The job market right now can feel like a weird place. The Great Resignation is putting employers on the spot, creating more space for employees to get better offers—in theory. In reality, this isn’t always the case. Not every industry is seeing this bonanza market for applicants. Also, people who are dealing with unemployment or resume gaps due to the pandemic might have less room to ask more of a potential employer.
So, if you’re going through the hiring machine now, and have already done the work on your resume, cover letter, interview skills, and other parts of your application package, you might still find yourself with an underwhelming offer. Before you grit your teeth and accept something less than you expected, or say no and move on, think about what you can negotiate. Negotiation can help you improve an offer that’s already on the table.
Think about what you need/want to negotiate
Are you negotiating just because you think you should? A common mistake is to try to negotiate everything in an offer letter, just because one can. The employer may be more amenable if you do a targeted negotiation, rather than a kitchen sink version where everything is up for discussion.
For example, if the benefits are on par with what you expected, but you’d prefer a salary bump, focus on the salary. If you’re fine with the salary number but want a flexible schedule or the ability to work remotely, then focus on that. The most important thing here is making progress on the improvements that are most important to you and would make you happy to accept the job offer.
Do your homework
Before you even get to the job offer stage, make it a priority to understand what the current compensation field looks like in your industry, and what you can realistically expect. If companies in your industry are publicly struggling right now, they might not have much ability to offer huge compensation packages. Many companies have to disclose their financial health publicly, so looking up those articles can help give you a sense of how the company is doing. If they had a gangbusters 2021, you might find them more receptive to negotiating a bigger package. If you keep seeing articles about disaster after disaster for them, there might not be so much room for them, financially.
Know your worth
Understanding what the company can give is one thing, but you should also be able to demonstrate why you are worth the amount you’re asking. Sites like Glassdoor or Payscale can help you find out what people are making in particular jobs at different levels of experience and seniority. If you can demonstrate that your offer is well below the industry standard for the skills and experience that you, particularly, bring to the table, then that may help the negotiation.
Be open to other benefits or perks
The base pay number is important, of course, but it’s not the only element of a compensation package. What kinds of benefits are on offer? There likely isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to benefits like insurance or retirement, but you might be able to negotiate more vacation days, relocation expenses, or a flexible schedule.
Know what your dealbreakers are
One of the biggest challenges of negotiating is knowing when you’re willing to back off from a request, or walk away from an offer altogether. If an offer truly doesn’t meet your standards—for example, if it severely underpays you, or would require you to do things that you’re not prepared to do—then stick to that line in your head. Once you get the sense of whether the company is likely to budge on your most important items, it’s okay to say, “Thanks, but this just isn’t the right opportunity for me.”
It’s better to keep that information to yourself because you want them to feel like they can get you. If they think you’re going to go through all this and just say “no” anyway, you may find that the negotiation is shut down pretty quickly.
Don’t give ultimatums
This is Human Nature 101. No one likes feeling backed into a decision, and that’s just as true for corporate entities as it is for the rest of us. Negotiation shouldn’t come off as a strident demand. Presumably, the company understands that you’re willing to walk away if necessary, so you don’t need to spell that out.
Be aware of your tone
The tone should always be open, professional, and friendly. Remember, the end result of this is that you want to join the company’s team. If they start feeling like you’ll be difficult to work with, or that you’re displaying bad faith, then the job offer could disappear altogether.
Remember: the person across the table is not a faceless machine. Technically, yes, you’re negotiating with a company line, but you’re interacting with an HR professional, or your hiring manager. Sure, it’s not their personal money on the line, but they’re just doing their jobs, and want what’s best (and possible) for everyone involved.
And realistically, being likable and reasonable will get you a lot further than coming off like some kind of negotiation shark.
Sometimes the answer is “no”
You’ve done your due diligence, you’ve been professional and firm in your reasonable requests, and yet…they’re still telling you that they can’t accommodate what you want. It happens. At a certain point, you just have to decide if you’re going to accept the offer and try to negotiate for a raise later, or if you want to cut bait. At a certain point, if you feel like there’s no real room for movement on either side, it becomes a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
Negotiation can help you make a good job offer even better, or improve a lesser one. If you’re smart about places where there might be flexibility, you can really benefit yourself, and get your new job off to a positive start. There are no guarantees in negotiating, but if you approach the process with clear, reasonable expectations and an approachable demeanor, you’ll know you did everything you could to advocate for yourself.