15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer

Originally published on hbr.org.

Do you know how to skillfully navigate complex job-offer negotiations? Every situation is unique, but here are 15 rules to guide you in these discussions.

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of likability.
People are going to fight for you only if they like you. This is about more than being polite; it’s about managing some inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in the offer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance.

2. Help them understand why you deserve what you’re requesting.
Don’t just state your desire (a 15% higher salary, say, or permission to work from home one day a week); explain precisely why it’s justified (the reasons you deserve more money than others they may have hired, or that your children come home from school early on Fridays).

3. Make it clear they can get you.
People won’t want to expend political or social capital to get approval for a strong or improved offer if they suspect that at the end of the day, you’re still going to say, “No, thanks.” If you intend to negotiate for a better package, make it clear that you’re serious about working for this employer.

4. Understand the person across the table.
Companies don’t negotiate; people do. And before you can influence the person sitting opposite you, you have to understand her. What are her interests and individual concerns? For example, negotiating with a prospective boss is very different from negotiating with an HR representative.

5. Understand their constraints.
They may have certain ironclad constraints, such as salary caps, that no amount of negotiation can loosen. The better you understand the constraints, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to propose options that solve both sides’ problems.

6. Be prepared for tough questions.
You need to prepare for questions and issues that would put you on the defensive, make you feel uncomfortable, or expose your weaknesses. Your goal is to answer honestly without looking like an unattractive candidate — and without giving up too much bargaining power.

7. Focus on the questioner’s intent, not on the question.
It’s not the question that matters but the questioner’s intent. An employer who asks whether you would immediately accept an offer tomorrow may simply be interested in knowing if you are genuinely excited about the job. Answer in a way that addresses what you think is the intent, or ask for a clarification of the problem the interviewer is trying to solve.

8. Consider the whole deal.
Focus on the value of the entire deal: responsibilities, location, travel, flexibility in work hours, opportunities for growth and promotion, perks, support for continued education, and so forth.

9. Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously, not serially.
If someone makes you an offer and you’re legitimately concerned about parts of it, you’re usually better off proposing all your changes at once. Furthermore, if you have more than one request, don’t simply mention all the things you want — A, B, C, and D; also signal the relative importance of each to you.

10. Don’t negotiate just to negotiate.
Resist the temptation to prove that you are a great negotiator. Fighting to get just a bit more can rub people the wrong way — and can limit your ability to negotiate with the company later in your career, when it may matter more.

11. Think through the timing of offers.
If you want to consider multiple jobs, it’s useful to have all your offers arrive close together. So don’t be afraid to slow down the process with one potential employer or to speed it up with another, in order to have all your options laid out at one time.

12. Avoid, ignore, or downplay ultimatums of any kind.
When at the receiving end of an ultimatum, simply ignore it, because at some point the person who gave it might realize that it could scuttle the deal and will want to take it back. He can do that much more easily without losing face if it’s never been discussed.

13. Remember, they’re not out to get you.
Unwillingness to move on a particular issue may simply reflect constraints that you don’t fully appreciate. Stay in touch, but be patient.

14. Stay at the table.
Remember: What’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow. Over time, interests and constraints change. Be willing to continue the conversation and to encourage others to revisit issues that were left unaddressed or unresolved.

15. Maintain a sense of perspective.
You can negotiate like a pro and still lose out if the negotiation you’re in is the wrong one. Ultimately, your satisfaction hinges less on getting the negotiation right and more on getting the job right.

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