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I have been offered a position via email that is covered by the US government General Schedule pay system. Basically, the system has 15 grades each of which has 10 steps and the salary of each grade and step is publicly available. Moving up grades is difficult (especially at the higher grades) while moving up steps is much easier, but there are predefined waiting periods for moving up steps. I was offered the position at step 1 of the advertised grade. This is the lowest possible salary they could have offered. Based on the minimum job requirements, the minimum waiting periods between steps, and the number of relevant years of experience I have, I think I can justify a starting salary at step 8 which is about 25% more than the initial offer. Realistically, I would accept a starting salary at step 5 which is about 13% more than the initial offer. Negotiation strategies that I have read about suggest making them make the first offer and then countering from there, but offering the lowest step on the scale doesn't seem like a reasonable first offer. How should salary negotiations for positions with a fixed pay scale be handled?

  • 3
    The lowest step is the norm for the government. You have no experience at that grade and steps are basedon time in grade. The grade is based on teh grade of teh job nor your qualifications unless, they feel you are not qualified for the highest grade in a training progression ( a 7-9-11 postion may be opffered at any level). If you want to negotiate salary, then the government is not the right place for you. – HLGEM Jan 28 '15 at 14:24
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    Is it with the government, or just uses the GS scale but is otherwise private? I know of some companies who use the GS system because it makes it easier/less arbitrary to justify salaries, but they are also flexible on starting grade/step and promotion times. – tpg2114 Jan 28 '15 at 19:04
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I think I can justify a starting salary at step 8 which is about 25% more than the initial offer. Realistically, I would accept a starting salary at step 5 which is about 13% more than the initial offer.

How should salary negotiations for positions with a fixed pay scale be handled?

Reply to the email (in person if possible, by phone if not) that you are excited about the position, but need to discuss the offer package.

Indicate that you believe you should come in at Step 8, and talk about your justifications.

Since you are clear on what you are willing to accept, be ready to reject all offers below Step 5, and be ready to accept any offers at Step 5 or above.

In some contexts, the initial Level and Step are not negotiable. If that's the case here, then you have already made your decision - you have indicated that you will not accept. Thank them for the offer, indicate why it is too low, move on to the next job on your list, and don't look back.

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I used to work for the government (USA).

There are very specific requirements for each grade. There is no negotiating.

This is the reason I left union/government work (besides it being very boring) and is the sacrifice you make for having relative job security and good benefits. If you are looking to make money, you will have to be in the private sector.

  • I am not trying to move up a grade, I am trying to move up a step. I thought moving up steps was basically based on time in service. – StrongBad Jan 28 '15 at 14:48
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    Yes, it is. And that is where you can not negotiate, because in order to do that you would have to prove you deserve the step because you served more time than you actually have. It is not about how good you are at what you do, but how much seniority you have based on time. That is how unions work. – Lawrence Aiello Jan 28 '15 at 14:53
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The position you are applying for is for a specific grade. Your ability to move up a grade is very limited. If you want a higher grade you will probably have to apply for a different position. The supervisor for that advertised position may be the same or higher grade and they don't want to upset the system.

The steps are another matter. The key is the waiting period between step increases:

Advancement from... Requires...
step 1 to step 2    52 weeks of creditable service in step 1
step 2 to step 3    52 weeks of creditable service in step 2
step 3 to step 4    52 weeks of creditable service in step 3
step 4 to step 5    104 weeks of creditable service in step 4
step 5 to step 6    104 weeks of creditable service in step 5
step 6 to step 7    104 weeks of creditable service in step 6
step 7 to step 8    156 weeks of creditable service in step 7
step 8 to step 9    156 weeks of creditable service in step 8
step 9 to step 10   156 weeks of creditable service in step 9

Asking to start at Step 5 will mean two years until your next step; Step 8 will mean having to wait 3 years.

Expect when you apply that they will offer you step 1. Which means that if you aren't happy with GradeX/Step1 then you need to apply for a position with the next Grade.

You could accept the advertised grade, and apply for a promotion when a higher grade position opens, but there can be minimum time in grade requirements. If you do get a promotion to the next grade they place you at the step that would at a minimum equal a double step at your old grade.

You could ask HR politely, but know that if they have many candidates they will be unwilling to negotiate. They might also have a agency policy to start new government employees at step 1.

Note: I know you linked to the same chart but I wanted to make the answer clear.

  • I understand that if I start at step 8 it will be 3 years, at least, until I can take the next step. Given the position was advertised at grade X and the structure of the group, negotiating up to grade X+1 would not be reasonable. I cannot tell from your answer whether it is reasonable to ask for step 8. – StrongBad Jan 28 '15 at 14:57
  • Don't expect them to do so, they generally put people at step one unless there is a promotion involved or a transfer from another agency. – mhoran_psprep Jan 28 '15 at 15:09
  • The only time this might be successful is if the job is one they are having difficulty filling. – HLGEM Feb 7 '18 at 20:10
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You can not negociate a higher grade than advertised in the position. The step within the grade can be negociatable depending on the agency's HR policy. I have highered gs13 step 10 before, it can be done if they want you. But yes, step 1 is the default, you need to politely decline the offer stating that you require a higher salary.

  • This does not add anything to the other answers – user8036 Feb 24 '16 at 10:34

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