You’ve crafted the perfect page-long resume, sweated over a cover letter that manages to unassumingly highlight your greatest accomplishments, and nailed the name-your-weaknesses question in the interview. Your hard work’s paid off: they offered you the job.
We caught up with 30-year HR veteran and expert interview coach, Barry Drexler, to get the low-down on the “compensation conversation.”
1. Do get everything in writing
When a company wants to hire you, they will present you with an offer package. This should outline everything that company is willing to give you, including but not limited to: base salary, health care coverage, bonuses, incentives, and other perks and benefits. The offer will include other terms, such as: your title, manager, and proposed start date.
This is their proposal to you. You don’t have to agree to their terms, and you don’t have to make a decision right there in the interview room. The ball is now in your court.
“Even if you really want the job, you don’t have leverage until they make you an offer,” Drexler says. “Once you get that offer, that’s when you have leverage.”
It’s time to negotiate. The first rule of job negotiation is to establish a written offer and the time and location you will meet with company representatives to negotiate the terms of the offer.
“Make sure you get the offer in writing and find out when you have to make a decision,” he says. “It’s very important not to negotiate unless you get an offer in writing. You want to get the entire package in writing. If it’s not in writing and is just a verbal offer, they could walk away, and you don’t want to risk that.”
2. Don’t be afraid to negotiate
According to a 2014 survey, 23 percent of people never negotiate salary after getting a job offer. But Drexler says it never hurts to try. After all, the worst thing a manager can say is no.
“Putting an offer letter together takes a lot of time,” Drexler says. “If you get an offer, they really want you.”
Many are fearful that if they propose a counteroffer, the company will revoke the job offer completely. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The hiring manager might be given a salary range that they can offer you,” he says. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. I’ve never seen a company who’s pulled an offer because you negotiate. You don’t lose anything from asking, but you have to ask.”
Hiring managers will generally anticipate pushback. Let’s break it down to the numbers: out of 54 employers surveyed, 80 percent do not get upset when potential employees discuss salary in the job interview, and 57 percent of human resources staff members expect job-hunters to request a higher salary after getting the initial offer.
3. Do consider the whole package
Base salary makes up just a small portion of what a company can offer you. “The offer package is more than a base salary,” Drexler explains. “An offer package includes base salary, incentives, health care, and bonuses. You don’t just want to focus on base salary.”
Don’t be shortsighted. Evaluate the package as a whole before you construct your counterproposal because not all companies are willing to negotiate the base salary.
“If they don’t budge on salary, look at other incentives,” he says. “Bonus, base bonus, vacation time, timing of salary increase, sign-on bonus, annual bonus, health care, those are all negotiable.”
This is where you can get creative.
“You can negotiate vacation time, asking them to bring up your two-week vacation time to three weeks after your first year, for example,” Drexler continues. “Or, if you’re already on health care, you can decline a company’s health care plan and get the additional money in your paycheck. If you’re going to decline health care coverage, tell them that they’ll be saving money by hiring you. That can turn into a signing bonus or be used to justify a salary increase.”
Don’t let salary be the end-all in a job offer negotiation. Benefits and perks can carry just as much weight as yearly pay.
4. Do research
You aren’t ready to accept, reject, or suggest amendments to a job offer if you aren’t informed. It’s your responsibility to know your worth. Evaluate your skill set and experience, and compare how your offered package measures up to others of equal status in your field.
“When you go into negotiations, be armed with data points,” suggests Drexler. “Never go in with ‘I want more money.’”
Online resources such as PayScale.com, Glassdoor.com, and Monster.com can help you determine how your proposed salary measures up with others in your field. Glassdoor also offers a company lookup feature, where you can compare specific companies’ position salaries.
“Find out what the job is worth, write down what your package is at your current job, and compare that to what you’re being offered,” Drexler adds. “Don’t focus on just base salary. Come in prepared with a number. Make your argument based on what the market is paying and what your current package is compared to the new package.”
The research will prove to be vital in your negotiation. Not only do you have to present your counterproposal, you have to be prepared to back up your proposition with hard facts and valid reasoning.
5. Don’t make too big of a counterproposal
Remember: You can’t have everything. Break down the job offer into its different components (i.e. salary, retirement plan contributions, paid time off, etc.). Determine your must-haves and include a couple of “throwaways” for negotiation purposes.
“You have to itemize,” says Drexler. “You can’t negotiate everything. Make a list of the number one, most important to thing to you and itemize what you can negotiate.”
Job offer negotiations are all give-and-take.
“If they give you the salary you want, you might drop the other things off of the list,” he says. “Don’t go in and negotiate too hard on five items. Pick the 1-3 items that are really important to you and let the other things go.”
6. Do have the right attitude
You’ve done your research, determined your worth, and have established a reasonable plan to propose to the company. Even if you think you’re being fair, you have to approach the conversation in the right way. “Lead with enthusiasm,” suggests Drexler. “First, be thankful of the job offer. Be very upbeat and enthusiastic.”
When you enter negotiations, be grateful but firm. Be understanding but stand behind your proposal and give reason for it.
“Say, ‘I appreciate the offer, it’s fantastic, [and] if you can bring it to x, we have a deal. I believe that’s what the job is worth, and it will give me an incentive to join,’” Drexler recommends. “They will go back to their people and see if they have a deal. Give a number and back it up.”
7. Don’t stop negotiating
Even after you’ve been hired, you aren’t done negotiating! “If you’ve been at a company for a while and want a raise, figure out their salary increase policy, if they have one,” says Drexler. “You might be able to find this in an employee handbook, offer letter, or internet. If they have no policy, use a milestone (like a performance review) or end of the fiscal or calendar year.”
Some companies don’t offer annual reviews and though it might be more difficult to bring up the conversation, it’s not impossible. Be prepared with a figure and why you feel you deserve the raise.
“If you don’t have a performance review and have to bring it out of left field, come in armed,” says Drexler. “Approach it like a business meeting: prepare your facts, lay the groundwork, tell your boss about your role at the company and you’re doing. Create context and look at what you’ve accomplished for the company (where you saved money, made money, or contributed to making money). Come in with a number.”
And like before, give a reason for the raise that you’re proposing.
“Say, ‘I’m happy here, but I want to talk about salary,’” he suggests. “‘I want you to know that I like it here and like working here, but I believe that I’m making x and what I’m looking for is y, what I believe I should be making.’ Feel it out and then outline why you believe you should making that. Outline hard facts: what you’ve accomplished, what your job is paying in competitive firms.”
The word “negotiation” can seem daunting. But if you do your homework and properly evaluate yourself, your skills, and how you can be an asset to the company, you can strike a deal that you'll both be happy about.