by Esther Schindler

Getting a Better Job Offer: Techniques for Negotiating Salaries and More

Aug 22, 20089 mins

Experienced job negotiators shared tips on how to ask for more once a job offer is on the table—and how to get what you want. just released its CIO Salary Negotiation Survey findings, which examined how IT and business professionals negotiate during the job offer process. The article looks at the statistics, which demonstrate clearly that those who negotiate do far better than those who do not. But, as the survey data showed:

Being specific in job negotiations pays off. Nine out of ten respondents (92 percent) who outlined their specific requirements said the prospective employer met their requirements at least partway, and they accepted the job. When the negotiation was vague, 83 percent said the company met the requirements….

Get specific. Gotcha. But exactly what do you ask for? Many of us lack confidence in our ability to get the best deal, much in recognizing when we got it. While the chart at the end of the article identified the ten most common items asked for during the final flurry of negotiations (you read it, didn’t you? didn’t you?), you might appreciate more specific advice. So here I collect a few of the most useful “write-in” answers to our question, “If you could give someone one piece of advice about negotiating a job offer, what would you say?” They were remarkably forthcoming. (For more suggestions, particularly from experts, I recommend Meridith Levinson’s awesome article, How to Negotiate an Employment Contract. But then, I’m sure Meridith’s grocery lists are eligible for a Pulitzer Prize.)

Always negotiate, they say. Always. “The worst that can happen is you end up where you started off. The best is you receive what you negotiated,” wrote one survey respondent. Don’t assume that the offer is all they have in hand, pointed out another: “If you have an offer in hand, there’s always some meat left on the bone.”

Know what you want is another common suggestion. “Ask for more than you are up to accept,” wrote one survey respondent, but many others wrote-in, “Be flexible.” Explained one person, “Know where you are willing to accept something less than what you wanted and where you cannot. It’s rare that you get everything you are negotiating, so set your priorities. Both the employer and you will feel good once the process has ended.”

“Be realistic, prepared and fair,” suggested someone else. “Make sure you can justify your needs based on your experience, skills and most importantly—what you can bring to the table for their company.”

But you can aim high, particularly if you don’t have to make a move. “If the person is currently employed and generally OK in their role but merely looking for a better opportunity, I’d suggest they aim high and negotiate heavily. Think of their dream offer and ask for it,” suggested a respondent.

There’s another factor: the job negotiation teaches you what to expect from the company. Wrote one person, “If you’re reasonable and present your case well and they don’t meet your needs, care, or understand, it’s an indicator of what’s to come.” It demonstrates your abilities, too, as one person pointed out: “Negotiate as you would in the job itself. It is another method of showing your capabilities.”

Identify your requirements. It’s important to know your own “must have” items and your “nice to have” items, and to be ready to walk away if the “must have” items aren’t met.

Put all your requirements up front, and “Ask for it all the first time,” wrote one respondent. “Applicants who ask for one thing, and you give it to them, and then they say, ‘Oh, and could you also…?’ are perceived negatively,” he or she added.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. “Being able to position your value is great, but don’t go overboard with who you are and what you want. Requesting CXO level salaries for a lower-level management position will definitely kick you out of any further round of interviews. Remember—you always meet people twice… so don’t lose your face when requesting ridiculous compensation packages.”

Study the company and know when to walk away from a bad deal. “Be clear in your own mind what you want/need in addition to what you’d like to have. Then be flexible/reasonable and consider what you’re offered,” suggested one survey-taker.

Be prepared. Learn what you’re worth—which in itself will give you confidence. Learn everything you can about the job and the company. Learn about the company’s record, its reputation and, wrote one person, “most important: try to get a better idea of your job description and responsibilities. This will helps you to negotiate better.”

Find out about similar positions. “Do your homework with respect to what other organizations offer,” one person suggested. “If at all possible, try to find out what the company you are working with has done for employees at the same level as the position you are after.”

Another suggested you research the average compensation for the particular position, which will help you prove your value to their organization. “Understand the market/demand for your skill sets, understand the market salaries for the positions and area you are seeking,” said another.

Someone else invoked Kenny Rogers: know when to hold, when to fold, when to walk away and when to run. “In other words, know what the minimum is that you can accept to even take the job. That will put in a confident position; then add 25 to 35 percent and start from there.”

Salary isn’t the only negotiating point. One respondent advises, “Don’t try for the salary. I would suggest other items, like a personal training budget, or performance-related bonus. This then looks like the extras have some benefits back to the employer.”

You may not be able to win on some items, but often you can negotiate on others. Wrote in one experienced negotiator, “Acknowledge that the manager may not have the authority to negotiate certain items (like vacation time, or other comp package components), but has great flexibility in others (like office location, tuition refund, flexible hours). Negotiate to gain what the manager is able to offer, as long as your basic needs have been met. It’s like looking to ice the cake… nice but not absolutely necessary.”

During the interview process, try to find out the prospective employer’s compensation structure. They may be able to be more flexible on some things such as stock options, vacation or signing bonuses are be restricted in others by policy or culture. (“You can’t get more vacation than the CEO,” offered one respondent as an example.)

Adopt the right attitude. “Smile and be gracious,” reminded one respondent. “You’re being offered a job, after all!”

Be positive about the initial offer. This changes the tone of the negotiations in your favor. For example, one respondent would start out by saying, “I appreciate your respectable offer, but I was wondering what you thought about….”

Be confident but not cocky, advise successful negotiators, and know your own abilities. “Be tactful and polite but firm.” Always keep things on a professional level. Advised one respondent, “Don’t allow the conversation to get negative. If it does, know to stop and either accept [the offer] or move on.”

Don’t be in a rush, said one respondent who advises job seekers to be patient. “If they really want you for the job you can negotiate for quite some time,” he or she wrote in. “Be reasonable, though.” That doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to poison the well before you’ve started work at the company. Everyone should be happy at the end of the negotiation. “The outcome should be a ‘win’ for both sides,” one scribbled in. Another went into more detail:

Don’t paint your perspective employer into a corner. Give them some outs so that they can feel like they won also. Don’t push so hard that the negativity it created becomes an elephant in the room once you take the job. Remember you have to work with the same people you are negotiating with. Negotiate if you think it is necessary, but end it quickly. Protracted negotiations seldom end well and create ill will.

Some additional recommendations:

  • Don’t nickel and dime a prospective employer with a minor increase in their initial salary offer. The net amount is likely to be minimal on a per paycheck basis to you anyway. Rather, look at establishing a formal review process and schedule for an increase based on tangible deliverables within, say, the first six months.

  • Find a female mentor in IT, if you can. It is more difficult for women to negotiate than men, and pay scales and promotions are not equal. IT managers use hierarchy levels to promote men into “senior” roles to justify higher salaries while women do same jobs in “junior” roles and make $20K less. Difficult to negotiate out of that cycle and make up the difference in salary once it occurs.

  • Try and work together with the person who really wants you in that position; they can influence HR or other decision makers in their company.

  • It’s OK to interview with firms that you probably won’t join as the practice will help you with the firm you want to join.

  • Make the deal you want up-front and in writing. Much tougher once you are inside and when promises are only verbal.

Above all, though, you should take the time to ask for more. One respondent wrapped it all up in one sentence: “Be friendly, be polite, be respectful—but you will never have a better time to negotiate.”

What’s worked for you? What didn’t? Share your experiences (from either side of the hiring desk) to help other IT professionals in their next interview experience.