Thursday, January 7, 2010

20 Job Search Answers You Need To Know | #12 How do I negotiate (it freaks me out!)?

A: By knowing what you are worth (and reducing stress ahead of time)

My pal Dean (a local marketing maven) is fond of saying, “some people get paid what they are worth, and others are paid for what they are able to negotiate”. So true.  Unfortunately – even more true in the new normal (which will only be around until the newer normal sprouts up).

On an island image

With a nod to my penchant for sometimes stating the obvious, some people are Top Gun at negotiation and some folks just are not (be it on the candidate or hiring side). Whether we’re talking about getting the TruCoat free on a new car, or dickering with Skeeter to get $25 off the price of the moss covered, three handled, family credenza you found at a yard sale, or how many weeks vacation you are going to get at the new gig - some folks enjoy the process and some folks have panic attacks.


One thing (for those not comfortable with it) - normally you are all alone. Whereas you can have your wife proof your resume for you, the negotiation is real-time – just you and the hiring manger (or HR) Man-o-Mano with the clock ticking.

It may (at times) seem adversarial – as if the HR flunky is trying to screw every penny out of you. From your perspective, you just want to get paid as much as you can (planes to catch and bills to pay). And quite often, the deadly sin of pride comes into play (as in PAY ME WHAT I AM WORTH! VALIDATE ME!).

It turns out to be a many-to-many relationship (many variables with many options). It’s your skills, your bills, the job market, the competition, and a boatload of intangibles that factor into it.

The simple act of reading a blog post (even the finely crafted variety I humbly spit out) or digesting a bevy of books on the topic is probably not going to improve your skills substantially (these are acquired on the job – so to speak). But let’s talk about some building blocks and other things to help you go all Radio Raheem (fight the power!) on your next interview.

All your life is Channel 13, Sesame Street - what does it mean?

Let’s start by relieving some of the pressure. In most cases, good companies (with good hiring practices) are not out to job you when it comes to compensation. Yes – the market may have lowered the value of your goods and services (buyer’s market), but most companies want to pay you a fair compensation.  They need talent to make their business shine, and don’t want to lose a good prospect.  Yes – there are wiener hiring managers working for wiener companies, but (as my boss is wont to say) the market is brutally efficient.

You knew math was going to come into it

Now that you know the world is not against you (or at least probably not, I don’t know you that well) – the first place to start is determining your worth.

This is done a few ways:

  • Research and Payscale are two free sites that have a lot of salary data. It can be very specific and broken into the industry and regional factors (crucial metrics for salary). It is updated to the current market. This is the same site many employers use when setting salary ranges (so they know it – and they check it, too).
  • X-Factors Determine if there are any mitigating factors either in your favor or count against you (or you are competing with). For example, if you have the technical expertise, but lack the industry or specific system expertise (you know SAP ERP, but not Oracle) – the might lower you. Conversely, if you have niche experience that is beneficial to your suitor, it can be used as leverage.
  • TSA-like Full Body Scan Your current compensation is a big factor (as irrelevant as it may be that some just because some dumbass person in the past either way over/under paid you should determine what you get now). The more you can quantify (and document) your total compensation (bonus, benefits, quality of life).
  • Use your network When all is right in the world and stars align, you might have an inside source at the company that knows the salary ranges (current and former employees). Combat tactics, Mr. Ryan. Recruiters you know also can help with this.
  • Ping your peers (and not just for the alliteration of it) If you’re taking a new job in your current industry – you probably have a good idea of the compensation. But if this a career change (or an unintended step down), talk to folks who are currently employed. Again – I find my recruiter friends helpful here.

What you worth vs. what you’ll settle for

The other stress is often what to do if you receive an offer that is less than you were anticipating. Two things here:

  • Given all the research you have done (that we just talked about)  you know your worth
  • Before the final negation, determine what your basement is. This is total compensation. You need to determine that to you, right now, Base Salary of x + bonus of y and 5 more days of vacation (because spending time with my family has a value) is more important than Salary Z you thought you were going to get. Only you (and other stakeholders that get a vote like your spouse) can decide this. Sometimes, it’s better to do that at the kitchen table the night before or during your morning run when reason and emotion are in better check.

By doing this – you are deciding what the compensation that is right for you and your family (for this job at this time). It moves to a more place than feeling as though you were forced to settle for something you think is beneath you.


Last year, I was doing coaching session on negotiation with one my clients (and yes – it was at my favorite locale for such things…Starbucks). Myron was in a good place (in comparison to most folks today).  He currently had a job that was fairly secure but was looking to move to another job for better opportunities (now and in the future). However, the new job paid slightly less (due to the current economy) .

My very first question was, “do you want the job?” (because if the answer is no – nothing else matters)

“Yes”, Myron answered. “But, I don’t want to accept less money than I make now”.

Initially, Myron was hesitant. But we talked pros and cons and tactics to increase the salary (many of the things mentioned above in this blog) and other things that could increase the total compensation. In the end – it was close to a push – with future earning and career opportunities way on the upside with the new gig.

Again – I asked, “do you want the job?”

“Yes”, he said.

“Then get over yourself, and take it!”

Myron did (and negotiated his initial salary offer up) – and is loving the new gig.

Don’t let pride get in the way of doing what you not only want to do, but need to do (sometimes) just to put food on the table.

Also – don’t bluff and don’t lie (e.g. “I also have an offer at  company X for 10% more” when neither half of that is true).  I have seen people do it and win – but when you take another hit on a hard 19 , you’re gonna bust much more often than the dealer.

"By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom." (Proverbs 13:10). That’s about as old school philosophical as you’ll get me to be.\

Up Next: Who do I use a reference?

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