9 Tips for Negotiating a Job Offer

by Keith Edwards & Grant Anderson

As professionals, we have all learn some lessons the hard way because no one was able to show us the way in advance.  This is often the case with when newer professionals receive job offers and are unprepared to professionally negotiate prior to accepting or declining the position. We (Grant & Keith) were fortunate to have a mentor in graduate school, Mark Denke, who taught us about the negotiation process as student affairs professionals. We’ve learned since then that most student affairs professionals don’t get this opportunity to learn about how to negotiate or are sometimes taught an unhelpful lesson by mentors that negotiating is “unprofessional.” Here are a few tips on negotiating that we’ve learned as mentees, candidates, and hiring authorities.

1. Negotiate.

Candidates who are coached by mentors to not negotiate are receiving some very poor advice in our minds. Society also socializes women and other social identity groups that negotiating isn’t “nice” and that negotiating can seem “ungrateful.” Failing to ask for more money can be a long term mistake.  Obtaining $3000 more than your initial offer can be worth $20,000 after 5 years, assuming some annual increases.  As uncomfortable as it may feel to ask for more money, certainly $20,000 is a good incentive for a little discomfort. One study found that failing to negotiate just the first job offer can result in $500,000 lost income over a career.  Neither side loves the negotiation process, but it is to be expected in a professional setting.  It is actually a sign of professional maturity and any discomfort or even resentment in the process will go away as mature professional relationships are established.

2. Never negotiate until you have the offer.

The employer has all the leverage when you are a candidate. Avoid conversations about salary or benefits with those who are interviewing you. You should be able to find much of the information you need available online. However, once you have an offer, you have all the leverage. The employer has likely sorted through 100+ resumes, invested many hours interviewing candidates, and spent thousands of dollars on the search process (postings, ads, placement fees, travel, staff time, etc.). As an employer, once I’ve extended an offer to a candidate I’m nervous.  I have mentally put that person in the role in the same way a candidate does. I want the person I selected to accept. If they’re not going to accept I want to be turned down as quickly as possible so that I can offer to the #2 candidate. If you are my #2 candidate, I’m even more desperate because if you are going to turn me down, I want to do it quickly to get to my #3 candidate. Try to avoid all possible negotiation topics until you have an offer.  Asking too many questions about salary, benefits, and other negotiable issues during the interview process can actually raise red flags and prevent you from getting an offer.

3. Express your gratitude and excitement for the offer, but DON’T accept the job.

Even if this is your dream job and you know that you are definitely going to accept the job eventually, don’t over sell that during your interview process and do not accept the position when you first get the call. Be grateful and express your enthusiasm for the offer. “Thank you so much! I really enjoyed the people that I met during the process and think this could be a really great fit for me. Could I ask you a few questions to help inform me as I consider this offer?

4. Don’t ask about salary. Ask about the compensation package.

There may or may not be flexibility in the salary. There could be rules about salary or just no more money to offer, but there are lots of other things that could be negotiated. Placement in a particular area, different office, laptop vs desktop or iPad, new furniture for the apartment, office space, flexible work schedule (for kids or graduate school), graduate school tuition/support, professional development funds, known days off in the future, moving expenses, temporary housing, and even certain job responsibilities (add or subtract). Do not negotiate just to negotiate, only ask for things that you really want/need. We have known many employers who are stuck with a particular salary but have complete flexibility with other aspects. “Is there anything that you can do to improve the compensation package?”

5. Ask for a bit of time to consider the offer.

This is a totally reasonable request. You may have a competing offer to consult with, a partner to discuss the move with, time to really look at the benefits and see if they meet your particular needs, etc. The employer may not give you much time. 24 hours is not an unusual or unreasonable amount of time for an employer to give a candidate to consider.

6. Don’t negotiate with yourself.

Don’t come back and ask for a particular dollar amount more. That’s negotiating against yourself. You may have one in mind, but let them make an offer. Keith once had a candidate come back after the offer and nervously ask for an additional $1,000. This may have seemed like a good idea but I had an additional $2,000 to offer and maybe could have gotten $3,000 with approval if they really made me think I could lose them.

7. You can ask for ANYTHING, if you do it NICELY and ONCE.

You never know. If you really want something and it is important to you, give it a shot. Ask nicely and if they say no, thank them for looking into or considering it. Once you have an answer, do not ask again…they might change their mind if you walk away, but a no is a no.

8. Know what you are willing to accept and what you are willing to turn down.

Are you willing to accept the job if they can’t offer anything in the negotiation? You should know before you call them back. And if so, then accept enthusiastically. “Thanks for looking into the compensation package. I really appreciate it. I really think this is an amazing opportunity and I’d love to be a part of the team. I’m thrilled to accept your offer.”

9. Get it in writing.

You should get the offer and whatever was negotiated in writing. This is helpful just to make sure folks don’t have different memories of the conversation. It also helps an employer live up to the negotiation if there is pushback from others at the institution.

What tips, suggestions, or cautions would you add to those entering the possibility of negotiating a job offer for the first time? Leave a comment below.

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2 Responses

  1. Keith and Mark Denke gave me this advice when I was negotiating my first job offer after graduation in 2004. I can’t put a dollar figure on the value, but I’m certain that this has paid off for me!

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