I once received a letter from a woman who had just gotten a job offer. She had been unemployed for three months and wanted to know if she should accept the offer or try to negotiate for more. She felt the offer was low -- less than she had been making at her last job -- but was afraid that if she asked for more money she might lose the job.
Whether to negotiate is a question that comes up frequently from people who are between jobs. Not only can you ask for more money, but if an offer is low, you should ask for more. The key to doing so successfully can be summed up in a single word: Confidence. If you know what you're worth and have the confidence needed to ask for it, you can often get the company to improve its offer. In fact, if you go into the interview process with confidence, it will not only result in your becoming a better negotiator, but it will also help you get the job.
What tends to hold most people back when they are unemployed is they start doubting themselves and their worth to potential employers. The longer you're unemployed, the more your confidence starts to waver, hurting your ability to negotiate. However, there are some simple things you can do to help build your self-confidence:
Make a list of all your prior accomplishments, both professionally and personally. The skills and experience you bring to potential employers do not change just because you're unemployed.
Learn everything you can about the negotiating process. Read books, attend a seminar or take a class. The more you know about the process, the more comfortable you will be in asking for more money. Knowing the market value for the skills and experience you have will also help you negotiate with confidence. That requires doing your research before you start. You can also check out what others are making with Monster's Career Benchmarking.
Continue to pursue your job search actively even after you seriously begin talking to a company. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that once they think they are going to get an offer with a company they like, they stop talking to other potential employers. Having another offer will greatly enhance your ability to negotiate compensation, forcing a potential employer to give you the best possible offer. It will also increase your confidence, enabling you to negotiate more forcefully. Even if you don't actually have another offer, continuing to talk with lots of prospective employers will reassure you that if this offer is not good enough, another one will be forthcoming shortly.
It is useful to let a prospective employer know you are contacting other companies, as long as you make it clear that the employer you're talking to is your first choice. Employers like the fact that other companies are interested but want to hire someone who really wants to work for them. Your employment status becomes irrelevant.
Finally, even during those moments when you are not feeling confident, project confidence. Dr. Patricia Farrell, clinical psychologist and professor at Walden University, calls one technique "self talk." Before you go into an interview, tell yourself out loud why you deserve to get what you are seeking. (Do this in the privacy of your own home, but do it.) If you believe it, so will your interviewer. Then wait until you have convinced a prospective employer that you are the best candidate for the job before discussing compensation. The best time to talk about money is when a company is about to make you an offer.
Be enthusiastic about the job, confident about the abilities you bring to it, knowledgeable about your market value and firm in seeking a fair compensation package. Doing these simple things will enable you to negotiate the best possible package -- even when you are unemployed.