a competitive edge. "If someone can show they are a generalist and a specialist, they can command more money," Price said.

3. Change is good. An employee who has worked at one job for awhile no doubt wants to advance within the company. But there often is no straight line up the promotion ladder. If you feel like you're not going to get the nod, find a new job.

"You leverage salary and experience with every move," O'Connor said. "It's harder to do that staying with one company."

4. Talk turkey. Consider what the salary package includes. Use it as a framework for negotiations, but don't accept the job until you reach agreement. "If you bring a lot to the table, you have the leverage to ask for more money beyond what they're offering," Price said.

5. It's not always about the Benjamins. A bigger pay check is great. But some companies, particularly small to medium-size firms, aren't profitable enough to offer cash. Other perks, such as performance bonuses, flex-time, and paid time off have their own rewards. "Both sides can be creative about compensation," Mobley said.

Lisa Corbett was working for a Fortune 500 healthcare company. Then a headhunter called on behalf of a small insurance company. She'd worked as a claims representative, contract negotiator, and has a master's in business administration. But the company could not match her salary. So Corbett negotiated a performance bonus.

"We were creative about it," said Corbett, 39, who's been on the new job for 13 months. "We were able to work things out . . . It's the best move I ever made."

Rosentel relied on his vast experience to land his new job. After working as a freelance lighting designer at NBC News and for Broadway shows, he switched gears. He focused on interactive technologies in media. His first job was at Cablevision, developing new media products. After seven years, he left to work as a consultant.

To negotiate his new salary, he used his $1,000 per day fee as a consultant as a starting point.

"You have to know what you're worth," Rosentel said. "Employers are hungry for the experience."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.

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