There’s a conviction these days that if you accept the first offer, you’ve done yourself a disservice. You should always try to negotiate more. Sometimes this results in candidates combing through offer letters, going line item by line item, to understand what kind of phone the company will pay for, is there a health club discount, are there summer Fridays… before they offer any kind of indication as to whether they’ll accept. It’s almost like they invoked their attorney alter ego and decided it’s time to play hard ball. This is unsettling to employers, because it suddenly seems like you’re not evaluating the job itself, but the perks. The risk is that they’ll call into question your priorities and decide to rescind the job offer. This has happened to candidates I’ve worked with, leaving everyone feeling bruised and incredulous.
So how do you strike a deal that both sides feel good about? My first answer might surprise you. Don’t negotiate. Simply be upfront about your requirements from the get-go so there’s no need for negotiation at the offer stage. My employer clients will do this, saying something like, “We absolutely cannot pay more than $150K for this role.” Or, “We’re unable to offer a 100% remote role.” That way, everyone is clear and it would be foolish to move forward and ask if there was any wiggle room on the back-end.
So, when is the right time to bring up your needs? And what is the right way to bring them up?
One of the beauties of working with a recruiter is that you can defer the difficult conversations to them. Why mar the CEO’s good impression of you by sinking into a debate about how many vacation days you need? A good recruiter, with a history of working with the prospective employer, can answer many of your questions around salary range, work-life balance, benefits, etc. S/he can also give you an indication of what the market will pay for your level of experience. All these things can happen before you commit to interview.
As such, it’s important to talk about them on your first call with the recruiter. Once you’re comfortable that they’re the right person to represent you, make sure you’re in agreement about the title you’re pursuing and acceptable salary range. No sense in being coy here, as everyone wants to make sure they’re in the same ballpark before investing time in meetings. If things come up along the way to change your initial number, like another offer or a promotion, be sure to update your recruiter. Same goes for expectations around remote work. If a company-wide policy hasn’t been established, it’s important to know how your prospective supervisors feels about WFH and business travel. When you provide these details upfront, they’re already acknowledged and baked into the process, avoiding any ugly reveals or misunderstandings at the offer stage.
Last: Of course, it’s tempting to listen to what friends or colleagues are making. We’ve all heard the dizzying stories of getting big salary jumps when changing jobs. But this is like listening to what your neighbor sold their house for instead of asking your realtor to pull comps. There are too many other factors that come into play. Two candidates with similar years of experience may find salaries and titles different depending on the agency and team size, whether they’re public or private, the title structure, other perks, etc. The one-size-fits-all or ‘my peer at the same level just got this’ doesn’t take these nuances into account. Better to ask: “Does this salary/title achieve my personal goals?” “What do I need to make leaving my current employer — where I’ve built up a reputation and credibility — worth the risk of starting over somewhere new?” Seeing if you can get more, simply for sport, is not a productive way to start off the relationship.
Bob Iger, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, (and probably no slouch to negotiations!) offers this advice:
“I like being very honest. I like getting to the heart of the negotiation fairly quickly. I like putting my cards on the table instead of keeping them completely close to one’s vest. I don’t approach negotiations with the need to win, I approach with a desire to close a deal.”