I used to be a poor negotiator, expecting that companies would play fair and pay the market rate, without doing any research whatsoever. That didn’t end well. When I was leaving the first company I worked for, my recruiter, who had hired me and became a good friend of mine, advised me to do better at negotiation. I was surprised when she said that she would have given me a better deal on all accounts, base pay, vacation and bonus if only I had negotiated. Since then, several companies later, I’ve gradually become better at negotiation.
There’s a scene in the movie Jerry Maguire where Cuba Gooding Jr. makes Tom Cruise repeat – Show me the money!, with feeling. Tom Cruise plays a sports agent in the film, and Cuba Gooding Jr., who is portrayed as his client, urges Cruise to focus on maximizing the cash compensation in his contract. Money was the only aspect of the negotiation that was important to him. Although money is not everything in negotiating a job offer, you mustn’t feel that you’ve settled for less money than you could have. Here are some tips I’ve used to become a better negotiator that I hope will help you.
Show me the money! – 10 tips for negotiating better
You’ve had the initial conversation with the recruiter, cleared the interviews with the folks on the team, and now the recruiter wants to discuss your compensation. At this point, you should be well prepared to negotiate.
1. Understand your worth
The first step is to understand what you bring to the table. Going into the job market thinking that you just need a job will not help your negotiation. You have to develop your skills and understand what the market will pay you for your skills. If you don’t have the skills right now, take some more time and develop those skills. Changing jobs involves a whole lot of change. You have to get used to a new company, new products, new people, and in some cases a new city. If you’re going to make the change, it better be worth it.
2. Research the company and market
Once the company sounds positive that they would be hiring you, it is an excellent time to reach out to those who already work there and do some research on the pay scale, hours, holidays, child care, equity, and other factors of interest to you in negotiating your compensation. You can also easily find LinkedIn and Glassdoor information to see what the pay range is and what current and past employees say about your target company. If you live in California, the pay for your role might be very different from Nebraska. From your research, you will be able to gauge the pay scale for your experience and position.
3. Don’t share your expected compensation first
Sharing your expected compensation first weakens your position. When the recruiter asks for your expected salary, you can give a vague answer such as “I expect to be paid competitively according to market standards for this position.” They will try to anchor you to your current compensation or slightly higher compensation, but you should stand your ground. In states such as California, the new salary disclosure law prohibits employers, or their agents, from asking job applicants about their salary histories. Asking about your salary history is illegal in certain states.
4. Don’t overshare
Remember, the recruiter is not your friend. They are there to get the best deal for the company. If you are looking to change because of family reasons and have a location constraint or hate your job because of your manager, it’s best to keep this under wraps. There’s no reason to share this with the recruiter. You will only lose your leverage in negotiating by sharing critical information that they could use against you in negotiations.
5. Have alternatives
When your negotiation is not going the way you expect, you have to be willing to walk away. Alternatives help you walk away. To have options, you should keep actively interviewing until you land multiple job offers. In negotiation, having choices is called BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). BATNA refers to the most advantageous path either party can take if an agreement cannot be reached.
For the company you’re negotiating with, having competitive candidates who have cleared the interview is their BATNA. For you, the candidate, having competitive offers from other companies is your BATNA. If you don’t have a competitive offer, you can continue working at your current company unless you’ve been laid off or a personal situation has forced you to move. Regardless of your situation, you need to signal to the company you’re negotiating with that you have alternatives and will not take anything that they offer.
6. Negotiate over email
If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll find it easier to negotiate over email. When you’re in a conversation, you’re likely to be surprised and blurt out answers without thinking them through. If you negotiate over email, you’ll have more time to reflect, consult with others, put forth what you want, and respond well. It also gives the added advantage of keeping everything in writing to refer back to the conversation if things get forgotten.
7. Have valid reasons
Of course, you want more money because you believe your skills are worth more, but the recruiter may signal that your role is junior or they have a low budget to get you to agree to a lower scale. In this case, have excellent reasons for why you cannot settle for lower pay. Saying that you have a mortgage, student loans, or any other commitments or goals will help you negotiate better and lend more validity to your argument. They will offer your desired salary without wanting to haggle over a couple of thousands.
8. Defer your decision
Do not agree to an offer before considering it from all angles. You should always say that you’ll discuss with those that matter to you and get back. It could be the friend with whom you talk things through, or your significant other, or your family. This gives you the space to negotiate and bring up items such as relocation expenses, vacation days or signing bonuses, or anything else you hadn’t thought of earlier.
9. Build trust
Throughout the negotiation process, you need to be polite, cheerful, build trust, and genuinely work with the recruiter on coming to an agreement. If the offer is too low for you even to consider, it is better to decline instead of wasting your time and theirs. On the other hand, if the offer is in your ballpark and can be improved, you should negotiate. By being upfront about your expectations, you can build trust and avoid constant back and forth, making the recruiter feel like winning.
10. Be willing to work through things
Negotiation is not a win or lose situation. Even if the terms of the salary are not 100% satisfactory, there are other aspects of the company to consider. You shouldn’t take up a job offer only for the money. You should consider many factors, such as the company culture, company growth, career growth, technology, flexibility, etc. Suppose you liked the company, but they are a start-up that cannot truly afford to pay as much as large corporates; there is still room to negotiate on other aspects such as equity, flexibility, and other lifestyle aspects that are important to you.
Many of us, especially women, shy away from negotiating. We don’t want to come across as too greedy or demanding. However, keep in mind that companies expect you to negotiate. Many companies put out a lower ballpark figure, saving some room for negotiation. If you accept the first offer they make, you are leaving money on the table. You owe it to yourself to negotiate. No one is going to reject you just because you negotiated. Go out there and ask for what you want!