Understanding and negotiating your value -- quick tips on job-hunting and so much more

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I’ve always said that job hunting is like dating, and I am equally unskilled at both.

In both scenarios you have to impress the other person right off that bat, and much of that impressing is out of your control. Much of the time, this is not to be taken personally — the other person knows who are they are looking for; it’s not your fault if you don’t match that picture.

Fear and desperation spell death in both dating and job-hunting so you have to be able to keep your feelings seriously in check or, even better, not feel them, even if you haven’t had a date or a job in months. This is called self-confidence - or for some people, particularly in the TV biz - unwarranted ego. If you run across unwarranted ego while dating, it might be wise to cut and run. In the work world, however, ego has its place.

You also have to figure out quickly what information to share and what to hold back. In the case of dating, that’s usually stuff like “I’m still obsessed with and/or stalking my ex who broke up with me five years ago” or “I’m a Halo addict who hasn’t left the house in months until just now to go out on this date.” In job hunting, that info usually involves numbers: I’ve been out of work X weeks, months, years; I want X salary.

It’s handling that last X I’ve always found stressful and confusing. Media Bistro’s Media Jobs Daily has been blogging about how best to negotiate the salary you want. One of their pieces of advice is to not offer a number. Let the other guy start the bidding.

What I want to know is how the heck do you avoid that? If a potential employer says, “how much do you want to make” and you don’t want to tell them because it’s a bad negotiating tactic, how do you squirm out of answering the question?

MJD actually did some helpful legwork and came up with the Let’s Talk Turkey blog, which gives a common-sense answer to this dilemma. In short, come up with a reasonable salary range for yourself that includes the lowest number you are willing to live with and a high, but reasonable, number for what you do. Don’t price yourself out, but don’t sell yourself short either. (One exception to that rule: you don’t really want the job unless they are going to pay you sick money. Then go ahead and name a high number and see what happens.) The Let’s Talk Turkey blog also offers some links to places where you can see what salary ranges you can expect for what you do. Departing from my dating metaphor and throwing in a car-buying metaphor — which is also sort of like dating - you would never buy a car without knowing its blue-book value. Why would you pursue a job without knowing similar information?

Other pieces of advice offered by Media Bistro’s MJD:

– Don’t exaggerate your previous salary - you’re likely to get caught.

– Don’t discuss salary before you have an offer - I ask again: how do you avoid that if a potential employer asks you how much you expect to make long before the offer stage comes up? You can see that I am not very good at wriggling out of answering uncomfortable questions.

– Accepting too soon. That one I like. In this economy, it would be extra fun to make an employer chase you a little. In any economy, it’s fun to let suitors chase you a little.

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