The Art of Offer Negotiations

The Art of Offer Negotiations

Salary negotiations start when you first walk through the door to interview with a prospective employer. Although you should not discuss compensation in an initial interview, and should try to delay those discussions as long as possible during the interviewing process, from the very first meeting you should be working on proving your value to the prospective employer by showing how you are the best candidate to fill their needs. This will establish your worth when it comes time to talk about the terms of an offer.

Before you get to the offer stage, you should have done your research so that you have some idea of what to expect and whether you are in the right ballpark. Do online research, talk to colleagues and classmates, and check with recruiters. You want to be armed with the following information: the total value of your current compensation package and its various components as well as the timing and amount of your next expected increase, the amount you need to meet your needs(this figure does not need to be mentioned, just kept in mind), the fair market value for someone with your skills and level of experience in the geographic area and at the size and type of firm or company at which you are interviewing, an approximate range of what this particular firm usually pays, the typical benefits package for this type of employer in this geographic area, and if possible your target employer’s standard benefits package.

When the offer is made, you might not want to negotiate right away. Thank the person making the offer, express your pleasure in getting the offer and your interest in the position, and ask for time to evaluate the entire compensation package. Make sure that you understand all of the components of the offer and how they work. For example, you need to know about employer contributions, vesting, and so forth.

When determining your power to negotiate, consider all the factors including the state of economy, the size and financial health of the potential employer, the supply of candidates with backgrounds and credentials similar to yours, how badly and/or quickly this position needs to be filled, and how much you want or need the job. Also keep in mind the political constraints your potential employer may be facing. They may not be able to bring you in at a salary completely out of line with their current compensation structure as it will alienate the rest of the team. You need to make an honest assessment of your priorities and what trade-offs you are willing to make in order to gain other, non-monetary benefits in the context of your long term career goals.

When you are ready to begin negotiating, do not couch your requests in terms of demands. Start by mentioning those portions of the offer that you find acceptable as presented as a way to establish a level of comfort and trust. Ask for clarification or further information as necessary, and make requests for concessions in a non-confrontational manner. Be reasonable and realistic, using your market research to back up your requests. Look at ways to be flexible and creative to work with your potential employer to craft a deal that is comfortable for both of you.

Be mindful of economic realities. If you are bringing a lot to the table in terms of new clients, high billing rates, and lots of hours to generate significant new revenues, your potential employer will be more amenable to sharing that with you. On the other hand, if your economic value is not as great at the outset, you will have less bargaining power. You may want to negotiate a package that shares the risk: a reasonable base with additional compensation predicated on specific threshold results in terms of your production. This shows your confidence and willingness to take a risk on yourself. If you don’t believe in your ability to produce, why should your potential employer?

Keep discussions on a business, not personal level. Demonstrate why and how you are worth what you are seeking in terms of increased value to the employer. Do not use your personal situation, such as a sick family member, student loans, high cost of living, or other hardship, as a bargaining chip. Do not get emotional. A potential employer’s unwillingness or inability to meet your requirements is not a rejection of you as a person or even, necessarily, as a future employee.

Continue to sell yourself and your enthusiasm for the position throughout the negotiation process. Aim for a win-win situation. Use the word “we” whenever possible to show that you are on the same side, working together to reach a solution that satisfies everyone’s needs. Remember that, if successful, this is the beginning of a relationship with your new employer. Neither party should leave the negotiations feeling abused, resentful, angry, perceived as grabby, or treated unfairly.

A candidate who pushes too long and hard demonstrates an unwillingness to be a team player. You don’t want to win the battle but lose the war. On the other hand, you don’t want to be seen as a pushover, because how you handle this negotiation might be viewed as a demonstration of how you will negotiate on behalf of the firm’s clients.

Once your potential employer has made the concessions you originally requested, do not come back and ask for more. You will risk appearing greedy and possibly have the offer withdrawn or rescinded. Remember that offer negotiations are part of the interviewing process. No deal is done until you accept; thus, the offer can be withdrawn at any time up to that point.

When all is said and done and you have reached a mutual understanding, ask to get it in writing, or write a letter confirming your understanding of the agreement. On the other hand, if, after careful consideration, you determine that you cannot accept the offer after completing good faith negotiations, let the firm know as soon as possible. Express your appreciation for the offer and say that you hope to keep the door open for future opportunities to work together.

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie A. Fontaine earned her JD from UC Hastings College of Law and her BA, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, from UCLA. She was on the Editorial Board of COMM/ENT, a Journal of Communications and Entertainment Law. Valerie practiced law with a prominent Los Angeles law firm and entered the legal search profession in 1981. Valerie is a member the Board of Directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) and serves on its Ethics Committee.
Valerie Fontaine

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