A 10 step guide to negotiating a job offer

A 10 step guide to negotiating a job offer

Most serious job seekers will prepare for a first interview, find out as much as they can about the hiring firm, reflect on their own motivations, and identify the deal breakers. But what happens when a job offer is on the table?

Negotiating a job offer – defining your new role, setting the terms of your contract and agreeing on a starting salary – is like going into any other negotiation and demands a certain amount of preparation.   

Using the approaches outlined in The First Move: A Negotiator’s Companion, here are the 10 questions you should ask yourself before negotiating a job offer, in three different dimensions: people, problem, process.

The People: Who is involved in the negotiation?

1.       What’s your relationship with the recruiter?

In many situations, there is no prior, established relationship between recruiter and candidate. However, sometimes Human Resources Directors will identify potential candidates from their pool of professional or personal contacts. If you’re being considered for a role because an HR Director personally brought the opportunity to your attention, you’ll need to take this relationship into consideration. For example, will he or she know more than usual about your personal or financial situation? Does the relationship give the recruiter leverage to negotiate a lower salary? 

2.       Do you have a mandate?

Since most job seekers don’t need to report the results of this kind of negotiation to a superior, there is usually no mandate. However, this is not always the case. For example, if you want to stay on as a consultant to your current employer, you’ll have to take this into consideration as you negotiate the contract.  

3.       Are there other stakeholders to consider?

You might have a partner or family, whose preferences could come into consideration. What about the bank if you have loans pertaining to your current employment? How can you prepare your departure from your current job so that you leave your employer, colleagues, and clients as happy and satisfied as possible?  This might have important consequences on the mid/long term.

The Problem: What is at stake?

4.       What are the motivations behind this negotiation?

As opposed to the superficial positions – hiring at the lowest possible salary vs. getting hired at the highest possible salary – motivations encompass all the factors that are driving what you need to get from this negotiation. Likely, you’ll want to consider the long term financial security, the impact of a job change on your professional image, your personal autonomy and creative independence, and ability to keep future professional options open, etc.

5.       Can you identify potential solutions?

Several creative solutions should be imagined and then combined into a package creating value. Many solutions can be envisioned, taking the motivations of both the hiring firm and candidate into consideration. Here are just a few examples of some potential solutions.

Solutions for a job package:

  • Financial compensation: are you just negotiating a fixed salary or should there be performance incentives? You should also set a time frame for when compensation can be reviewed.
  • Start date: If you have prior professional engagements to attend to, sometimes it can be possible to compromise. For example, a part-time contract for the first month or two, or help from the future employer to finish pending jobs.
  • Job location: If a new job involves relocation, sometimes a compromise can be negotiated. Maybe you can work remotely, through video conference and the web. Maybe you can divide your time between two cities and negotiate a certain number of round-trip tickets. If you do need to move, your new employer could help you with move expenses or help you find new lodgings. If relocation involves integrating a new language or culture, language classes could be part of the deal.

Solutions for your professional reputation:

  • Job title: You might be able to negotiate a trendier title that might improve your C.V. and help your career in the long term.

Solutions for future team cohesion:

  • Tasks: You could plan a meeting and formalize some task sharing between members of your future team in order to promote synergies and avoid conflict.

6.       How can you justify these solutions?

Can you identify a Zone of Possible Agreement or Bargaining Range? There are usually several objective reference points to take into consideration: your average income over the last few months, the average salary of employees with your education and experience, etc. These reference points are not easily deniable and can help legitimate the quantitative aspects of the negotiation.   

7.       If this negotiation fails, what then?

Sometimes a job seeker can feel secure refusing a job if the negotiated contract isn’t optimal. But, perhaps there is more at stake. Is your current job on the line? Are you struggling financially? What is your “walk-away point”? Establishing what we call your range of Solutions Away from the Table (SAFT) can help you determine how flexible you can be during negotiations.

The process: How is this negotiation going to unfold? 

8.       How are you going to organize the negotiation?

The key points in this rather simple kind of negotiating are: timing (how long is the meeting likely to last? Do you or the HR Director have other meetings or engagements that limit your availability?), agenda (which points should be addressed? In which order?), and deliverable (what should be the outcome of the meeting? Is it a final decision, or is there a “next step”?).

9.       What information are you going to share?

Before going into the negotiation, you should consider what information to share, and not share. For example, you’ll want to keep your current financial situation to yourself. Identify the questions you’re going to ask the HR Director: what projects are underway? Who’s working on them? Also you need to anticipate the questions that the HR Director is likely to ask. Finally, determine how you’re going to frame your situation and outline your opening statements.  

10.   What are the logistics?

Are you meeting in the HR Director’s office or do other arrangements need to be made? Would a working lunch provide the friendliest environment? Other than a resume or portfolio, what other material should you bring with you?

As part of the IRENE teaching case series, this process is outlined in the negotiation simulation “Fabiessi & Cam’s Design” which can be downloaded for training purposes.  

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