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The Basics of Boosting Your Salary Offer | The Gov Gurus - Gov't Career Advice That Works

Categorized | Hiring Process

The Basics of Boosting Your Salary Offer

Posted on 26 January 2009 by admin


By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job and Federal Times Columnist

So you’ve received an offer for a federal job.  This means that you probably beat out dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of competitors to rank as the hiring agency’s number one pick.  Congratulations! You should feel great about your success.

But even though you have bagged your target job, the application process is still not over.  Why not?  Because you have one final chore to complete:  negotiating you salary.

How should you kick off your salary negotiations? Simply by asking your agency contact person, “Is this salary negotiable?” There is a good chance that those four little words may be enough to compel your hiring agency to increase its salary offer.


Granted:  Few people enjoy negotiating salaries.  The process feels uncomfortable and undignified  –  disturbingly similar to haggling over the price of a used car.  But odious though salary negotiations are, they are important because:

  • Contrary to popular believe, federal salaries are often negotiable. I know this from my own experience:  by negotiating my first federal salary for a job at the Environmental Protection Agency 17 years ago, and by campaigning for numerous raises and promotions since then, I increased my own total federal take-home pay by more than $200,000.

    What’s more, I have coached dozens and dozens of other professionals on successful negotiations for federal jobs.  These clients include a military transitioner who raised his offer by about $30,000 annually and an Information Technology project manager who raised his offer by about $10,000 annually, to name just a few examples.

  • Like most private sector employers, most federal employers lowball job applicants: they offer them the lowest acceptable salary.  Why?  Because most applicants  –  relieved that their job search is finally over and unaware that federal salaries are frequently negotiable  — lunge at the bait and take lowball offers.  But for only a few short minutes of negotiating discomfort, you may increase your salary by thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars per year.
  • You won’t get what you don’t ask for. You owe it to yourself to advocate for what you really deserve.  Remember: if you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else will.


  • Understand your hiring agency’s limits: Each announcement for a federal opening identifies a salary range for the opening.  Although you probably can’t raise your offer beyond the ceiling of your opening’s salary range, you have a good chance of negotiating a higher salary offer within your opening’s range.
  • Justify your request: Explain to your hiring agency why you deserve a higher salary than you have been offered.  Your explanation may be based on: 1) a description of your outstanding qualifications and an explanation of how they exceed the basic qualifications of the opening; 2) the fact that the offer is below your current salary or below a competing offer; 3) the fact that accepting the job would require you to move to a city that has a higher cost of living than your present job; 4) any additional sacrifices that accepting the job would require of you.
  • Don’t give ultimatums if you really want the job: Instead of threatening to reject the offer if your demands are not met, use a soft-sell approach.  Phrase your negotiations in gentle statements, such as:

    I am excited about the possibility of contributing to this organization.  But is there any additional wiggle room in your offer?

  • Bump up your negotiations: If you receive your job offer from a staffer from your target agency’s human resources office and s/he declines to negotiate, request a meeting with your opening’s selecting official.  (The selecting official is probably the same person who interviewed you for the job.)  This is important because federal selecting officials usually have significant more power to increase salary offers than do human resources officials.
  • Use good timing: Initiate and complete your salary negotiations before you respond to your hiring agency’s offer.  Why?  Because once you respond to the hiring agency’s offer, you lose your bargaining power. Indeed, the time between your receipt of an offer and your response to it is the only tine during the selection process, and perhaps the only time during your career, when you get to call the shots and an employer twists in the wind, awaiting your decision.
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