First, I just noticed the last post was my 500th. I’ve slowed down a little recently, but still, I’m guessing that 90% of bloggers never get close to 500 posts before shutting it down and going to the next shiny object. So, anyways I got that going for me, which is nice…
I’m not a natural at negotiating, but I still do fairly well. When my wife and I have bought cars together, I’m the natural “bad cop” and am seriously ready to walk when things aren’t venturing into the specific territory where I want to go. So yeah, not as bad as I may put myself out to be. But still, for me, it’s always a somewhat painful and stressful process. Patience and fortitude are key to a good negotiator. So let’s talk about negotiation to maximize your livelihood.
You want a new job. You apply for those that fit. One, or more, call you back. You interview. You impress. You get a job offer. Maybe it’s even your dream job, or at least your dream job right now. Life should be great, right? All you have to do is say yes. Maybe you are unemployed. Maybe you are underemployed. Maybe you hate your job so fucking much you can barely stand another day. Maybe you’re just seeing what is out there. No matter what you spot in life you are in, you shouldn’t just take the first offer. It’s a dance. A stressful dance, but one that could make a big difference in your future. If you take a lower salary now, it often makes it easier for future employers to bump you up, but keep you lower than others since you’re starting lower.
I’m just coming out of this negotiating experience, so it’s obviously fresh in my mind. But more on that later. This post is something I wish I had read when I was 22 or 25 years old.
Ok, what do you do?
- First, say “THANK YOU!” They’ve offered you a chance for something new. Maybe it is a dream job, or maybe a shit job, but they’ve offered you something new and some new experiences, which no matter what is different than what you’re doing now. And that’s why you interviewed in the first place.
- Remember that the interview process is a two-way street and if it’s not a great fit for what you want, don’t feel pressured to take it because your other options are limited. Due your own due dilligence. Check out sites like GlassDoor to get a feel for the culture (one I’ve used a lot in filtering potential fits or not on the personal side of things – what they don’t put into the posting). Out of the frying pan, into the fire as they say. Go with your gut. If it’s not the right fit, walk.
- So let’s say you want the job, Play. It. Cool. Most employers or hiring people do not expect an immediate response. Don’t say “yes” or “no,” instead say you need some time to think about it. Ask for an amount of time (a day, three?) to contemplate, or ask when they expect an answer. Also express great enthusiasm, but hedge your bets by saying things like “if things work out, we are going to do great things,” in the hypothetical. It’s a fine line to walk, but you can do the aloof enthusiastic dude.
- Now the ball is in your court. Is this a job that you want? Due to:
- long term prospects,
- the people you work with (don’t underestimate the people you’ll work with every day, they have the opportunity to make or break your happiness),
- fit for your personal beliefs (again, don’t underestimate how going against your ethics or morals will impact your long-term happiness),
- working hours and
- work-life balance (among other things).
- What do you do? To start to negotiate you need to understand the overall compensation, not just salary. Look at things like time off, vacation, holidays (those are usually more or less set), and salary. Look at things like intangibles like free soda or coffee or food, allowance for vehicle or phones, flex hours, working from home, 401(k) match percent or other bennies, and the cost of insurance. Those are all tougher to quantify, but may have a big impact on both your happiness and bottom line. For salaries, get an understanding by checking out Payscale or (again) GlassDoor or SalaryWizard to get an idea on what your company or industry pays (you should do this in advance of an interview even, as they are likely to ask). Then pound it into that thick skull of yours that you are wanted, and you have some leverage. Now what are you going to do about it? You shoot for what you think you are worth. Now this will likely be hard for you. It always is for me, no matter how much you believe your worth. Many people don’t negotiate their salary for fear, or perceived lack of skills. You’re not most people, and by simply asking for more (within reason), you stand a good chance of getting more.
- Recognize that companies have internal policies and rules in place that may prevent you from getting what you think you might be worth, so there is always a ceiling. They often research, and put you in a range of salaries that are typical for your industry or position both internally and externally, but often the initial offer is not at the top of the range since they understand you may try to negotiate it higher. While you may overshoot the top end of the range, shoot for what you think you are worth, and recognize it may come in below that price. So you start by saying something like “Thanks for the opportunity, I’m really appreciative. However, my research on (website: Payscale, Bureau of Labor, Salary.com, whatever, hopefully all) shows the average salary for someone with my experience in this industry is $X. I bring value because I know Y and Z that should help the company win Q client/or increase R productivity/or S technical skills so I am looking in the range of $M to N.” If you have any other leverage, like another offer or interview, or even a job that pays better (or has better overall compensation), now is the time to play that card. If you have a job, it is easier to compare compensation and see how they stack up.
- Then you wait. Maybe it comes immediately – you offer your counter, they counter back. Or maybe you talk to your future boss, or hiring manager, and they defer to HR or a higher power who have the keys to the vault. So you wait. Be it five minutes or 3 days. You better have your bottom line in place, and figure out when you’ll take it, or when you’ll walk. When you’re in a spot you hate, or unemployed, your point may be lower. So be it. Accept that sometimes the situation is better even at a lower salary, with more future opportunity, and if you are worth it, you’ll make it up in the long run. Ask how they do raises or bonuses, and if you’ll be eligible to go through the process as a newer hire – that may make up for a lower than hoped for starting number. But as with any negotiation, if they don’t meet your request, and it doesn’t hit your bottom line, don’t feel resigned to take a job — walk away and keep looking or go back to your old job. Maybe they’ll come back to the table, but unless your skills are unique or your fit perfect, or the company very small, don’t count on it.
- When you do accept, get the final offer in writing, indicating salary, starting date, other ancillaries (health insurance, disability insurance, time off, etc.). Never accept a verbal offer, as you’ll have no recourse if you quit your job only to have the verbal offer be reneged. Make sure you talk to HR about the specifics of benefits. When insurance starts, vesting plan, cost, deductibles, etc. You may need to pay for COBRA or some other plan if they don’t start immediately.
I’m about to enter my fifth post-college professional position in a few weeks, in fact, I just signed the final paperwork tonight. The first three I don’t remember doing any negotiation, I was so excited to jump from where I was at, I didn’t really care what I was being paid. Mistake. I matured over the last 10 years and now negotiate every offer. My wife has done the same and we’ve done well to make some big bumps in our family’s income over the last several years. For me:
- Position 1 was first one out of college. I had four summers of internships in my field, I could have demanded more as it was an easy transition, and my employer was notoriously lower-than-average on salaries. Hence, I chose adventure and a spot 1,000 miles away from home (in New Jersey – and it was pretty damn fun) as a priority over making any money. It was a bad start, but it did get better less than two short years later.
- Position 2, I just wanted a good job and my future wife wanted to get out of New Jersey (no offense John Andre!). Again, good fit for the company I went with, and they gave me some nice bumps and promotions while there, but I could have negotiated for more at the start and come out even more ahead.
- Position 3 I took so I could stop my extensive traveling. Holly and i were now married, and wanted to start a family, and I was on the road sometimes 3-5 months at a time (home every second or third weekend). Hence, Position 3 offered me a chance to learn more skills and be at home, and again, I didn’t negotiate and actually took less money to get out of Position 2. I generally liked working at Position 3, learned a shit-ton, was promoted several times so started to finally make pretty good money. But I had the opportunity (and was being pursued) to work with my mentor from Position 2 who had started a new office for a different company. Since nothing was driving my departure from Company 3 except desire to get in on the ground floor of a smaller company that had potential, I had some leverage. Plus, I did like my job.
- Position 4 (my current position): I negotiated a 10% salary increase to come over to #4 (and I was fairly paid at Position 3 by the end). I had a lot of good experiences here, learning new skills and, at least for awhile, being an integral part of growing the business. Now I am just a cog, an important cog, but a cog nonetheless. Hence, time to move on…
- Position 5 (upcoming), in a few weeks, I will be making 6% more than I was a month ago. With Position 3. Yep, returned to an old company – a big reason to always behave professionally and not burn bridges. You never know how you’ll end up. At the end of the day, I will be making almost 30% more with Company 3 than I was when I left 4 years ago. Switching jobs for new skills can pay dividends, and this is a good example since returning full circle, I’m not sure this salary increase would have come organically.
My wife bounced (in just the last 4 years too), from past firm (call it Firm-1), to 15% salary increase in totally new opportunity (with lots of travel, and learning super new skills), was fired (not her fault), dropped about the same amount back for a year (started a new branch of a small company-great growth opportunity that wasn’t quite right), then returned to Firm-1. She’s now making about 20% more than she was 3 years ago, partially due to the new skills learned when she left. She negotiated (hard) each job switch.
So my final thoughts:
- Even if you like your job, keep an eye out for other opportunities
- Leverage those into interviews/offers
- If you like your job, use those offers to increase your current salary, or be prepared to jump. That’s a topic for another day, but you can and should, use an offer as a negotiating tactic for your current company if you love your current company (except for the pay). The grass is not always greener. Oftentimes a known situation of mostly good is better than an unknown story of promises and expectations.
- If you don’t like your job, or if you lose your job, and get an offer, negotiate the shit out of that. Many people find themselves with better long-term salaries by switching jobs on occasion and by compounding raises and salary bumps.
- Don’t be afraid to take a pay cut for better opportunity, new skills, better intangibles (flex time, work from home, insurance, people) that may make your life SO MUCH HAPPIER! Don’t be a slave to the dollars.
- In life, negotiations are always tricky – often both sides feel a little slighted. That is par for the course, but if both sides feel like they won, that is better. Do what you can to show your value to what you can provide, and likely, if you deliver, all sides will be happy.
Best of luck!