Salary Negotiations: An Art and a Science

24 02 2015

By Lisa Stotlar

Negotiating salaries and other benefits can be hard. It’s hard because it involves risk. It’s hard because you don’t do it very often.

I love making this process easier for people. There are some tricks of the trade I’ve picked up that I hope can help demystify the whole thing for you. Let’s start with why you might not do it. Fear. It is a powerful emotion and can be very useful in this situation. Distinguishing whether the fear you’re feeling is a warning to prepare well for the negotiation or a sign to avoid the whole thing altogether is a good first step.

Group of Business People with Green Business

I’ve had lots of clients who negotiate successfully and some who don’t. The difference is in the preparation, understanding/managing fear, and reading the employer’s signals during the negotiation. I call all this the “Art and Science” of negotiating. The “Science” is the formal prep you do beforehand and the “Art” is the tap-dancing you will need to do in the moment because you never know what they’ll throw at you in a conversation.

The “Science”

Books, web articles, and/or a good career counselor/coach can teach you the science of negotiating – the concrete how-to’s, the math of it, the “if this happens, then do this” scenarios, i.e., all the “homework” you need to do to prepare for the negotiation as well as how to handle your fears. But if you don’t work on your Art too, things can go badly, quickly.

The “Art”

Be sure and pay attention to the subtle clues you can collect during the whole interview process. By the time the offer arrives, you ideally will have a sense of whether the hiring manager/company is flexible, has some wiggle room in the budget, has rigid HR restrictions, really wants/needs you for the role, etc.

All these things give you an idea of how much you can ask for and how carefully you need to tread during the meeting. Remember to be fully present, listen carefully, and assess where the delicate balance/threshold is in the conversation. For example, if the person says his/her “hands are tied” and can’t give you X, then you need to hear that and thank them for letting you know rather than push the issue. Trying to stay on some script (the Science) would be a bad move at this moment.

Here are some real examples of how these things can play out well when you mix Art and Science:

Real Stories as Examples

One of my clients was offered $20K more than the fair market value for her type of job. She didn’t ask for more money, but she did negotiate other things. She had done her homework and was fully ready to negotiate, but the Art of this was to recognize that they were already going above and beyond for her and so it would have seemed odd/out of touch not to recognize that. She happily accepted the offer after a little back & forth about the start date. She wanted a real vacation before starting and was able to get that.

Another was offered a position at a major university. It was a very good offer, but he was coming from the corporate world and had been used to negotiating fairly hard. I recommended that he soften his tune for this if he really wanted the job. Universities often have clear guidelines about what they will and won’t offer. So gently asking if there was any flexibility in the salary was going to be a much better approach than assuming there was more money and simply throwing out a higher number. It turned out well. The hiring manager went back to HR to negotiate on my client’s behalf. The manager and my client were in a sense already a team – bonding over this issue. He ended up with just $2K more, but the positive relationship with this manager was worth its weight in gold. And he did get some other perks including the ability to work from home fairly regularly and to attend at least 2 national conferences every year.

Another client was afraid to negotiate, but was determined to do it and really worked hard on preparing. But … in the end, I actually recommended that he not negotiate salary or a signing bonus. I could sense the offer was a bit precarious and he was desperate for the job. He wasn’t able to fully recognize important nuances in conversation partly because English was his second language. Every time we role-played, he was very forceful in his language and tone. He ended up negotiating a later start date, plus 2 weeks off for a pre-planned vacation, and some tools he needed for the position like a laptop and cell phone. He’s been in the job for about 6 months now and loves it. He feels he negotiated well and I agree.

Win-Win

If you decide you want to negotiate the salary, remember the whole exchange needs to be a Win-Win. You want to get something (Win), but they need something too (Win). So if for example, you’re offered a salary of $100K and their range is $95-115K, then you need to ask for more than you ultimately want to end up with in order to bring their final offer amount up.

For example, let’s say you want to bring the offer up by at least $5K – then nicely ask if there’s some flexibility with the salary because you were “hoping to get something in the $110s, if possible.” This will hopefully get you a final offer of $105-110K. That would be more money for you (Win), but still less money than the high end of their range (Win). You both get something out of the deal.

Note: If you had just said directly – I’d like $105K, the middle ground (Win-Win) would have yielded you about $103K. So know going into the discussion where you want that final number to be and then plan your strategy accordingly.

Lots of things to potentially ask for …

When thinking about negotiating, think about all the things you might want to negotiate for. By expanding your options, you will have the overall Win-Win results you want. Consider …

  1. Title
  • Title can affect money and future titles
  1. Money
  • Base Salary
  • Salary increase at 3 or 6 months if meet specific criteria
  • Bonus (annual, at 3 months, signing bonus, etc.)
  • Commission
  • Profit sharing
  • Stock options
  • Overtime $ or Comp time
  • If not being given medical, etc., ask for additional $ (up to 30%)
  1. Time
  • Request time off for a scheduled vacation, surgery, etc.
  • Request a specific start date so you can have a real break before starting
  1. Schedule
  • Work remotely X days/week
  • Work off-site
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Later or earlier starting (or ending) time every day or on specific days
  • Longer lunches when you want them – or the ability to skip lunch and leave earlier
  • 4-day work week (10 hours/day) or some other variation you need/want
  • Work part-time or work part-time at particular times (for example, summers)
  1. Benefits
  • Medical/Dental/Vision/Disability/Life Insurance
  • Vacation days, comp time, wellness/personal days, doctor appointment & sick time, other?
  • Pension, 401K
  • Matching investment program
  • Parking costs/train pass
  • Childcare subsidy
  • Gym membership
  1. Training
  • Conferences
  • Association dues
  • Tuition Reimbursement for you, your children
  1. Equipment
  • Cell phone, laptop, car, etc.
  • Equipment for your home office if you’ll be doing work from home
  1. Relocation
  • Moving expenses
  • Mortgage assistance

By thinking about negotiations in a much larger context than just salary, and remembering to aim for the Win-Win, you can end up with a much more robust offer.

Remember, no matter how it all plays out, end the negotiations on a high note. Be grateful that they tried to get you a good salary, even if they ultimately aren’t able to offer you what you exactly want. Being gracious about the process and giving them a final “Yes, I happily accept” answer will start you on a very positive path.

I wish you all the best in your next negotiations!

About the Author:
Lisa Stotlar, MA is a career counselor/coach for CareerGenerations in Palo Alto, a career services firm she co-founded with Ellen Shulman, MA in 2010. She has successfully helped thousands of people discover and celebrate their gifts and find meaningful work – and negotiate all sorts of Win-Win packages. For questions about negotiating or other career topics, you’re welcome to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with Lisa or her colleague Ellen at www.careergenerations.com and if you’d like to know more about negotiating and gain some invaluable practice, sign up for their March 11 $mart Negotiations Workshop.

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