Get your prospective employer to make you an offer you can't refuse, say Rob Norris and Ben Byram

In today's competitive job market, salary and benefit negotiations offer a gateway to acquiring the kind of perks that can make life a little more manageable: extra holiday, home working and, of course, better wages.

However, asking for more money or better benefits can be an awkward business, as you desperately try to avoid giving the impression that you're being demanding. It's a fine line to tread, but the pay-off could well be worth it.

Your ability to negotiate depends very much on the experience you have to offer. Salary negotiations for recent graduates are reasonably rare, as most positions will be advertised with a specified salary. For mid-level job candidates, it becomes more of a concern. Often in today's job market there is no salary stated on an advert, particularly for senior posts. An ad would normally say "competitive" or "negotiable". This is when a carefully planned negotiating strategy comes into play.

Stating your current salary

The question: "What salary are you currently earning?" is hard to avoid answering, but it is a benchmark for the employer. If you don't want your current salary to restrict the level of a new salary, try answering that you do not feel your present wage is reflective of your skills. Make sure you add that your main concern is securing the right job.

You may be asked during the interview what salary you are looking for. Don't allow yourself to be cornered into quoting a specific figure. One of the most effective ways to kill your financial future is by being both unprepared and unrealistic about your future salary. If you have done your research you will have much more awareness of the market and therefore some negotiating room.

If asked what your salary expectations are before an offer is made, say that you have a range but that it really depends on the total package - this can lead to a discussion of the other benefits available. Ideally defer the salary question to the employer.

The offer

If you are made an offer, only when this is in writing will you have room and power to negotiate. If the employer offers a package and it's lower than you wanted, you should tell them. Reiterate your interest in the opportunity, your previous experience and qualifications, and use this as a basis from which to negotiate.

At this point you may need to be direct and assertive even though you will probably be feeling apprehensive. Keep in mind that the employer has chosen you from a pool of candidates, so you are in a strong position.

If they come back with a second offer and you still feel unhappy, ask if you can take a little time to compare it with other opportunities. This could be a good time to ask whether the starting salary can be offset by benefits such as extra holiday time, flexi-time, or home working. These could outweigh a financial shortfall.

If the employer chooses not to grant any of your requests, you will still have the option of accepting the original offer. If you choose to turn it down, you will at least know that you have tried all available avenues.

Today's employment climate can allow experienced candidates to negotiate a work/life balance. Employers are beginning to accommodate incentives such as subsidised childcare fees, job share options and relocation assistance. Just make sure you have the negotiation skills to cash in.

The authors of this article are senior building services recruitment consultants at NES International. Visit