Negotiating the Offer | Foundation 6 – Lesson 10

Go back to Job Search Prep Syllabus.

Many people fear negotiatons… which is silly. There’s no need, especially at this phase in your career, when you have zero power. Why stress about something that’s outside your control?

The way I see it, many new careerists stress that they’ll “leave value on the table” and not negotiate the best deal possible. Well, of course you’ll leave value on the table! Of course you’ll negotiate a suboptimal deal! You’ve never done this before, you’re a rookie, and it’s folly to expect that your first time out, you’ll negotiate like a master!

Some things to keep in mind:

Most people approach negotiations positionally: I want to get paid $50k, you want to pay me $40k, we settle at $45k… or you tell me that $40k is your highest and best offer and that I can take it or leave it.

Good negotiators have a different mentality. They focus on creating as much “value” as possible before divvying it up, and they do this by asking questions about why the positions are what they are. “Why $40k?” “Is that a hard-and-fast salaray band? Do you offer more where performance merits it, or are all bonuses and raises based solely on tenure?” These kinds of questions are called “getting to interests,” and they are useful in making sure that you are negotiating the best deal possible… keeping in mind that you have no power and so probably still won’t be able to capture the value you create. (C’est la Vie.)

Things you can do to get to interests and maximize your chances of getting a less-sucky deal:

  • Put everything on the table. If you need a visa or have a vacation planned, state that up front.
  • Be prepared to cancel/change vacation plans. Especially if you are interviewing with a small company, I can promise you that the person you are talking with has made personal sacrifices for the good of the company, and will see you as selfish and uncommitted if you aren’t at least willing to discuss changing your vacation plans. (Think of it this way: imagine you work up the nerve to tell someone you love him/her. The person looks at you and says, “Hold that thought; my friend just texted me a a link to a website and the note said, ‘LOL.’ I’m going to check it out real fast, OK?” The conversation is just… wrong.)
  • Acknowledge your awareness of the situation. “I assume I have limited flexibility here, but I’d still like to understand the contract. Do you mind if I ask some questions?” Showing diligence and a willingness to probe can unlock opportunities, even though you’re not asking directly.
  • Prepare to make trade-offs. Salary for benefits, for example.
  • Don’t even ask about working at home. Remember, this conversation is taking place in a broader context… the time to ask about flex-hours is AFTER you’ve demonstrated  your ability to do knock-out work.
  • Focus on the relationship. Negotiating the “best” deal is pointless if you aggravate the person you’re negotiating with… because ultimately, they have the ability (and prerogative) to step back and say, “You know what? Never mind.” Always keep the next  conversation in mind!

One final thought: Keep the humanity in the discussion. You are at an informational disadvantage here—and no matter what you know, you probably won’t be able to close this gap. Let that be OK.

Earlier, when learning about the company, it was critical to know as much as possible. And then when we talked about relationship building, again you wanted to learn. Now, in your negotiation, you should find out what standard comp is for someone in your position, you should find out what people are saying about the company, etc., but you should also be prepared to hear: “Look, I understand you’ve done your homework, but this is what the offer here is.” You NEVER want to paint yourself in a negotiating corner like this, especially in this market.

The reason has nothing to do with the offer, either: it has to do with the *next* conversation… if you get an ultimatum, and accept, you are now subordinate to the person informally as well as formally. They own you psychologically—they said jump, and you said OK—and you may never recover from that power imbalance for as long as you work there. Also, if you push back on the ultimatum, you’re gone. There are too many people gunning for that job in this economy for the company to give away that psychological power. Better to leave the issue unaddressed.


Pick up a copy of Getting to Yes. Read it. You should be able to read it cover-to-cover in four days, max.

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