While there are many elements to crafting a good employment situation perhaps none is more important, at least to most, than compensation. Sure, you may be a “I look at the whole package” person, but very few really mean that as “all things carry equal weight”. Money talks. It isn’t something to be ashamed of. So how do you get it?
We are talking about negotiating, so when is true negotiation really necessary? It is when it has not been addressed and discussed earlier on. As professional consultants and recruiters we lay the groundwork for compensation expectations early on for just this reason. This results in offers generally just being made at a good figure and accepted. Negotiating is less about negotiation and more about manipulation and clear communication. When you do that, you really don’t find negotiating, in a traditional sense, to be necessary very often.
This isn’t buying a used car. You don’t start high, them low, and hope to settle in the middle. Can that work? Never say never, but it is a high-risk approach that also has low reward and far more often ends in disaster. This is your career, so it is serious. For the company, hiring is serious. Treat it as such and avoid flippant low-rent tactics.
Every case will have some nuance to it, but in general, here are 5 key steps to getting the compensation you need:
1. Avoid committing to a number, particularly early on.
You’ll get asked for it in one way or another. Don’t be needlessly evasive, but don’t blurt out a figure. You simply don’t know enough variables early on. Things like benefits costs, transit or parking, travel requirements, or any number of other factors. As those variables become known, you can get closer and closer to a firm figure. If pressed, talk in ranges and use qualifiers like “Should we get to the point of an offer, that would be exciting, and I would give consideration to the entire package and consider whatever your best offer might be”.
2. Don't let outside noise cloud things.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had someone say something like “I make 60k now but I saw this posting said 80-90” or “I know someone in a similar role there and he makes 100k”. None of this matters. What do you want/need to make? That is what matters. We all want more but this isn’t a “nothing to lose” situation. If you get too greedy or come across as just tossing out numbers, you’re never going to need to worry about negotiating because you won’t see an offer.
3. When the time comes, be transparent.
As you near the final stages of the process and begin to see an offer might be coming, you’ll notice the conversations change and they keep pressing for a number. Remember to use ranges, but at this point you know more variables and should be able to provide some detail. Let them know what matters to you, and don’t be afraid to share some of the “why”.
4. Remember, negotiation is a two-way street.
Finally, if you do see an offer come that is close but not there, don’t forget that negotiation isn’t you getting something while giving nothing. Negotiation is about trading and meeting in the middle, or at least middle-ish. This doesn’t mean you offer to take less PTO days for 5k more in salary, you can manufacture it. Remember, I said manipulation is part of this. “The offer looks pretty good, thank you so much. I did notice a couple of things I wanted to discuss with you. The salary is a little lower than what I was hoping for and the PTO is also a little short. I don’t want to be unreasonable, so I can work with the PTO days if we can get the salary up a bit”.
5. Negotiation, in this sense, is an if-then situation.
If you do go to negotiate, you are making an if-then statement. If they do X, you’ll accept. If you are not at that point, do not negotiate anything with them. You can turn down an offer, it is okay, and far better than negotiating with them in a disingenuous manner. If you ask for it and they deliver, you’re in.