Let’s face it, these are tough economic times and it doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon. Many people on Wall Street lost a lot of jobs this year. I’m not too concerned about the fat cats, because they’ll bounce back on their fat wallets. My concern is the “little” people, the supporting players who got burned in all of this fall out. The ones who had no contingency plan because they assumed that because they worked for legacy companies, that they were safe. Now, I tell everyone they need to have a back up plan. That’s just a given. Even if they recruited you hard as if you were an NFL hopeful, that still doesn’t guarantee anything. Nothing is forever and this last couple of months proves that.

In crisis mode, it’s hard to think clearly because the panic has set in. It’s all about “I need a job NOW” and that’s a normal reaction. But in crisis mode is where we often make the most mistakes and end up cheating ourselves. Sure, it’s easy to just take the first job that comes along because you have bills to pay. Nobody wants to be unemployed, but it is what it is. In times like this, a clear head and logical thinking needs to take presidence. Employers know that this is the best time to undercut and save on salaries so they are going to low ball you every chance they get. Do you really want to work for a company that will willingly pay you less than what you’re worth? I wouldn’t want to work for that company. I know my worth and it is high.

When you find yourself in this situation, step back and breathe. Sit down somewhere (away from home) and start journaling. List all of your professional assets and the major contributions you’ve made in the last 5 years. Then list the minor accomplishments (what may be minor to you could be major to someone else). Then write down the ideal type of jobs you would love to have. Go for broke and just write what’s in your heart. Then write the jobs you are most qualified for. This will give you a beginner’s road map to getting where you want to be. Now if you’re a secretary you can’t expect to be a doctor next week (unless you have an MD). So while I say go for broke, also be realistic. Then I want you to start looking at your skills and accomplishments and determine which can be transferred to a new position and in what capacity. Finally, get on the net and start looking at comparable salaries and job titles on Salary.com orPayscale .com. You can also see who is posting salary ranges on the job boards, which is where I’m sending you next. This gives you something to compare the current going rates, with where you were, and where you want to go. That way you can prepare a compensation package range that is comfortable to you.  Seeing your total picture gives you a better understanding of your options.

Next step is finding the job leads. I won’t go into that because you should already know how to find a job. Let’s instead focus on thepre -screen. If a job doesn’t list a salary or range, don’t be afraid to inquire about it. Many experts will tell you not to talk about salary until the very end. This situation is a bit different. You are in crunch time. You cannot afford to wasteanyone’s time, especially your own. Why waste valuable time interviewing for something clearly out of your range? You could spend that time finding suitable interviews. If they cannot give you a range or set salary, give them yours. They will be able to tell you if that is in their range, and if it’s not and they want you bad enough, they’ll adjust. I’ve seen it happen many times. Now the caveat here is that it doesn’t fiteveryone’s situation. If you made $75K in your last job and this job is comparable, and you’re asking $100K I can pretty much guarantee you won’t get that. Let’s be reasonable and logical about it.

Do your research! The more knowledge you have the better position you have to negotiate. You need to walk in there knowing everything you can about the company, its products and services, the position (or its equivalent) and the going rates. Also, how badly do they want you? Now I’m not saying take advantage of this and come in thinking you are running things. No, no, no. That is the exact way to get yourself booted out of the running. You can still capitalize on the situation, but you have to be savvy about it. You know they want you, they know they want you, just be prepared to show them why you deserve your asking price. Be prepared to show and prove your past accomplishments and contributions to your last company. Make them feel more secure in their choice by showing them why you’re worth it.

Don’t rush to accept the first offer that comes your way. You are not obligated to give an answer right away. As a rule of thumb, ask for at least 48 hours to think it over. On rare occasions, I’ve seen people ask for, and get, a week to think about it. If you have no other offers on the table and none in sight, this is not the time to ask for a long thinking period. I’d ask for 48 hours, then hustle on the follow up with the companies you’ve interviewed with. It’s perfectly fine to call and ask if you are at least in the running. The answers you get will determine your actions. If you have offers on the table, take the time to mull them all over. Don’t just look at the dollars, but the entire picture. How is the commute? Will you enjoy the work? Is it something you really want to do? What is the level of responsibility? What are the additional benefits? Is there room for advancement? What about additional training and continuing education opportunities? Does the company and culture fit with your ethics? See, it’s not always just about the money. You can be offered a job that pays way more than your last, but you might be required to travel constantly and be away from your family. Or you can be offered a job at or a little less than your last job, but can work from home some times, have more professional freedom and tuition reimbursement. So make sure you weigh your options carefully and decide on what’s best for you. Even if you are in crisis mode, you still have some leverage.

Be prepared to walk away.  You’re probably saying “Are you crazy! I need a job NOW!!” and I get that.  But you need to hear something that you should never ever forget.  Everything is negotiable.  I’ll say it again, everything is negotiable.  I’m not advocating walking away after the first offer.  That’s just crazy.  Here is where your negotiating skills need to come into play.  You must be able to negotiate on your own behalf.  I’ve seen too many women (heck, people in general) simply accept the first offer.  I’m a recruiter and I amoligated to make the hiring manager’s offer, even if I think it’s too low.  And I’m telling you, almost all of my managers have said “well let’s start here and see if he/she will accept”.  They are willing to go higher, but for the sake of the budget, they’ll start low.  I try to approach candidates by asking them what range they were looking for just before I make the offer. Sometimes, they’ll ask to negotiate higher, but most times, they’ll accept the first offer.  Never accept the first offer.  If you feel you are worth more, communicate that.  Ask to negotiate a better offer.  If you have other options and they are not willing to negotiate, be ready to walk away.  What good is it to accept an offer that you know won’t support your lifestyle?  Yes, I know it’s about paying your bills.  But do you really want to accept any job at any salary and still be left wondering how you’re going to make up the difference?  Why put yourself through that stress?

So make sure you’re prepared and logical when you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.  Be consistent.  The right opportunity will come along, but you have to work for it….hard.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham