How to ask for a higher starting salary

September 22, 2006

Over the course of your working life, you’ll receive a few raises.salary-negotiation.JPG

However, your annual raises will be pitiful, at just slightly over the inflation rate. Your major salary increases will only occur when you receive that rare promotion.

That’s why it’s so important to ask for a higher salary when you first begin working.

Few candidates actually ask for a higher salary, and I suppose shyness, and fear of appearing greedy, are the major reasons for this. However, you should definitely try to negotiate as high a salary as you can, when you first join your job. This is your most significant chance to try to earn more, and here are some tips for asking for higher starting pay:

  • Do your homework: Before asking for any sort of salary, know what you’re worth, in terms of your education, experience and work potential. What are people similar to you (in terms of career and accomplishments) earning? And what are your hiring company’s pay scales like? Research the company to find out how much it’s possible for them to pay. One of my friends wanted to work for a salary which was only offered to senior executives (entry level was the executive post), so he boldly claimed to be interested only in the senior exec position.
  • Delay a detailed salary discussion: Until your employers know more about you, they won’t be able to judge just how much you’re worth. Focus on getting hired first, and then on how much you’ll get. If you mention your desired salary in too much detail too early, that’s when you’ll come off as being either desperate or greedy. If you’re asked early on about how much you’d like, say something along the lines of “according to the salary scale”, “according to the industry rate” or “as much as you decide i’m worth”. Mention that salary is not the only thing that’s important: you’re also interested in how much you can contribute, how challenging the work will be, how fast you’ll be able to rise within the ranks, etc.
  • Take your time to accept a salary offer: Never accept something at a moment’s notice. No matter how tempting it is to say “yes”, always thank the recruiter, restate how much you’d love to work in that company, and ask for time to consider the offer. Later on, think about the offer calmly. Consider your other offers, what the industry typically pays, how much and how often the increments will be, how fast you’re likely to get promoted, and what other benefits this job will provide.
  • Ask for more: As long as you’re polite and respectful, no one will think that you’re greedy if you ask for a higher salary. In many cases, hiring officers have the discretion to offer upto 20% more, to get the right candidate. And often, the first salary offered is intentionally low, in order to keep the flexibility of possible increases.
  • Go step by step: When asking for more, first ask for a higher base pay. Since other forms of payment are usually linked to the base salary, this is the one you really want to increase. If this isn’t possible, ask for increases in other benefits, such as transport allowances, etc. You can try to ask for a signing bonus, and stock options or other incentives. Finally, you can ask for tuition reimbursement, more holidays and sick leaves, etc.
  • Always be honest: Never state something like “I won’t work for less than 30K”, unless you really, really mean it.
  • Know when to stop: Most hiring officers are flexible to some degree, and will offer you some concessions. However, in some companies, their first offer is really the only one that they’re allowed to make. And sometimes, you’ll see that concessions aren’t coming any more. That’s when you’ll know, it’s time to stop.

Good luck, and happy negotiating!


How to “buy” happiness

September 20, 2006

Yes, you can buy happiness.

According to a 2004 poll by Associated Press, 56% of people earning more than $75,000 a year say they are “very satisfied” with life, while only 24% of people earning $25,000 or less a year say the say thing about their lives. However money can’t guarantee happiness.

After all, according to those numbers, 44% pf people who earned more than $75,000 a year didn’t claim to be “very satisfied” with life.

There are certain things in life which are more important to happiness, than money: good health, a happy family life, good relationships, friends, a stress-free (or less stressful) life. Money can help to improve many of these factors, but first, a brief mention of the two most important things that money can’t buy:

  1. Hearts: Just like the song, you “can’t buy me love”. Getting someone to love you takes a lot of things, including plain dumb luck. Never try to spend your way into someone’s heart.
  2. Respect and Admiration: Your new luxury car or huge plasma TV will not make people admire you. Yes, they will think you are trying to impress. And of course they will wonder about just how insecure you are. But if you want someone to look up to you, you’ll have to make use of what you have inside yourself, not what you have inside your garage.

Despite the fact that money can’t guarantee happiness, there are some ways in which money will make you happier:

  1. Comfort: Money can buy you a sense of security. Not having to worry about the details of survival is a wonderful things. Insurance and health cover remove some of the uncertainties that would plague us otherwise.
  2. Education: We’re happier when faced with a challenge, and we have an immense capacity to grow. Whether it’s learning about art history or taking cooking classes, most of us have interests which we’d be happier pursuing.
  3. Travel: Travel broadens our horizons and lets us experience the wonder of something new. The funny thing is, even if a trip is bad, we tend to remember a lot of great things about it, later on.
  4. A life full of experiences: I am definitely a person who’d prefer to save the money than to splurge on Starbucks, but small daily pleasures do add up, whether it’s gourmet coffee, great home-cooked food, or a glass of nice wine. For some people, life is better when it’s enriched with the arts: reading a daily poem, or visiting the museum, might be your cup of tea.
  5. Memories: Life is better when you have something to remind yourself of your wonderful past. Take pictures, buy silly souvenirs, and leave things that remind you of where you’ve been, nearby.
  6. Beautiful surroundings: Money can buy you a nice home, nice interior decoration, and expensive flowers. As humans, we tend to appreciate the beautiful things in life, so it’s worthwhile spending to make our living spaces a joy to look at.
  7. Beauty: We may be fickle, but study after study shows that attractive people are happier. I’m completely against obsessing with looks, but spending a bit for a good haircut, comfortable and stylish clothes, and mood-enhancing perfume, certainly pays off. And any woman will tell you that shoes are a girl’s second-best friend 🙂
  8. Nearness to work: I can’t remember the exact studies right now, but I once read about how the daily commute adds to our stress. And I don’t think that anyone loves their commute. So, live near your office, or work at home. If you can’t do those, try to make the commute less horrible, be it with an i-Pod, or a chauffeur-driven car.
  9. Health: Money can’t buy you health, but you can certainly spend on healthy things that will make you feel better, including organic food, a swimming pool and gym membership. It’s up to you to put the healthy things you buy, to good use. Of course, money can also buy treatment options, but a good health plan should cover those.
  10. Relaxation: Soothing music, yoga classes and massages: don’t dismiss them before you’ve tried them.
  11. Friends: In no way can money buy you friends. But we’re happy when we’re social, and money spent on friends and being friendly, makes us happier in the long run. So, that Sunday brunch, your best friend’s birthday gift, and the dinner party you were planning to host, are all worth the time and effort. And money.
  12. Kids: Obviously, I’m not suggesting you buy kids, or even attempt to buy their affection. But they’re expensive brats, and spending on them goes a long way (as any parent will attest). I feel like this is a self-explanatory point, but whether it’s spending to get the kids out of the way (baby sitting) or to make them more tolerable to be around (education, entertainment, food, etc) kids tend to make us happier.
  13. Pets: Furry friends make our lives fun, and studies show that they lead to lower stress. Unfortunately, just like kids, pets tend to be expensive: apparently, they’re worth that expense.
  14. Romance: Your relationship with your s.o. is the most important one in your life, so spend what you need to, to make it work: from flowers to diamonds to a second honeymoon.
  15. Time: This, in my opinion, is the single most important thing that money can buy. None of us have more than 24 hours in a day. Trying to extract the most out of each of those precious hours is one of the most difficult things to do. Money can help you to do it, be it through gadgets, a chauffeur or a private jet.

I’m a very anti-consumer-debt person, so I don’t think any of the above is worth buying on credit. Although buying something on credit might make you happy temporarily, in the long run, you’re likely to have to cut back on your lifestyle in order to repay those loans.

Many of these items are not applicable to people trying to live on a stringent budget, for whatever reason. However, if you’ve got the cash and are considering whether to buy a yatch or a luxury sedan, don’t. Spend the money on a chauffeur instead, or use it to visit your local cafe each day, where you can enjoy gourmet coffee and meet new friends.

This post is part of the group blogging project at Problogger. It’s also a continuation of my series on how to be happy, the first of which was on happiness and health.

I’ve added this post to my new blog, Happiness Creator. Please visit it 🙂

5 things you’ll need when you join a new job

September 18, 2006

After my posts about how to get a job, and what to do once you’ve gotten the job, I though I’d write another post about new job issues.

When I was first looking for a job, I got myself a set of interview clothes. I think we all do that. But what I really wanted was five new outfits to wear to office. I put off buying them because I was broke, and I was glad I waited: the work culture at my office is really laid back, and no-one bothers to dress up.

I’m not very materialistic, but we all want stuff. And when we join a new job, it’s easy to justify purchases in the name of “investments in our future” 😉

There are some things that you really need when you join a new job, and they are:

  1. Clothes: Wait till you join your new organization before you go out and get all the new outfits that you’re planning to buy. You should already own some decent clothes that you can wear to work. If you feel you absolutely must get something new, limit yourself to buying a maximum of one or two outfits before you join. During the interview process, you might have noted how the other people dressed (I didn’t) but that might still not be any indication. Even if attire guidelines are mentioned in a booklet, it might be the norm to not follow them strictly, or to dress even more conservatively than is implied. Wait till you’ve joined, and know the work culture, and the way people dress, before you buy new clothes. And when you do, a good rule is to try to dress a bit like someone in top management whose position you’d like to have, someday.
  2. Shoes: Shoes are part of your outfit, so I should’ve lumped them with clothes. But clothes are something you will really, really need. It may just be worth-while to purchase a pair, if you don’t have anything sufficiently formal and appropriate.
  3. Bag: If you’re a fresh graduate, it’s perfectly acceptable to carry a messenger or book bag to office for the first week. That’s the amount of time you should take to notice how much stuff you’ll need to take with you to office each day, what types of bags other people use, and what types of bags you like and can afford. Of course, needs and fashions change, so it might not be too wise to spend a lot on a bag. Perhaps, this is the time when you could try out those “rent a bag” type services that I’ve heard are available?

Of course, those are the things you’ll need if you’re a broke graduate. If you’re not, and you’re not the anti-materialistic type, you might like to have:

  1. Flashy accessories: Diamond jewelry and the latest cell phones might help if you’d like to create the impression that you’re not in it for the money 🙂
  2. Cool car: It’ll help you imagine that you’re giving your bosses an inferiority complex. And if you have a chauffeur, you’ll never even have to dislike a commute!

That’s all I could think of for now.

How to be happy

September 12, 2006

“Nothing is worse than a rich girl who feels sorry for herself”. So why is it, that the rich don’t seem to be much happier than the rest of us? Why do we all think that money can’t buy happiness, but pursue it almost blindly, hoping that it will at least rent some joy?
All around us, we see examples of extremely successful people, like actors and athletes, who have made it really big, and yet do not seem to be very content with what they have.  

If money can’t buy happiness, then what can? 

The brief answer is, financial success can only buy financial toys. Money can buy a lot of useful things: toys, time, freedom. But it can’t buy the affection of those we love. And most of the stuff it buys disappoints us in the end.
Some money is absolutely essential. When you’re poor and worried about your next meal, or how to buy something essential, you can’t be happy. Once you reach a certain level of financial achievement, you can be free from those money demons: at least your basic needs are met. 

But more money does not equal more happiness. We always want something more than what we have. When we try to spend our way into happiness, we are never happy because:

  1. We want something more, or something better, and
  2. What we just bought doesn’t seem to live up to the grand expectations we had of it.

The things that bring us most happiness are our friends and family.
A significant number of close friends means that you have people to share your ups and downs with (and you get to go to, and throw, a lot of parties 😉 )
A happy relationship with your spouse is incredibly important for overall happiness.
Children make us happier in the long run: despite what many studies say, anyone will tell you that their children are their greatest joy.

Thankful people are happier. I understand this first-hand, because I started keeping a thankfulness journal once, and I could feel my spirits lift immediately. Thankful people appreciate the wonderful life that they are enjoying. 

Your experiences are what make you happy.
Till that end, money can actually make you happier.
Money spent on enjoyable experiences (travel, an easier or non-existent commute, a brighter living area) is money well spent.
Unlike “stuff”, you enjoy experiences both during the actual occurrence, and in the memories that persist. In fact, your memories often tend to magnify the past, so that the happy parts are exaggerated and the more negative parts overlooked. That’s why pictures of your last vacation usually evoke such powerful feelings. 

Money spent on experiences which are challenging, is money especially well-spent, since most of us are glad to be able to rise to a challenge. Learning to play tennis, for instance, is a great way to spend money because of they joy you get when tackling those difficult moves. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ll blog on happiness in greater detail, because it’s difficult to deal with the topic in one single post. 

It’s tough to break happiness down into each component part, but I think it ultimately boils down to two things: your relationships, and your experiences.

Update: My first post on the happiness series is up here.

5 tips to reduce the hurt of a lay-off and 10 tips for dealing with unexpected job loss

August 29, 2006

Mighty Bargain Hunter has a group writing project about preparing for, or dealing with, job loss.

So, I decided to take part with my 2 cents, or rather, my 15 tips 🙂

The first section is sort of buffer plan: how to lower your chances of getting laid off, and to lower your chances of getting hurt too badly if you are laid off. The second part deals with strategies for dealing with actually losing your job unexpectedly.

So without further ado…

5 tips to reduce the hurt of a lay-off:

  1. Try not to get laid off in the first place. This is not always possible to do (think Enron), but try your best. Work hard, contribute, and impress your bosses. Don’t be the Invisible Guy: he’s the first to feel the axe. Be the superstar whom everyone else is eyeing for their own company.
  2. Increase your knowledge. Remember, the best investment is an investment in you. Any way in which you improve your own value will help you down the road. Read a lot; stay updated on your industry, the economy, and the global scenario. Remember that learning never ends. Take advantage of as much company sponsored learning and growth opportunities as you can.
  3. Increase your network. Stay in touch with people, and meet new people. This point requires a whole post of its own, but the basics are: take as many opportunities as you can to meet people. Stay in touch, and be nice to them. Try to help anyone you can. Later, if you need a job, you can always ask these people if they know of anything.
  4. Have a side business. Diversify your income sources, so that a lay-off will not hurt you too badly. With home businesses and internet businesses a reality, you have few excuses for not having one of your own. Train yourself and invest time and effort in your business.
  5. Prepare a budget and stick to it. Prepare a contingency budget, and know how much you have in terms of emergency funds.

10 tips for dealing with unexpected job loss:

  1. Deal with your emotional issues first. It’s natural to feel anger at the company, and the top management who still receive all their perks; it’s normal to be scared of the future. You might find yourself dealing with a myriad of emotions. Do whatever you can to deal with them, instead of taking them out on others. If the company offers free counseling, take it; if necessary, pay for a counseling session yourself.
  2.  Go through your contingency budget plan. If you don’t have one already, make one and try to stick to it. Allow for occasional indulgences, and reward yourself for any achievements.
  3. Think of ways to live frugally. There are so many tips and websites out there, that this should not be too difficult to learn about.
  4. Go through all the legal steps you have to. You may need to sign papers, give an exit interview, sign up for unemployment benefits, etc. Do them all calmly. Do not waive any rights without getting something in return.
  5. If you already have a side business, devote more time to it. If you don’t have one, start a side business which will earn some income for you.
  6. Develop yourself: learn more, take courses, read, pursue a hobby or interest which you haven’t had time for.
  7. Look for a new job: this is a d’oh action, but one which some people are reluctant to begin. That’s ok, break it into small steps. Start by looking for a job, then apply by sending your resume and contacting the relevant person. Give the interviews, and hope that you’ll get one that’s better than your previous job. On the other hand, if your side business does very well, you may want to devote all your attention to developing it into a more profitable income source.
  8. Remember all those people you networked with? If you’re looking for a job, now’s the time to give those guys a call. Mention clearly that you’re looking for a job, and ask if they know of any openings. Most people are happy to help.
  9. Ask for help if you need it. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, people who love you would help you out if you only asked. Be it a place to live for a few days, a small loan, editing your resume or helping you buy “interview clothes”, most people would like to help you out. Make sure you give them that chance, if you’d like them to.
  10. Finally, take a break. Now that you don’t have a job to stress about, take a mini-vacation. If you can’t afford to go anywhere, do some meditation and soul-searching. Make the most of the free time that you have.

I hope that you don’t get laid off. If you do, I hope that the guidelines are of some help. in the long run, change usually turns out to be a good thing, so don’t get too depressed if you’re fired.  Everything works out, ultimately.