June 21, 2018

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The Negotiation Dilemma

Even in the most difficult job market, salary is negotiable. When an employer offers you a job, they have eliminated others and selected you. You are the person they want. Most human resource managers agree you can almost always have an impact on your starting package. Since it is highly unlikely you will forfeit an offer by attempting to negotiate for yourself, you have much to gain and virtually nothing to lose.

Although managers hate to admit it, gender also plays a role in determining compensation packages. Women generally are more likely to accept the initial offer, and men more likely to play hardball. An excellent resource to assist women in achieving income parity is a book written in 2003 by Linda Babcock entitled “Women Don’t Ask.” It points out that one of the major reasons that women often do not achieve the same level of income as men in the same job, is due to their inability or unwillingness to even ask about income flexibility when an offer is extended.

Playing hardball is not a good option either. It often comes back to have a negative impact. You may find it more difficult to gain promotional opportunities, and possibly even lose your job to someone who appears just as proficient and has a more pleasant attitude. As one expert in the industry advises when negotiating “persuade, rather than coerce.” Remember both you and the company are looking for exactly the same thing; to form a partnership where your skills are exchanged for a fair wage. Following are the ten cardinal rules of negotiating.

  1. The first rule of negotiating salary: never reveal your current or most recent income and don’t disclose what salary you expect or desire. Don’t put it on your resume and don’t divulge it in an interview. As hard as it may be to sidestep the question, your income actually has nothing to do with the amount of money that has been budgeted for the position. If an employer is aware of your previous earnings or the income you expect, that information can be used to eliminate you as a candidate.

  2. Ask, don’t demand. Negotiation is a joint effort to gain fair value for your experience and the talent you are bringing the employer. Be flexible and argue logically. Use phrases such as, “what is your flexibility,” “would you be willing to consider,” “would you agree,” “I want to be fair with you but,” or “I was considering X dollars, how can we make this work?” Remember that a difference of only $2,500 in starting salary increases your income by over $12,500 in five years.

  3. Don’t broach the subject of salary in the first interview and don’t attempt to negotiate before an offer is extended – you may lose the opportunity altogether. Be patient; negotiations can often take a week or more to achieve agreement.

  4. Try to settle on a base salary first, and then go on to the bonus and benefits. Attempt to negotiate a bonus based on personal performance with measurable objectives as opposed to a discretionary bonus.

  5. If the employer has little or no flexibility, try to agree on an early review, or gain a commitment for a merit increase after three or six months based upon performance. This may make up for a lower initial salary while you demonstrate your worth.

  6. Never accept a position when first offered. You will be more emotional and perhaps react too hastily. Ask for time to consider the offer and speak with your family or advisor. Develop a list of those things that are of greatest concern and then call to set up an appointment to discuss the offer and reach an agreement. You will be more organized and mentally prepared.

  7. Don’t just look at the monetary offer; also consider the quality of life. Take into consideration the working environment, whether or not you feel comfortable with the person to whom you would report, the potential for advancement or on-the-job growth, your ability to perform the required tasks, your enthusiasm for the opportunity, and the culture of the company. No financial offer can compensate for constant pressure, emotional duress, or an abusive boss and hostile working environment.

  8. When negotiating consider the following points: commissions or draw, performance bonus, stock options, equity opportunities, insurance package options and retirement programs, business expenses, relocation packages, vacation policy, and possible contractual agreements.

  9. Always gain a written letter on corporate stationery stating everything that was agreed upon. It will prevent misunderstandings and possible future disputes. You can’t take good intentions to the bank, and promises are not contracts.

  10. When dealing with a salary review, prepare a written summary of your achievements and why you feel your performance merits an increase in salary. If you are offered increased responsibility without increased compensation, don’t be afraid to argue your case for a commensurate raise in salary.

- Lawrence Alter

Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques and former columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Send ideas or questions via email to: Website address:

©Copyright 2008 Lawrence Alter. All rights reserved.

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