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How to negotiate a better job offer

Job seekers have more leverage than ever, so it's a great time to negotiate. In fact, even outside this wildly tilted job market, negotiating is a good skill to practice and master. As with most things, the more you do it, the more natural it will become. Plus, most hiring managers expect you to negotiate, so try not to feel uncomfortable about it. Read through these tips to prepare.

Keep These Negotiation Fundamentals in Mind

1. Start with the right mindset. Effective negotiation is good for both sides. You're simply working with the opposite party to find a solution that feels right for both of you. Negotiating well can help you begin a mutually trusting and beneficial relationship.

2. Keep in mind why you should negotiate. Failing to negotiate your initial job offer can negatively affect your long-term earning potential. Raises are often granted as a percentage of your salary. Let's say you earn a merit-based raise of 5% or a promotion of 10%. Would you rather get that percentage on $50,000 or 5% or $55,000? 

3. Finally, understand when to negotiate. Hint: it's not while interviewing. The best time to negotiate your job offer is after you receive it and know all the details but before you accept the job. Unfortunately, many people fear negative consequences. They don't want to appear greedy. Just remember that negotiation is expected and that the worst outcome is that they can't offer you what you want. If that happens, you can either accept knowing you tried or choose to walk away. But how do you start a negotiation without ruining the positive vibes? Read on for tips on what you can negotiate and how.

What You Can Negotiate in a Job Offer

While your new salary may be the highlight of your job offer, don't neglect the other details. This is the concept of total compensation, which includes both traditional benefits and fringe benefits—basically everything your potential employer offers you as an employee. You can negotiate on several fronts based on what matters to you most. And if you can't get a higher salary due to budget restrictions, consider getting creative with other factors—maybe more vacation time or a built-in performance-based bonus.

These job offer details are often negotiable:

  • Salary
  • Relocation expenses
  • Training/education
  • Vacation/PTO
  • Flexible work options
  • Timeline/review toward future raise
  • Bonuses
  • Title and reporting relationships
  • Level of authority/autonomy
  • Work equipment and technology
  • Available budget and outside resources

Do Your Homework Before Negotiating

It's always best to go into the hiring process with some idea of your professional worth and current market rates for the open role. After all, you don't want to go into a discussion unprepared. Otherwise, you may feel pressured into suggesting a target salary that you find out later is much too low.

You never know how soon you might receive a job offer, so research compensation trends for the open role before your interview. Use resources like Glassdoor and Salary. You can filter by job title, industry, years of experience, geography and more. Some even show salary data by company, allowing you to see what people have been paid for the exact role at the exact company (or one similar to it). Next, consider how your own experience, skills, achievements and/or certifications add value. Keep these in mind as talking points while interviewing and negotiating. When you understand your worth and respectfully prove it, your perceived value on the other side often rises as well.

Dos and Don'ts: How to ask for more

Sold on negotiating and ready to try it? Make sure to keep these Dos and Don'ts in mind.

DO:

  • Build rapport with the person across the table. Listen and work to understand what motivates them. You could even compliment them on the adorable pet in the photo on their desk. Likewise, let them into your world a bit so they see you as a whole person rather than just a resumé.
  • Start at the top of your target range when discussing salary. This gives you room to negotiate down if needed.
  • Use positive language and show gratitude. Start by offering your thanks for their confidence in you and for the job offer. Then move toward asking for more. Remind them of your intention to make a positive impact, including specific experiences or achievements, to back up the extra value you bring.
  • Pose requests as collaborative questions rather than demands or ultimatums. Try, “What can we do to bring up the starting salary?" or “Is it possible to start with 14 PTO days rather than 10?"
  • Make all requests upfront. No one wants to drag out negotiations. Keep things moving efficiently by sharing all your expectations. If you want a higher salary, three extra PTO days, and to work remotely two days a week, ask for each one upfront rather than adding more rounds of negotiation.
  • Negotiate over the phone or in person rather than in writing. When someone can hear your voice, you'll more easily convey a helpful and positive tone. This allows for open communication and immediate corrections of any miscommunication.
  • Get the final agreement in writing.

DON'T:

  • Don't be the first person to name a number. Whenever possible, let your interviewer give a range first. If they outright ask for your salary expectations, you can say: “I've looked into the market rates but would love to know if the company has defined a range for this role. Can you share that with me?" Then have an answer ready with a realistic and fair range based on your research and that gives you wiggle room: “Based on the market rate for this role, I'm hoping for somewhere between $55,000 and $60,000 depending upon the responsibility level and other benefits offered."
  • Don't feel pressured to negotiate immediately. After receiving your job offer, you can ask for time to review it and offer an expectation of when they'll hear from you. This gives you time to plan what you'd like to negotiate and how.
  • Don't focus only on salary. Remember that there are many other factors you can negotiate. Consider what's most important to you and prioritize those factors. If you can't get to the salary you want, maybe you can make up for it in other ways or negotiate a target raise based on goals and performance.
  • Don't unfairly oversell yourself. Remember that you will eventually work for this employer if all goes well. When you negotiate a job offer based on your abilities or experience, you build in expectations that you'll need to back up once in the role.
  • Don't ask for something that's nearly impossible to give. Company-wide benefits like health plans or a 401(k) match, for instance, are difficult to adjust at the individual level.
  • Don't babble. Once you ask questions related to your requests, remain quiet while they think it over.
  • Don't be unwilling to walk away. If you accept an offer that doesn't meet your expectations, you may end up feeling stuck or resentful. Hold out for the right offer at the right employer.

Next time you receive a job offer, enjoy your success. Then put your negotiating hat on. Good luck out there!

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