The N Word: Negotiation


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 me, 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 early in the process so there’s not 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 can’t offer work from home, even one day a week.” 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.

When is the right time as the candidate to bring up your needs?

What is the right way to bring them up?

Asking about typical hours or work-life balance during an interview is never a good idea. First of all, you’re not going to get the straight scoop anyway. The better tactic is to find out who you know that works there (LinkedIn makes this easy) and ask them. What have they observed? Does the culture favor working late, or are there more isolated sprints related to a launch effort or new business pitch, then things return to normal? That way you don’t risk having your interviewer/future boss thinking you don’t have a work ethic. It’s a perfectly legitimate concern. No one wants to work in a sweatshop. But it’s just fraught with too much potential for misunderstanding in an interview format.

Hide Behind Your Recruiter

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?

Separate post: Things not to say in an interview

How do you evaluate what’s fair. First of all. Your friend, father or colleague at the same level can’t tell you. Sorry. 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.

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