SUMMARY: In some industries, a weak labor market has left candidates with fewer options and less leverage, and employers better positioned to dictate terms. Those who are unemployed, or whose current job seems shaky, have seen their bargaining power further reduced. But the complexity of the job market creates opportunities for people to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. Negotiation matters most when there is a broad range of potential outcomes.
There are 15 rules for negotiating a job offer. One is “don’t underestimate the importance of likeability,” which means managing inevitable tensions in negotiation, being persistent without being a nuisance, and understanding how other people perceive your approach. Another rule is “make it clear they can get you.” Indicate that you’re serious about working for a potential employer, and don’t discourage them from trying to win you by suggesting you have too many better options. You should also “be prepared for tough questions,” like Are we your top choice? Don’t lie or try too hard to please, lest you lose your leverage. And “consider the whole deal,” including the job’s perks, location, opportunities for growth, and flexibility in work hours—not just the salary. These and other guidelines can help you attain the terms and conditions of employment you want.
Job-offer negotiations are rarely easy. Consider three typical scenarios:
You’re in a third-round interview for a job at a company you like, but a firm you admire even more just invited you in. Suddenly the first hiring manager cuts to the chase: “As you know, we’re considering many candidates. We like you, and we hope the feeling is mutual. If we make you a competitive offer, will you accept it?”
You’ve received an offer for a job you’ll enjoy, but the salary is lower than you think you deserve. You ask your potential boss whether she has any flexibility. “We typically don’t hire people with your background, and we have a different culture here,” she responds. “This job isn’t just about the money. Are you saying you won’t take it unless we increase the pay?”
You’ve been working happily at your company for three years, but a recruiter has been calling, insisting that you could earn much more elsewhere. You don’t want to quit, but you expect to be compensated fairly, so you’d like to ask for a raise. Unfortunately, budgets are tight, and your boss doesn’t react well when people try to leverage outside offers. What do you do?
Each of these situations is difficult in its own way—and emblematic of how complex job negotiations can be. At many companies, compensation increasingly comes in the form of stock, options, and bonuses linked to both personal and group performance. In MBA recruitment, more companies are using “exploding” offers or sliding-scale signing bonuses based on when a candidate accepts the job, complicating attempts to compare offers. With executive mobility on the rise, people vying for similar positions often have vastly different backgrounds, strengths, and salary histories, making it hard for employers to set benchmarks or create standard packages.
In some industries a weak labor market has also left candidates with fewer options and less leverage, and employers better positioned to dictate terms. Those who are unemployed, or whose current job seems shaky, have seen their bargaining power further reduced.
But job market complexity creates opportunities for people who can skillfully negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. After all, negotiation matters most when there is a broad range of possible outcomes.
A professor who studies and teaches the subject frequently advise current and former students on navigating this terrain. Every situation is unique, but some strategies, tactics, and principles can help you address many of the issues people face in negotiating with employers.