Tips for negotiating federal salaries


One of the best kept secrets about federal careers is that salaries for many federal jobs are negotiable. Even a modest salary increase may exceed tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a career.

New and returning feds

Non-feds (including contractors, fellows and returning feds) can often negotiate higher salaries when entering the federal system. But because such newbies are often unaware of their negotiating leverage, they may start their federal careers lower on the GS salary ladder than necessary. This mistake may impact their salaries long into their federal careers because of the following constraints:

  • In most cases, feds on the GS salary ladder must sequentially climb each grade without skipping any grades.
  • Feds on the GS salary ladder must usually fulfill a year-long waiting period to become eligible for each grade increase, as well as waiting periods for within-grade step increases.

These constraints serve as speed bumps on the climb up the GS salary ladder. Therefore, by negotiating the highest possible starting salary, a new fed may significantly quicken his rise up the GS salary ladder.

Another tip: Experienced new and returning feds should request to accrue vacation leave at the same rate as experienced feds rather than at the lower accrual rate for new feds.

Options for current feds

If you’re a current fed, you should attempt to negotiate your salary: 1) If you move from a job on the GS salary scale to a federal job in your field that is on an alternative salary scale; 2) if you move between jobs on alternative salary scales; and 3) when you enter the Senior Executive Service.

In addition, before you accept a lateral position, ask your hiring manager if he would consider a quality step increase if he is pleased with your work after your first six months on the job. If the lateral position has promotion potential, ask the hiring manager what requirements you would have to fulfill to receive a grade increase.

Negotiation tips

Whenever you’re in a position to negotiate a federal salary, here is some information to help raise your salary offer:

  • The salary range of your target job is identified on its vacancy announcement. You won’t be able to negotiate your salary above the top of that range. However, the hiring agency probably can raise your offer above the lowest step of the grade you’re offered.
  • Negotiate your salary before you accept the job, or you will lose your negotiating leverage.
  • If HR won’t negotiate with you, ratchet your negotiations up to your future supervisor.
  • Support your negotiating position by: 1) Explaining how your credentials exceed minimum requirements; 2) mentioning any security clearances you have; 3) documenting any bonuses or benefits from your current job you will sacrifice; and 4) documenting your recent receipt of a competing offer that has a higher salary.

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