How to Negotiate a Better Salary or a Job Offer

Before the “how”, thoughts on the “if”.

A lot of people are afraid to negotiate, or at least they don’t like it. Of those, many will begrudgingly negotiate for something / someone else, but are petrified when it comes to negotiating for themselves. Research from leading institutions, including Harvard, says the psychology has to do with them not wanting to appear to be greedy and/or unlikeable with someone they will be working with/for. I’m not a psychologist, but I will offer this view into the mind of a hiring manager – it’s what we call, “the other side’s sheet of paper”:

I was staffing up a department and working closely with our HR recruiter. After the 3rd hire the recruiter said, “What is it with your candidates, everyone we’ve made an offer to wants to negotiate a better salary or offer?” My response, “I want people who want to do better, if they’re willing to negotiate for themselves, imagine how hard they’ll negotiate for our company!”

Your future boss just may be pulling for you to negotiate – imagine that.

Now we can get to the “how.”

Of course you want to be liked by your boss, so how you negotiate is critical. A combative (“I win you lose”) style of negotiation, often seen in politics and short-term negotiations, is NOT the approach anyone should take. Which means we have to follow a process that actually builds a great relationship BECAUSE of the way you negotiate. I’ll explain:

First, start with whatever data is available. What do similar jobs/titles pay? Start trying to look for salary data based on region/location, company size, industry, etc. Once you have data on the range, compare your offer with the results. Are they already offering an industry leading package? If so, perhaps negotiating non-pay components of the package could turn-up better results.

Next, instead of dictating what you want and threatening to decline if you don’t get it, begin by asking open ended questions that will help grow the pie for both sides:

  • What does success in this role look like? (This will give you insight into their wants and needs)
  • What type of compensation package (broader than salary, incentives beyond wages) do the top performers have? This will give you insight into what’s negotiable and may include:
    o Bonuses (starting, relocation, results)
    o Stock options
    o Work hours
    o Titles (each may have a salary cap, so simply negotiating for a higher title FIRST may allow for higher compensation next / later)
    o Office / parking places
    o What projects you’ll be assigned
    o Benefits – do you need them, or can you participate in a partner’s plan

Now that you have that information, you can begin to negotiate a better salary by sharing your “sheet of paper.” What is it about the offer you want / need to improve? Are you just looking for a higher salary? Or possibly better benefits, work hours, teammates, base salary, rewards/bonuses, new challenges? Be honest with your potential new boss – this serves to build a trusting relationship.

I’ll use another example from my past. I was recruiting a person I had previously worked with. I knew they were a strong performer and had the right skills for the new job. I “pre-negotiated” internally to get them a financial package that compensated them significantly more than they were making. When I presented the offer, they thanked me, but told them they couldn’t accept because we hadn’t talked about work hours yet. What I didn’t know was they had childcare responsibilities that required them to leave early on Friday’s and arrive late on Monday’s. The negotiations went like this: I told them, “If I let you leave early on Friday’s and arrive late on Monday’s; I only ask that you be available after hours and weekends to get the job done.” They quickly agreed and were a top performer in their new position!

Another good question you can ask your potential new boss is:

  • “Knowing what you know, if you were me, what would you do with this offer?” And then BE QUIET.

Your new potential boss is likely to offer insight into what can improve/not and how you can help in the process.

If you haven’t made progress thus far there’s 2 last suggestions I can offer:

1. Enlist your potential boss’ help to improve the offer, by asking them “What problems keep you up at night?” If you’re confident in your ability, tell them you’ll gladly add improving them to your responsibilities in exchange for help improving the offer.

2. Finally, when all else has failed, there’s one last creative thing to negotiate – your first performance review/evaluation. Many companies have everyone’s reviews at the same time, or 12-months from the hire date. If you negotiate a quicker performance review (assuming enough time to prove yourself), you have a chance of improving your compensation package. Improving the offer may not come on day-1, or not at all, but at least you’ve set the expectation that you’re a creative go-getter. And I know a lot of hiring managers will appreciate that.