October 2, 2012
Negotiation nuances: talking money after the offer
In last week's post, I shared some recommendations on how job candidates should respond to salary questions during interviews. This week, I'll discuss some strategies to use when a viable job offer is on the table.
First, a few disclaimers: Job negotiations are tricky business. They have many moving parts to them, and no two situations are identical. The counteroffer strategy you follow depends heavily on your confidence level and the amount of risk you're prepared to take.
As a general rule, there will be more room for negotiation in higher-paid job/career niches than lower ones. While one may be able to convince an employer to cough up a few thousand dollars more for a mid-level marketing position, for example, it's not likely that a person will be able to convince a company to pay considerably beyond the norm for an entry-level customer-service role.
In other words, these are time-tested guidelines, not foolproof formulas. You'll need to trust your instincts when you get to the bargaining table. With these caveats aside, here are three strategies to consider when you get a job offer:
1. The no-risk strategy. There's only one surefire salary-negotiation technique, which is to look the employer in the eye when you receive the offer and say, "Fantastic! I'm thrilled. When do I start?"
There are times when taking an offer at face value is unquestionably the right move for a job hunter. Let's say you've been in the job market for several months without a bite, and can't afford to risk any viable opportunity to earn a paycheck. Or perhaps you just happen to know that there are several qualified competitors gunning for the job, or that the employer has a clear No. 2 candidate lined up.
In these cases, the prudent move might be to grab the offer and run, versus negotiating just for the sake of it.
2. The low-risk strategy. The majority of experienced professionals follow this approach. In it, you field a job offer in a positive, gracious way -- and then politely ask the interviewer if he or she would be willing to spiff up certain aspects of the package.
This might sound something like, "Thanks so much, Delilah. I'm very excited by the proposition of coming on board here at XYZ Company! Everything looks like a great fit in terms of what I'd be able to bring to the table. After reviewing your offer in a bit more detail, however, I'm wondering if you have any wiggle room on a couple of elements. Is there any chance you'd be willing to bump up the base salary a little, and/or add another week of vacation?"
When making such a request, it's wise to give some semblance of rationale. You might explain that you want to make at least a lateral move to your current (or most recent) salary, or that you have another offer that you're hoping XYZ Company is willing to match, as it would be your first choice.
To minimize the risk threshold, it's imperative to signal that any refusal on the employer's part to adjust the offer won't be a deal-breaker. You're appealing to the hiring manager's sense of fair play, not holding a gun to the person's head. In most cases where I've seen this approach followed, the employers sweetened the pot to at least some degree, making the job seekers very happy they had asked.
3. The high-risk strategy. Got spine? If so, then there's another method to consider; it involves playing hardball for a comp package.
If you're a recognized expert in your field and have multiple offers in hand, you can deliver an ultimatum to an employer (politely, mind you, for best results) and say, flat out, what you'd need to see in the offer to say yes. Similarly, if you're walking into a high-risk assignment or being aggressively recruited out of a perfectly good position, you might also push for considerable (at least 5 percent to 10 percent) improvement to an offer package.
This strategy isn't for the faint of heart. You must feel that you have a lot of leverage -- and be willing to risk the deal and walk away if you follow a "draw a line in the sand" strategy of this kind.
Which technique is right for you? I hope you get the chance to use at least one of them in the very near future.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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