Ask LH: Can I Negotiate Salary When Applying For A Government Job?

Hey LH, I'm applying for a government job in South Australia and was wondering about contract negotiations. I'm well aware that they have a pay grade system and pay levels outlined, however, I don't know if these are open to negotiations or any kind of haggling. Can you haggle a better pay rate for a government job? Cheers, Not Quite Sure

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Dear NQS,

As you note, every job in the South Australian Government is linked to a classification level that describes your duties and salary. Some classifications have a broader payment system than others. For example, a clinical educator (CED4.2)'s annual salary is strictly capped at $87,269, while an administrative services officer (ASO2) can make between $48,367 and $52,352 depending on their qualifications and experience.

For the most part, the difference between the minimum and maximum salaries for the same classification is quite small -- so it's not like you're going to get shafted if your negotiation skills aren't up to snuff. With that said, it obviously makes sense to push for the highest amount of money you can, even if it only works out a few hundred extra dollars per year.

The first step is to head to SA Gov's jobs website to check out the classifications list. This includes the salary ranges for all job types and will give you an idea of the pay ceiling you should be aiming towards.

Naturally, you will need to demonstrate precisely how your skills and experience meet the selection criteria if you hope to receive a higher salary. This means pulling out all the stops on your resume: take the time to specifically tailor it for the position at hand and include referees in senior positions that you can trust. It's also a good idea to outline major work accomplishments that are relevant to the job instead of just listing your work history.

Below are some articles that include general resume-writing tips that should help to steer you in the right direction:

All in all, I wouldn't be too worried about this. If you'll allow me to make a sweeping generalisation, most government jobs are quite well paying; especially in relation to the amount of work you're required to do. They also tend to be fairly secure, although that's not quite so true of late.

If any public servant are reading, feel free to share your own advice and experiences with NQS in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Government employee of 15+ years here.

    Negotiation of salary is difficult for government jobs as it is usually fixed for a position due to an enterprise agreement or at best a narrow range. The person hiring is not usually in control of the department budget as employees salaries must be allocated several years in advance. Only a desperate manager wanting to hire an unqualified applicant will offer the lowest salary. The highest salary in the range is yours as long as you don't mess up the interview.

    Negotiation on non-salaried benefits, however, is the real game. For instance: work vehicle, novated lease, fuel allowance, public transport concession, salary sacrifice, discretionary spending (e.g. meals out), child care, parental leave, employer super contributions (9.5% up to 21%), subsidized travel, subsidized health insurance, miscellaneous leave (i.e. 4 days off at CSIRO), extra leave entitlements (why not ask for an additional week).

    Finally, job title and job grade. Basically salary is tied to the job grade/title. Planning for a government career is all about how to maximize the job grade. It is possible to ask for a higher job grade tied to a lower grade package, think senior engineer title but paid as a graduate - this improves your prospects later when wanting to move to another role.

    I can chime in from QLD Government perspective, but it is generally applicable to most states.

    When entering public service from the private sector, that is actually the only time you can negotiate wages, but it comes with predetermined limits.

    As mentioned in the article, Government positions have a pre-determined ranking system for wages. I'll use QLD Gov as an example as I know them best.

    We will take a middle AO position, which is AO4. AO4 has 4 levels which gives you the range of the wage. I'll use the QLD health one as it is publicly available and the first one I found on google. It will vary between departments a little bit (different awards etc... or role classifications).

    So for an AO4 level 1, your annual salary is $68,589.
    AO4 level 2, $70,919
    AO4 level 3, $73,230
    AO4 level 4, $75,568

    So the wage range is $68,589 to $75,568 per year.

    Normally you start at AO4 level 1 and each year it will increase a level based on performance reviews etc... until you hit level 4 which is the ceiling.

    However when you enter public service from private, you can negotiate based on your experience/skills to start at a higher level straight away. You can't change the set wage figures, but you can argue for a higher starting level.

    You can NOT do this if you are moving positions within the public sector because you already have a track record, so its hard to argue to you are worth an AO5 level 4 if you have been working at a AO4 level 1 etc... (although many people will leave public sector to private for a year then come back at a higher level).

    Happy to answer any more questions if needed, as the article says, in general the wages are quite good with a rough variance of $8-10k over the 4 levels.

    The SA government pay rates are dictated by the recent EA ( There is very little wiggle room for most agencies beyond this so it's generally a waste of time to ask.

    Rather than haggle over salary, you're better off negotiating hours worked. Overtime and after-hours (weekends and nights) attract penalty rates and are probably the easiest way to bump up take home pay.

    Once in a job with a graded pay scale, don't stress if you don't go in at the top tier immediately. There is (usually) automatic advancement with each year of service, often skipping levels.

    For a better salary from the get-go, a few sectors within the SA public sector (mostly emergency services) have their own EAs which are far more generous than the generic one. And working in rural areas tends to also attract incentive bonuses.

    Last edited 07/03/15 9:07 am

    Generally agree with the first two posters. I work for a Qld university and have sat on more interview panels than I care to count. When an annual budget for a department is put forward, positions are usually costed at the top end of the scale, irregardless of whether the incumbent is at that level. This means that it's quite possible to negotiate a higher starting salary (within that scale) if you have the appropriate experience to justify it, as it doesn't materially effect the budget bottom line. It's not a common occurrence, but has happened a few times with people I've interviewed.

    Hi, do you know if this is the same for Victorian Government Executive roles? Also, can you please advise if you should bring up pay rates at the interview or offer stage?

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