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Negotiating state employee compensation?
October 31, 2011 11:45 AM   Subscribe

How do I negotiate compensation for a state position?

I'm currently working in an unclassified position for a state university. It seems possible that I'll be given a promotion, or at least a lateral shift into a higher paying job (developer -> sysadmin) in the future with the same employer.

One thing I've kinda wondered is, how do you negotiate salary? Especially when they know how much you make currently? For classified staff there's a clear schedule that calculates things, but I can't figure out the etiquette for unclassified.

Andecdata: when a guy left last year for higher wages last year management indicated they weren't allowed to make a counteroffer. I don't know whether that's actually the case and it seems there's no official policy around unclassified hiring. On the other hand, they do post salary ranges, and I know they've had trouble recruiting at the current range.

So, is it possible to negotiate salary in this situation? Is it... "more possible" when not already working for the department?
posted by pwnguin to Work & Money (6 answers total)
It's different everywhere, including within states, and the difference between classified and unclassified may be part of it for you. One thing that I know folks have done at my agency is to negotiate by saying that they'll accept the new job if they get that new job grade, plus all of the pay raises that they'd get in that grade for their years of experience thus far. Of course, research what that salary might actually be, first, to be sure it's worthwhile. And, yes, their need for skilled workers and the fact that you aren't already in that department may be in your favor. It's at least worth looking in to!
posted by ldthomps at 11:54 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

They make you an offer, and you ask for more.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2011

Definitely negotiate. The precise leeway may vary a bit depending on how much space your particular unit has in your salary budget, but there is absolutely room to counter, and they are likely to offer low unless they really fear losing you. Also worst case, they don't have room to move and you get what they offer you. They will not rescind a job offer because you counter.

Some areas have "salary savings" from having so many open positions due to the hiring freeze, and some of this money might be available for use in negotiating new contracts. Many top administrators (so, not your boss, but someone at the dean/VP level) also have an equity fund at their disposal each year, to resolve salary discrepancies created by the randomness of the unclassified employee system or to keep/attract particularly desirable employees.

There is also a current university budget book at the reference desk at your university library. You should go request it before a job change or contract negotiation. You can have it for 2 hours at a time and while it can't leave the building, you can make notes or scans/copies of relevant pages. Look at what people in comparable positions across campus make (there are sysadmins all over the place). This will allow you to make an informed, reasonable counteroffer. People drop by at least once a day to do exactly this, so do not be shy about saying "I would like to see the budget book." Ask the helpful, friendly reference librarian standing nearby if you need help using the book.

Memail me if you'd like more specific information, as we (obviously) work at the same university.
posted by donnagirl at 9:31 PM on October 31, 2011

donnagirl's obviously got an inside line on your specific case, but my own situation is that while nominally nobody at my university has gotten a raise in the last few years and isn't likely to for a few years more, there definitely is money in the budget to retain people who would otherwise leave (because we have periodic hiring freezes and if someone critical leaves during or right before one, we're kind of fucked). And when I moved from a developer to a sysadmin position within the same department, I negotiated a small increase from their initial offer by saying something along the lines of: "based on the responsibilities of this position, and taking into account both what a comparable position at a tech company in the region would pay and the current budget crisis, I think $OFFER+5% is more in line with what I was hoping for."

So, yeah, it's definitely possible, and the etiquette is "ask for more, and if they say no, decide if you're willing to take the initial offer or not".
posted by hades at 10:23 PM on October 31, 2011

It depends on where you live. Sometimes, you can't; there's a wage structure and a worksheet of how many years of experience with x you have at y kind of workplace makes the only difference. Where I work, you can negotiate only when you're hired from outside. If you're up for a promotion, there's a published number and that's both the lowest they can offer you and the best you can do. For a lateral move, you'd stay at your current number.
posted by willpie at 8:28 AM on November 1, 2011

Well, I ended up taking the lateral shift, and then saw an awesome opportunity to work for the Open Source Labs in Oregon the month after this question, where my skillset matches better. It is a unionized position though.

The initial offer from OSL came in last week at the union negotiated rate. In pointing out it was less than I currently make, I took ldthomps' approach of asking to be placed at X years of raises based on experience the job requires and years I have, and they substantially improved their offer. So apparently negotiating a pay raise in the presence of collective bargaining can be done.

The folks here who asked me to make the lateral shift briefly considered a counteroffer, but I advised 'em it was a bad idea. Rewarding people for leaving would send an expensive signal, they'd lose the bidding war anyways at current pay bands, and even if the could find the money, I'd be in a miserable spot as the guy everyone knows is itching to leave.
posted by pwnguin at 6:59 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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