Now is 'the golden age of the job-seeker,' says ZipRecruiter HR chief: How to use your 'enormous negotiating leverage'

"Basically, there are a lot more open jobs being advertised than people seeking work."

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Whether you're one of the millions of Americans who have recently left their jobs or you're just on the hunt for something bigger and better in your professional life, your timing couldn't be much better. Nearly everyone, it seems, is hiring. And to get you in the door, firms are willing to be flexible.

All told, 93% of employers plan to add workers to payrolls this year, with 50% of all firms looking to add new roles and 43% backfilling vacant positions, according to a recent survey from Monster.com.

"We're calling this the golden age of the job-seeker," says Renata Dionello, chief people officer at ZipRecruiter. "Basically, there are a lot more open jobs being advertised than people seeking work — it's an all-time record low ratio. That gives job-seekers enormous negotiating leverage."

Still, even with the deck stacked more than ever in their favor, 26% of applicants in Monster's survey expressed low confidence that they'd find the right job fit.

In order to a land a job you'll love, experts say you need to sort out your priorities and be unafraid to negotiate for the things you want from your employers. Here's how they say you can do it.

Figure out what you want most from a job

In an ideal world, every job you apply for would come with everything you want: a big bump in pay, maybe, plus great benefits, stock options, a terrific culture, upward mobility, a schedule that works for you. More realistically, however, you'll get some but not all of the things you want.

It pays, then, to know what's most important to you before you submit your first application.

"You'll have to rank these things in terms of how much they're a priority to you," says Brie Reynolds, a career services manager at FlexJobs. "You'll have a much better time making decisions and asking interviewers the questions you need answers to."

To figure out what you want in your next role, Dionello suggests homing in on what you enjoy in your current one. "One of the exercises I've done is to catch yourself having fun at work," she says. "At the end of the day, write down the things that you really enjoyed and that excited you. Write down the things that sapped your energy. If you do that for a couple weeks, you'll start to see patterns."

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Know what's negotiable, and what's not

Given what everyone has gone through for the better part of two years, one thing you may well value is flexibility. "People we're talking to had mostly never worked remotely until the pandemic," says Reynolds. "Once they were able to do it, many people were no longer interested in returning to the office."

The return-to-work plans among employers is a mixed bag, with 43% looking to transition to a hybrid working model, 35% requiring employees to return to the office full-time, and 19% allowing workers to go fully virtual or remote, according to Monster's data.

What you're able to negotiate for will depend greatly on the company's existing policy, which you'd be wise to inquire about upfront, says Reynolds. "Remote work can be negotiable with companies that are already open to it," she says.

"It's hard to negotiate with a company which has a set policy on remote work," she adds. "It's appropriate to ask, but you may have to look at multiple employers to get a situation you want."

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Salary is up for negotiation as well, but hold off on sliding a number across the table, says Reynolds. "Most of the time, we recommend people have an offer in hand," and use that as a jumping off point, she says.

"It helps to come with some research in hand. You can go to Salary.com or Payscale to find averages based on your role, your location, and your employer's location."

One area that can be tougher to negotiate: benefits. "Things like retirement plans, health benefits, and tuition assistance tend to be company-wide policies," says Dionello. "It's hard to do something for just one person. If you want eight weeks of vacation, you probably won't get that unless the company already has an unlimited vacation policy."

Don't be afraid to ask

No matter what you prioritize, Dionello says it's essential to ask for what you want, even if it feels gauche or greedy.

"By the time they're talking to you about compensation, they're deciding they want you," says Dionello. "They want to know as much as they can about your needs so they can try to close that deal with you."

To that end, she says, don't be afraid to ask for a signing bonus if it will make the offer more attractive for you. "Just couch things in terms of expressing your needs," she says.

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Maybe you're forgoing a bonus by leaving your current company. Maybe you're giving up company stock that has yet to vest. Maybe you're heading to a company on precarious financial footing, and you want to be compensated for the risk. Maybe you're moving to take the job.

That's all fair game to express, she says.

"Feel free to ask them for exactly what your needs are," she says. "The person talking to you wants to know and is expecting you to ask. Don't be shy. They just want to know what it's going to take."

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