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Even if you are a seasoned negotiator, it can be challenging to negotiate in response to a job offer – or even to uplevel the job you have. Why? Because you stand to materially gain or lose based on how it goes. In these conversations, you must walk the fine line between losing the deal if you push too hard, or living with outcomes you don’t feel great about if you don’t push hard enough.

(Now, I’m making some assumptions about you. I’m assuming that you have reflected on what you truly want for your next move and that the role you are negotiating for fundamentally meets those needs. If you haven’t, you need to consider starting here.)

Over the years supporting hundreds of leaders through these types of negotiations, I’ve noticed some patterns of behavior that lead most often to the outcomes you want. Here are five strategies to consider for your next negotiation.

  1. Get comfortable with the compensation question. You’ll need to know what you want and will accept so that you can share it when the time comes. Consider what you have been making in your past role(s), what your lifestyle requires, and what will feel good to receive in terms of your overall compensation. Typically, it works to give a range you would be delighted to receive, including a satisfactory low-end amount and an upper end that feels slightly beyond the realm of possibility. If your role includes a base salary, bonus, and equity or stock, you can state your desired compensation package, allowing you to step away from saying exactly what your salary needs are. Also, ask questions about what the likelihood and feasibility are for receiving your full bonus each year, including having your prospective employer share historical bonus payout rates for the role, so you can make an educated decision. If you are receiving equity or stock, consider consulting with an employment attorney and doing some research to make sure that what you’re being offered is industry standard, keeping in mind that the value will fluctuate over time.
  2. Come with curiosity and a sense of collaboration. Imagine rolling up your sleeves and sitting on the same side of the table as the person you are negotiating with. They want you to join them. Now, it is just a business problem to solve together to make sure the package works for all parties. Keep comments positive, be prepared, stay even-keeled and professional, and don’t be afraid of silence. State what you want and wait for the other party to respond. They may shut you down and say their offer is the best they can do. They may say that they need to check and get back to you. OR, they may agree with you or suggest something else. Be gracious and grateful, a team player from the get-go, and ensure any negotiated changes are put in writing, ideally before accepting the offer.
  1. Remember, in salary negotiations, in general, the person who speaks first loses. When you are asked your salary requirements, consider asking an open-ended question back to confirm the salary bands/range for the role you are interviewing for. “I’ll be happy to share that with you; first, though, what can you share about the company’s salary range for this role?” It can feel awkward asking such a question, but this can protect you from leaving money on the table. If they deflect the question, you can ask another one about how advancement works and the typical timeframe for review, merit increases, and promotion. In other words, keep them talking by being curious. 
  2. Don’t say you are flexible or that compensation is not the most important aspect of your package. You can say things like, “I’m looking to be paid industry standard.” Even if compensation is not your key driver, you want them to maximize what they can for you.  It’s possible the salary offered is beyond your expectations and makes you feel uncomfortable about whether you can live up to its implied standards. This is a good situation to be in, one you can grow into over time, perhaps with the help of an executive coach. However, if you are cornered into giving your current salary, and you know you’ve been underpaid, make sure to bring in research and data about salary standards in the industry for the role you are being offered. There are a variety of resources available to help you learn about salary ranges for different roles. Use or, run Google searches, talk to people in positions of influence, a mentor, others in this role, or a past boss. Consider reaching out to former employees of the company you are considering or talk to an employment attorney.  Use your gathered data in the negotiation keeping in mind you don’t necessarily need to cite the sources.
  3. Incorporate what you may be leaving on the table. When stating your requirement, make sure to mention if you are heading into reviews, a promotion, or payout of some kind in your current company, especially if you get cornered into sharing your present salary. For example, share that you are expecting a salary increase of X% or that after this next review cycle your compensation package will look like this, including all aspects of your compensation (base, bonus, and equity). As compensation, the company offering you a role may add a signing bonus to defray the cost of the move for you. Consider whether this will make you feel whole and include it in your discussion if appropriate. Review all the elements of the package so you can mix and match items such as having the company sponsor an executive coach for you or allowing you to work an alternate work schedule, so you are confident in the outcome. 

Most importantly, ground yourself before entering negotiation conversations, including reviewing what you consider to be your non-negotiables to remind yourself of what you want in your next career move. Only you can know how far you can push it, but it is likely beyond what feels comfortable. Know this going in, and navigate in a way that you can live with the results, whichever way it goes.

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