Earning

The jobless rate just hit a 50-year low — and you can take advantage

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If you're in the market for a new job, or hoping to earn more at where you currently work, now is a great time to start making your plan.

The jobless rate dropped to 3.5% in September from 3.7% in August, the Labor Department reported last week. That's the lowest rate since December 1969 — and it marks the second time this year that U.S. unemployment hit a 50-year low. "Companies are having to fight for the best workers," Andy Challenger, a vice president at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, tells Grow.

More job openings than job seekers may put workers in a position of power to earn more. "If you've been in your job for a long time, then this is a good time to look for a new role, to maintain some resiliency and freshness in your career and skills," career strategy consultant Janet Matta told Grow earlier this year, when the jobless rate hits its first 50-year low.

Here's how to take advantage of the current employment market.

If you want to maximize your earnings

1. Share salary details. "Tell everybody how much money you're making," recommends Suze Orman, since sharing salary details with colleagues can help you determine if you're being paid fairly. Once you have the knowledge you need, you can start weighing your next moves, whether that's making your case for a raise or beginning a job search.

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Suze Orman's three rules to earn more money at your job

2. Practice negotiating. Whether you're negotiating for a raise or your salary at a new job (more on that, below), it's helpful to get better at bargaining.

"Just having the negotiation is a lot of the battle," Ashley Feinstein Gerstley of The Fiscal Femme told Grow earlier this yea. "Even though it's really scary to show up and have these conversations." The professional negotiator suggests practicing with low-stakes daily negotiations over decisions like where to go for dinner.

3. Don't accept the first salary offer. "Eight out of 10 times you're offered a salary, you're being offered at the lower end," says certified financial planner Shannah Compton Game, who hosts the Millennial Money podcast. Negotiate for more money.

If you don't, you're missing out. On average, negotiating leads to a $5,000 increase in starting salaries, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

4. Ask for a signing bonus. Last year, roughly 1 in 4 employers offered signing bonuses as part of nonexecutive job packages, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. But even if one isn't offered, experts say, it's fair to request one: Aim for a figure that's roughly 5% to 10% of your base salary.

5. Leverage a competing job offer. "The best way for anybody to make more money is to leave their job and go get a new one," says job search strategist Hannah Morgan of Career Sherpa. The strong job market could enable you to take a higher-paid opportunity — or use that competing offer as a bargaining chip to negotiate a raise with your current employer.

If you want to get a new job

1. Build your network. "When we have low unemployment and a high number of jobs being created, employers have to do more to attract candidates," says Morgan. "Employers are going to be less picky about what they're looking for — they may be willing to forgo some of the requirements they have."

Still, she says, the best way to ensure your application lands at the top of the pile is to have a contact in the company willing to refer you for the position. It's smart to take advantage of industry events, professional groups, and networking events to build your connections.

Employers are going to be less picky about what they're looking for — they may be willing to forgo some of the requirements they have.
Hannah Morgan
Job search strategist with Career Sherpa

2. Revamp your resume. As Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi put it, a well-written resume is "the difference between opening the door into an employer to lead to interviews or having a door slammed shut in your face." Make sure your resume is up to date and that you aren't making mistakes like including too much of the wrong kind of detail. Then you'll be well-positioned to have your resume land at the top of the interview pile.

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