One giant hurdle in landing a new job is salary negotiation. It’s a delicate process for anyone, but especially for service members who may be wandering into foreign territory. The following tips should help you navigate the negotiation process. Heads up – successfully negotiating your salary starts way before you ever see a job offer.

Tip #1: Know your limits.

Before you start applying for jobs, you should crunch some numbers to ensure you’re applying for positions in your salary range. Some service members look for salaries that are comparable to their base pay, but to put it bluntly, this is a mistake. Service members should factor in Basic Allowance for Housing and Basic Allowance for Subsistence money to get an accurate picture of their finances. For example, an Army captain with five years of service would need to make about $82,000 a year as opposed to the $60,000 in base pay when the other benefits are included. Take the time to determine how much you need to make and apply for jobs in that pay range. Knowing your minimum requirements will also help with salary negotiation down the line.

Tip #2: Consider other benefits.

If you’re retiring from the military, you have the added benefit of continued health insurance. This means health care could become a bargaining chip when it’s time to negotiate your salary. Maybe you can forgo the company’s health coverage for more money, more vacation time or a sign-on bonus. If you’re going to take a pay cut, consider if the other benefits being offered through the company are worth making less money. Would you be working 40 hours a week instead of 70 hours? Will you get paid overtime? How much vacation time are you getting? Have you factored in sick time as well as holidays? Does the company offer bonuses, moving incentives, special retirement perks or free childcare? All of these benefits should be considered as part of the package when you start negotiating your salary. It’s also helpful to make a list of things you’re willing to compromise on before you get to the meeting.

Tip #3: Take your time.

The last thing you want to do is jump the gun and throw down your minimum salary requirements during the initial interview. Instead, take this time to really sell your skills, work ethic and personality. Often, service members need to translate their resume into civilian terms and that’s true in an interview setting as well. Explain how your skill set is perfect for the job and show the interviewer how your experience qualifies for that higher-level position even though you’re new to the civilian workforce. When a firm job offer is made, it’s time to take a hard look at the salary and benefits they’re offering. If they aren’t up to your standards, make a counter offer. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The worst that could happen is that the company says no and then it’s up to you if you want to accept the offer or keep looking for another position. A common fear is that making a counter offer will result in the company rescinding their job offer altogether, but this is extremely unlikely.

Tip #4: Let’s talk money.

Not sure how much to ask for? A general rule of thumb is to research salaries for comparable jobs and pick an amount in the middle of the range. If you opt for this route, make sure you’re looking at positions in the right location. An engineer in Baltimore probably makes a different salary than one that works in Oklahoma City. Looking in the right area ensures you’re accounting for cost of living adjustments. Or you may want to start with your minimum salary and add 20% so there’s wiggle room. For example, starting with a base pay of $50,000 adding $10,000 to it and then looking for a $60,000 salary. Really, there’s no hard and fast rule about salaries, which is why it’s so important you know your personal minimum and stick to it.

Tip #5: It’s not personal.

A counter offer will not evoke eye rolls or snide comments. It’s a part of the hiring process that human resources is familiar with so don’t hesitate to ask for more money or better benefits. It’s also worth remembering that if the company does not agree to your counter offer, it’s not because they don’t like you as a person. In most cases, it’s probably a company policy – like set vacation times or health benefits – that can’t be changed. Instead of taking offense, reevaluate the offer and decide if it’s the right job for you. Overall, negotiating a salary and benefits can be daunting. Preparing yourself by crunching numbers in advance and knowing your minimum requirements will save you a lot of stress in the long run. And remember, you won’t improve your offer if you don’t ask.

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Jennifer Cary is a freelance writer, blogger and former government employee. You can visit her website here.