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Federal Salaries: How to Talk Your Way Up the Scale

It is possible to negotiate a higher federal salary, provided you have some basic information about government pay scales.

Each government job has a salary range defined by steps within a pay grade. There is a range that the HR specialist and supervisor may have in mind to offer you, depending on your years of experience, specialized experience, your critical skills, and -- very importantly -- the agency's budget. If the salary range is $43,000 to $50,000, you should have no problem getting $44,000 or even $48,000 for this job.

Of course, there's no guarantee you'll get one of the higher figures, but if you have justifiable reasons and expertise for the job, you might be able to settle on agreeable terms. It also helps if hiring managers perceive you as confident and dedicated to public service.

Use these tips and resources to bolster your negotiating position:

Review Government Pay Scales

A good place to start your research is the US Office of Personnel Management, where you'll find the federal government's General Schedule Pay Scale.

Consider this example: If you are offered a job as a GS 9, the 2016 first "step" in Grade 9, according to the GS Pay Scale, is $42,823. The highest level in GS 9 -- Step 10 -- pays $55,666.

You should also be aware of the Locality Pay Scales, which show how pay rates vary depending on the job's location. For example, many government jobs are located in Washington, DC, where GS 9 starts at $53,435 and Step 10 is $69,460.

Ask for a Higher Step Within Your Grade

A reasonable goal is to negotiate your step within your grade level. If you're in Grade 9, you can request up to a Step 10 ($55,666) or any step up to there, based on any of the following reasons:

    1) Your past job paid $50,000, and you would like to receive a 10 percent raise for career-development and advancement objectives.
    2) You will incur substantial travel and relocation expenses to move to the new position, and therefore need additional funds (since the agency may not specifically pay for the relocation expenses).
    3) You believe that you have specialized experience that will benefit the agency.
    4) You have critical skills, education, and abilities that will greatly enhance the agency's mission and office services.
    5) You have been offered a position by another firm at a starting salary of $55,000 (or whatever might be true).
    6) You need a minimum of Step 10 ($55,666) since you will be relocating to a geographic area with a higher cost of living and thus require additional income to support your family and needs.

Don't Forget the Perks

Salary can be just one component of your federal pay. Consider negotiating for these additional incentives to enhance your overall package:

Tuition Reimbursement for Student Loans

Per the Office of Personnel Management, agencies are authorizes to make payments to the loan holder of up to a maximum of $10,000 a year and not more than $60,000 per employee in a lifetime. Not all agencies participate in this program, and it is important to note that this money is often taxed and comes with service commitments (wherein the pre-tax sum of money must be paid back if the individual leaves the agency before the service is complete).

Recruitment Bonus Incentives

Some agencies may pay a Recruitment Bonus Incentive for Critical Skills or Severe Shortage positions. Depending on its need, the agency could pay up to 25 percent of your annual salary.

Relocation Allowance

Unless the vacancy announcement specifically states that the agency will not pay for relocation, you can ask for a relocation allowance.

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