How to Make the Most of a Job Offer

The arrival of an employment offer is always a happy moment, particularly if it comes after a protracted job search. But before the offer can be signed, the position accepted, and the celebration started, there’s an important step to get past: the negotiation.

Many schools of thought exist for how to approach it, but they all require you to have the right mix of confidence and cold-blooded reality. There’s a tricky calculus involved in which you must balance a positive assessment of your own value, whether the market agrees with that value, what your priorities are in terms of compensation, and the strength of your bargaining position overall.

What are you worth?

Your first step in any negotiation is to figure out your value in terms of what you specifically bring to the job, but also the parameters of the role for which the company wants to hire you.

But before you do anything, give yourself permission to ask for more. For many, the prospect of negotiating at all seems too fraught and full of risk to bother. A 2011 survey by Salary.com found 18% of respondents never negotiate when taking a new position. So start with a pep talk with yourself. Be confident in your own worth, and the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for more as long as you are professional in your approach.

Speaking of which, it’s time for a reality check. You’ll want to be as educated as you can about what other people in that line of work, and in your area, get paid. Talk to recruiters, use resources like PayScale or GlassDoor, and reach out to your network to strengthen your argument. Note that this is especially important for women and/or people of color. Depending on your industry, there may be a gender/race-based bias in place, and if the salary you’ve been offered seems artificially low, you’ll need to overcome that with solid numbers (and maybe do some additional research about the culture of that particular company).

Also, gather all you know about the position from the job description, as well as whatever information you picked up during the interview process. Does it seem to cross over into multiple disciplines? If so, pick which one of those disciplines has the highest average salary and make that your target.

Bottom line: If you can make a respectful, cogent argument for more money, they’ll listen.

What do you want?

But is “more money” really what you want? What about a strong bonus structure? Is the company offering stock options? Is there flexibility on vacation days? Maybe the ability to work from home is something you value? Think about what else you might include in your considerations, if not in your initial counteroffer.

Other considerations may seem less immediately important, but can make a huge difference in the long run. Job title, for instance. Maybe there’s no flexibility on salary, but are they willing to put a word like “senior” or “director” in the title, either immediately or over some period of time (like after the first 12 months)? That’s going to look better on your resume and may give you a leg up in your career going forward.

Depending on your particular situation, there may be other options as well. If you are relocating, you might be able to ask for an increase in moving allowances, or a longer stay in transitional housing. Hoping to further your knowledge in an area related to the field of work in question? They may offer a corporate rate for college credits. The point is, if you give yourself a broad range of options, you can broaden the conversation in a way that makes you appear thoughtful and resourceful.

How do you manage it?

So how should you approach the conversation itself? How do you put yourself in the best position to create a positive impression and get what you deserve?

First, be aware that some aspects of the negotiation happen well before the offer is made. Many companies ask for salary history before you even start the formal interview process, so if you’ve provided that information they may already have lowered (or raised) their number accordingly. Your broader employment situation also might be a factor. Were you recruited for the role while already employed at another company? If so, you probably have more power to negotiate than if you solicited the job on your own steam.

Regardless of your precise situation, the following tips should help you manage your negotiation respectfully and give you the best chance at success:

  • Say thanks as soon as possible State your appreciation and be enthusiastic (but stop short of using exclamation points!). Also, convey your desire to “work together,” which sets the right tone for the negotiation to follow.
  • Use the time if you need it Most offers come with at least a few days before you need to respond. Take your time and think it over. Don’t take too much time—it’s probably not a good idea to wait until the last second before the deadline. But don’t be hasty. Carefully consider both what you want and the language you use when you ask. Also note the start date, which is usually included in the offer, and decide if that will work for you.
  • Make your counteroffer respectfully Don’t make demands or seem pushy. Continue to use “we” language (“Can we discuss the salary range?”), lead with research and/or justification (“given the experience I can bring to the role/the salary range for [insert type of work”) and be brief.
  • Have a backup plan Hopefully, the company will simply accept your counteroffer and you can accept. Here are a couple other possibilities, and some advice:
    • They offer you more than the initial offering salary, but less than what you asked for. This is the most common scenario. You can stop now or consider countering again with a number lower than your initial ask, but higher than their counter.
    • They refuse and stick with their initial offer. Counter again, but with something else (“I understand there is no flexibility on salary. But I wonder if there is wiggle room on [vacation/start date/stock grants]?”

Negotiation is a fine art, and the above tips are just a starting place. But the larger principles of dealing with a job offer are always the same: be respectful, do your research, and know what you’re worth.



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