How To Negotiate A Job Offer

How To Negotiate A Job Offer

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My MBA students ask my advice about negotiating for their next job. I’m glad to oblige, though first I give them an assignment.

“Read Fifteen Rules for Negotiating Your Job Offer by my colleague Deepak Malhotra, I say. “Then we’ll sit down to talk about your particular situation.”

Deepak urges people to think big, and not fall into the trap of just focusing on compensation.

In the long run, defining the scope of your responsibilities, securing the resources needed to do your job well, and nailing down opportunities for promotion may prove be more important than the starting pay package. And that’s true whether you’re fresh out of college or are taking on a new senior position much later in your professional career.

Successful job negotiation thus depends on relationship-building. “This sounds basic, but it’s crucial,” Deepak says. “People are going to fight for you only if they like you.” And that requires walking a tightrope.

You’ve got to advocate for yourself, of course, but in a way that doesn’t sound greedy or arrogant.  And think twice about how much you ask for. You want to be well paid, but if word gets out that you’re getting much more than your peers, things could get tense in the office. (See the comments sparked by earlier post on salary transparency.)

Be prepared for tough questions. You may feel cornered if you’re asked, “So, if we agree—reluctantly—to your request to work from home once a week, will that close deal?” But that’s a legitimate question so you better have an answer ready. And if you respond, “I have to think about it, ”the prospective employer has to wonder what else you’re going to demand.

Intel Chairman Andy Bryant says that when he hires, “I want to make sure you really want to be here.” He bases his assessment on the job interview and ensuing negotiation, starting with how a person priorities and temperament fits with his company’s culture and needs.  Be prepared, therefore, for probing questions about your own goals and values.

Deepak recommends doing practice negotiations beforehand with friends. I concur. Preparation is important. So is anticipating the concerns of the people you’ll be talking with and the constraints they may be operating under.

But don’t contort yourself. This shouldn’t be an exercise in telling others what you think they want to hear.If spinning some story gets you the job, it could be a lose-lose outcome.  As Bryant says, “The bottom line is that if you don’t want to be here, you won’t be successful.” Deepak echoes that sentiment. “Ultimately, your satisfaction hinges less on getting the negotiation right,” he says, “and more on getting the job right.”

Context matters, of course. Someone entering the job market may not have a lot of room to bargain. But it’s still important to clarify job responsibilities and performance metrics, in order to set the table for negotiation later when it’s time to talk about promotion and a pay raise.

Likewise, it’s different if you’re going to work for a large company or for a start-up. With big organizations the senior manager who wants to hire you may have different incentives than does the HR person who sets compensation—or at least has a say in it. In a smaller firm “company policy” is less likely to be an issue, but then again, job descriptions may harder to pin down especially in fast-changing markets.

In spite of those situational differences, a broad perspective, solid relationships, and being ready for tough questions are essential across the board. In upcoming posts, I’ll analyze actual job negotiations—a couple of successes and at least one disaster.

If you’re job hunting right now, I encourage you to check a video of a presentation on negotiating offers that Deepak recently gave at the Harvard Business School.

And good luck, of course!