In this series Dave Perlman, an executive recruiter and career coach, put together a Getting Started guide that is specifically targeted to seasoned workers.
Last week I wrote about interviewing techniques, which when you boil them down are pretty simple: honesty, confidence, modesty and rapport-building.
This week we’ll move ahead in the process to talk about how to handle a job offer successfully and close the deal.
It’s almost always to the benefit of the individual to
- defer any talk about compensation as long as possible and
- let the employer make the first offer
There are several strategies to defer and deflect questions about compensation. Thanks to Noel Smith-Wenkle, who came up with this list:
- If asked for a range or a figure, you can say that you are more interested in fit and the total experience of the potential role, and that you want to defer that discussion (or at least your answer) until you learn more about the company, culture and challenges.
- Pressed, you can say that you’ll consider any reasonable offer.
- Finally, you can turn it around, and say that the hiring company is in the best position to put a price-tag on your contribution.
Don’t be hesitant to simply, albeit politely, repeat these answers over and over when you are asked again and again to name your magic number. They will probably not torture you to get this information.
Key to any negotiating situation is leverage. This can be thought of as each side’s need to reach an agreement, or, conversely, as having the ability to walk away if a solid deal can’t be reached.
What Do You Want, Really ?
Let’s leave aside the terms and conditions for a moment. If this is really the job you want, then it’s best to reach a win-win solution, where both the hiring company and individual feel that they got a reasonable, livable deal.
Trying to extract maximum concessions and/or using extremely strong negotiating tactics can easily boomerang and cause the whole deal to blow up.
Second best is to agree that such a deal can’t be achieved, and for both sides to walk away with dignity and mutual respect intact or even enhanced.
Worst is to end angry, with no deal and no positive feelings.
If both sides stay calm then the worst case outcome can be avoided.
Who Should Talk ?
If there is no independent recruiter in the picture, then you are the de facto negotiator for yourself. If there is recruiter, then a decision has to be made: who will talk for your side ?
The Case for the Recruiter
Using an intermediary can serve to keep tempers in check, and to slow down the dialogue to allow for proper consideration between each negotiating event. Further, the recruiter has probably had more experience negotiating.
The Case for Self-Representation
On the other hand, your incentives and the recruiter’s are often not identical. The recruiter is usually working to close the deal, and you are working for the best deal for you. Not quite the same thing.
Senior people, who will be expected to hire and negotiate with other employees once hired, can be well-served by negotiating for themselves. This can be a great chance to show the hiring company that you are quite good at this critical challenge.
The key, no matter who talks, is that you and the recruiter stay in constant communication and sing exactly the same song.
It’s important to look at the offer holistically and not to overvalue or obsess about one or two elements. Too many people get fixated on base salary or title and ignore other deal components which may actually be more important.
- Base salary – this is often the most important element. Future raises are usually based on your base salary history.
- Bonus – many folks focus on the amount of a potential bonus rather than on the conditions for actually getting it. Many bonuses combine the company’s performance and your own to set the final payout.
- Equity – this is the hardest component to value, especially for a small, new or privately-held company. In the case of “the exciting startup which could make you rich”, the equity component, usually in the form of stock options, may be more important to you than the base salary. But no one can foresee what the value of your options will be, if and when you get a chance to exercise and sell them.
- Variable compensation based on results – this is very common for sales and related specialties. A lower commission eligibility with a better chance of hitting it is often a good thing.
- Sign on bonuses – these don’t figure into your base if and when you get a percentage raise later on. Worse, they can sound greedy unless the ask is presented delicately. I don’t ask for them, and if one is offered, would usually try to turn it into a better base salary unless I desperately needed that money right now.
- Benefits – most companies have relatively fixed benefits, including vacations and health insurance, but sometimes there is room to negotiate here.
Too many people ignore this. If you like your job you’ll perform better and stay longer. If you get strong bad vibes before you’ve even started, listen to your gut.
For older workers this may be less important, since the chance or desire to advance further in your career may be moot. For people who do want to advance to a better job down the road, this should often be the deciding factor.
I met two folks early in my career who kept hiring me back and forth for decades. As Abe Lincoln implied, you don’t need to fool all the people all the time… Get into a growing company with A players and your future will be assured, or at least a lot easier!
Never take a counter offer from your existing employer. If they valued you correctly, they would have raised your comp without your resignation!
Never take a counter offer from your existing employer after you have committed to the new employer verbally or in writing. If you do, you have burned two bridges with one bad decision. Neither side will ever trust you again, and people who hear about it will also join that swelling crowd of enemies.
Leveraging Multiple Offers
Using one offer to stimulate or increase another is not something I do or recommend. Choose the best job, not the best compensation package. Treat your negotiating partner with respect. How would you react if a hiring company told you, “Well, we have another candidate who’ll take the job for $10 thousand less”?
If you honestly believe that a few dollars is more important than the qualitative elements of a job (satisfaction, fun, challenge, that “team” feeling and many others), then I’m probably not the right advisor for you…
- Do not come in with new asks late in the negotiation. An exception might be to add a minor new sweetener to a potential trade off. For example, to request another week of vacation if the base salary offer on the table can’t be moved up at all.
- Never give an ultimatum. Always leave room to retreat and to resume negotiating.
- Do not get mad or excited. Negotiation is a game of sorts, with its own rules, and it’s not personal. Feelings of outrage don’t belong and should never be displayed. If the other party has out and out lied, you have to make a tough call: walk away or swallow and keep negotiating calmly – two unattractive choices to be sure.
- When negotiating pick one or two elements to focus on. If you ask for more in the base, more vacation, a better bonus structure and more equity, the hiring company may smile and walk away. This also forces you to focus on the elements that really matter.
On the Job At Last
When you’ve accepted the offer and you’re on the job, a few words of advice:
- Smile and keep quiet.
- Watch and listen. Make notes unobtrusively.
- Ask questions in a non-accusatory tone. Verify answers. When one person accuses another of something, don’t assume anything. Get more input.
- Respect what has been done before you got there. There is history behind every decision, especially the bad ones. Yes, the decision may look downright horrible in hindsight, but likely there were factors in play you don’t even know about, so don’t rush to judgement.
Photo credit: Pexels
Dave Perlman has reinvented himself many times. He’s been a software developer, a motel desk clerk, a historian, a forklift driver, a CTO and a few other things.
Currently he runs his own high-performing executive recruiting firm from his home outside Boston. He handles career coaching and resume polishing as adjuncts to that business.