Eleven Commandments for Smart Negotiating

Little negotiating power in a tight job market? Maybe, but there's always some degree of wiggle room. Here's some tips that will help you get a better deal.

When the economy is strong, job seekers feel not only that they can negotiate, but that it would be foolish not to. When the economy is weak, however, many candidates wrongly feel that they have to accept what’s offered or risk losing the offer. Whatever the economic climate, what matters is how you negotiate. Although you may not get everything you want, you won’t lose a job offer because of what you ask for. However, offers are frequently withdrawn because of the way someone asks for something. Whether the job market is good or bad, there are always opportunities to negotiate a better compensation package, but only if you understand how.

There are 11 basic commandments to help you negotiate the best possible deal in any economic climate when changing jobs, whether internally or with a new company. They are:

1. Be prepared. The more information you have about your market value and the prospective employer, the greater your likelihood of success. This is the first commandment because it’s the most important. There’s a wealth of information available on the Internet, at the public library and through professional associations and networking groups. Time spent learning how to negotiate and preparing for negotiations may be the best investment you’ll ever make.

2. Recognize that employment negotiations are different. When the negotiations are over, you’ll have to work with the person with whom you’re negotiating. Moreover, your future success may depend on that person. So, while you want to negotiate the best possible deal, you need to do so in a way that doesn’t damage your image. At the same time, the employer’s primary concern isn’t negotiating the least expensive compensation package it can get away with. Rather, the company’s focus will be on getting you to accept the job. Even in a weak economy, a prospective employer wants you to feel good about taking the position.

3. Understand your needs and those of the employer. To be successful in this type of negotiation, you need to examine your priorities. What do you really want? For example, are you comfortable with a low salary and a large equity stake? Are you able to handle dramatic swings in income from year to year? Understanding your needs also will help you determine the type of company you want to work for. For example, a family-owned company may be able to offer a competitive salary and a large bonus based on results, but may not be willing to offer significant equity to a nonfamily member. A start-up company, on the other hand, may not be able to offer a market-rate salary, but will typically offer stock options. By recognizing what an employer can do, you’ll be able to determine what issues you should press.

4. Understand the dynamics of the particular negotiations. Sometimes you’ll have skills that are in great demand. And sometimes, you may be one of several qualified candidates the company would be happy to hire. Sizing up the situation and understanding the relative position of each party will help you determine when to press your advantage and when to back off. Knowing when to ask is often critical to getting what you want.

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