"I'm Expecting a Job Offer. How Do I Negotiate?"

An excerpt from a career counseling session

Posted Jan 15, 2016

Changeorder, CC 2.0
Source: Changeorder, CC 2.0

Susan (name changed)  expects to be offered a position as senior fundraising director at a nonprofit. She asked me a number of questions about negotiation.

SUSAN: What can I do to get a high offer?

MARTY: Three kinds of ammunition can bolster your position.

  1. See if you can get comparable salaries from colleagues or online salary surveys, for example, on Payscale.com, Salary.com, or a site that focuses on non-profit salaries for example, idealistcareers.org. Also, every nonprofit must post its executives’ salary on its 990 form, which is usually on charitynavigator.org. Adjust down or up based on how demanding your job will be, for example, upward if you’ll be trying to bring in big bucks or have tricky board management responsibilities and upward because Bay Area cost of living is high.
  2. Delineate the value-added you’d bring to the job beyond what the employer is anticipating, for example, some initiative you’d welcome spearheading.
  3. Perhaps most potent, having another iron in the fire can push the employer to give you more for fear of losing you.

Use as many of those pieces of ammunition as you can legitimately use.

S: When do I mention my ammunition?

M: Before accepting the position. You have maximum leverage then. If you capitulate to a lowball offer, even if they make vague noises about renegotiating later, you’ll have lost leverage. Many people have been told that “later,” they’ll get this and that but it never comes to pass. That’s at least partly because once you're taken the position, they know they’re less likely to lose you. It’s like the game some colleges play: To get you to attend, a college will give you a generous financial aid package in year one. But then in years 2,3,4,5,6, they know you’re not that likely to transfer, so they then replace cash grant with a loan you have to pay back. You have the most leverage when they’ve offered you the job and you haven’t yet accepted.

S: I Googled the hiring person, and his resume talks about all his involvement in diversity, so I should play the gender card and say something like, “As you know, women tend not to negotiate. t want fair market value.”

M: I’ll just say that playing such cards often works.

S: I told the recruiter that I'm not unhappy in my current job and now I’d tell them I’m interviewing not just with them but with another employer?

M: Not a problem today. Good employees get recruited all the time. Even a satisfied employee might well be willing to see if there’s a better opportunity elsewhere. Long gone are the days of long-term loyalty between employers and employees. Employers dump even competent employees. All it takes is a boss to think, “She’s expensive. I can get someone cheaper.”

S: That’s all really helpful.

M: (joking) I’ll take 10%. Another thing. People focus too much on salary. You lose half of anything you negotiate in salary and the employer derives no benefit. It may be smarter to negotiate what might benefit the employer, for example, a training budget so their money goes to making you a better employee, and you don’t have to pay tax on that. Other things you may be able to negotiate:

  • Telecommuting, even if just a day or two a week, in this era of ever greater gridlock can save you time and stress. That benefits the employer because you’re fresher. Plus, your office can be used by someone else.
  • Flex-time to avoid the worst rush-hour traffic.
  • Who you report to can matter: Usually the higher up the better but sometimes there’s another person who you, in the interview process, sensed you’d rather report to.
  • While the company doesn’t benefit, it’s worth trying to increase the employer’s contribution to your 401K because that’s tax-protected money.
  • You often can, especially if you reach impasse on salary, negotiate an expedited salary review—Ideally it would have an automatic trigger—For example, if in 90 days, you get a satisfactory review, your salary is automatically raised 10%.

S: What about the mileage reimbursement and per diem for travel?

M: If you try to negotiate too many things, you’ll be seen as a pain. Focus on the few items that are most important to you. I doubt it’s the per diem rate.

S: Okay.

M: Also, over the years, I’ve learned it’s often wise to accept a fair first offer on any negotiable item and if you think it’s unfair, to reject it but accept the second. Any additional amount you get after the second offer usually isn’t worth risking bad will or even that the job offer will be pulled. They think, “If she’s a pain in the negotiation, she’ll be a pain on the job or be disgruntled about our offer. Let’s offer the job to our #2 candidate and see how she reacts.”

Let me flesh that out. Let’s say you were hoping to get $160K and they offer $130K. The first thing to do is stay silent and look a little sad, surprised, or even a bit offended, whichever you sense might work best with that employer. That, without being argumentative, can make the employer feel s/he needs to offer you more. If that fails, bring out your ammunition and conclude by saying, “So it seems that my fair market value is about $165K. Then wait again. If that doesn’t work, ask, “I’m not looking to be overpaid, just to be paid fairly. What’s the most the organization (not “you”) would be comfortable paying?” Then, as long as the offer is something you could live with, pause a moment so you don't seem too eager and say, “Okay, I can accept that.”  Or say, “Maybe we should table salary for now and talk about some other items on which it might be easier to come to agreement?”

By the way, if you reach impasse, it can be okay to walk away, saying something like, “We’re having some trouble with this. I’d like to take a day to think about things.” That can be a potent negotiating tool. I know it’s scary to do that but it is the tactic's boldness that makes it potent. Often, they’ll get back to you with a stronger offer within the day. And if not, after say 36 hours, you can come back and say, “Want to sit down and see if we can work this out?” The chances of them pulling the offer are small---You are their #1 candidate and your boss usually doesn’t want to have to go to his boss and say, “We lost our #1 candidate over $10,000 and a bit of flex time.”

Marty Nemko's bio is on Wikipedia. His eighth and newest book is The Best of Marty Nemko.