One study shows that as few as 1 out of every 8 women negotiates her salary when offered a new job. Why? Well, there is a lot of debate about that. But in government, the biggest reason we hear for failing to negotiate is the belief that public sector salaries are non-negotiable.
That’s a common misconception. Yes, there are strict guidelines that accompany hiring authorities on the local, state, and federal level of public service. However, negotiating a higher salary can be done. You simply have to know where to look for wiggle room and how to take advantage of it. Below are three tips for pursuing a higher government salary:
Tip #1: Understand government pay scales
Before you begin any negotiation, you need to understand where the initial offer you’ve received came from and where it might go. In other words, learn your government pay scales!
For federal positions, start by checking the Federal Wage Schedule maintained by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The General Schedule and Locality Pay Tables are where you’ll really want to pay attention. Similarly, state agencies are required to publish salary information for all employee categories and grades. These scales are usually published on the state government website, but you can also ask for the scales directly after receiving your offer.
Why go through the trouble? While it’s difficult to change the “grade” of an offer, the “steps” within that grade are flexible, depending on the skills and experience of the individual candidate. Shooting for a higher “step” can result in a significant pay difference. For instance, Step 2 of Grade 10 in the federal government pays $48,247 per year, compared to Step 7 which pays $56,027.
However, you can’t make the case for upgrading the “step” of your offer without first understanding what that step’s qualifications entail. This blog post offers a good summary of how to negotiate steps within federal salary grades.
Tip #2: Think outside the paycheck
Even if the agency or department you’re joining doesn’t have the budget to improve your base salary, they likely have more leniencies on the additional benefits they can provide. As you negotiate your salary, consider what incentives could supplement your paycheck. Popular, negotiable benefits for government roles include:
- Allowances for future education
- Tuition reimbursement for student loans
- Relocation expenses
- Recruitment bonus incentives (for critical skills or severe shortage positions)
- Commuting expenses
- Uniform allowances
- Department vehicle use
- Flex and vacation time
Again, it pays to take the time before negotiation to research what benefits an agency may be able to offer. For example, tuition reimbursement is currently under review at several federal agencies. Check the agency’s career website, revisit the original job listing, and then visit online forums to see where others have had success.
Tip #3: Don’t forget the lessons you learned in the private sector
Negotiating in the public sector is different from what you might have experienced in the private sector. Guidelines are stricter and the steps to hire are more diluted. Nevertheless, when you determine the areas up for negotiation in your offer, you’ll want to make your case in the same way you would for an industry job.
If this is your first time negotiating in any sector, it’s time to do your research (yes, again). Tools and tricks for salary negotiations abound on the Internet (see this article, for example) and even tips that aren’t public sector specific can be applied to your government offer. Things like knowing your worth relative to others, simultaneously showing a desire for better compensation and your enthusiasm for the role, and even learning how to counter a “no” are all equally relevant to the government process.
Still not sure you’re ready to negotiate your salary? Let us know what else we can provide to help in the comments below!
This article was originally posted in March 2015.