How to Negotiate a Dream Deal at Your Next Job

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As your own agent, you've done you annual salary research and know what you’re worth at your next job. You know what combination of compensation elements will make a prospective position your dream job.

Now it's time to negotiate to your total compensation package and secure your dream deal. Let's get this done.

Your Dream Deal

What’s in a dream deal? It’s that combination of statistics and characteristics that, taken together, make up your dream job.

  • Learn the typical range of base compensation for your dream position in your industry, in your area.
  • Find your fabulousness factor: where your compensation ought to fall within the market range, based on the unique contribution you can make.
    What benefits, bonuses, stock options, and other compensation elements are appropriate for someone of your background and qualifications?
  • Find out all favorable starting logistics including relocation expenses, start date, a workspace or office that’s ready for you on your first day (a network account, business cards, a name plate, and nobody else’s "stuff" to inherit), orientation, training, etc.
  • Get adequate time to consider an offer.
  • Know your happiness factor: the time you need to have a life, the opportunity to be your fabulous self.

The Company’s Dream Deal

Although the company may seem to be a lot bigger than you are, when you sit down to talk about salary, it’s usually just one-on-one. And you’re not the only one who wants to come away a winner - be assured that the company knows the elements of its own dream deal. It’s likely to look something like this.

  • The company is probably aiming for 90 percent of the midpoint of the salary grade for the position in its salary grid, or less if possible. If it’s an early-stage company, it may want to pay less in cash compensation and more in noncash compensation such as stock options.
  • A standard benefits package for the salary grade.
  • Nondisclosure agreements.
  • A start date of tomorrow.
  • A quick-and-easy process that gets this job crossed off the task list.

The Reality Deal

In case you can’t get your dream deal, you need a fallback position: your reality deal. This is the minimum you are willing to accept and still be part of the company. Be polite but firm about your requirements; remember that the company has a reality deal too. But the minute a company decides it wants you, your price goes up. They have a position to fill. And it’s a seller’s market.

Be the Dream Candidate

To the company, the dream candidate has many ideal qualities, including the ability to negotiate. If a salary negotiation is successful, both parties will be on the same side at the end. Your employer – or prospective employer – will want you to be a tough negotiator on its behalf, so it expects you to negotiate firmly for yourself. So prepare thoroughly.

Walk into the negotiation like a winner. And understand the criteria that would make a dream outcome for both parties. If you can demonstrate in monetary terms how the extra qualities you bring to the table are worth more to the company, you are on the way to negotiating a win-win.

Have No Feelings

Niceness doesn’t help in a negotiation. Don’t be mean, but keep a flat, unemotional tone during the talks, to avoid giving away critical information about your reaction to what is being said. This is what they mean when they say, "Never let them see you sweat."

Entrepreneurs have been known to hold out for a little more from venture capitalists when their electricity was about to be turned off – a tactic that wouldn't work if the investors could actually tell that the lights were growing dim.

Negotiate as if you have nothing to lose.

No Issues, No Rush, No Nothing

It is relevant to you, but not to the company, that you have higher mortgage payments, more dependents, or just "deserve" more than other candidates.

Give business reasons – and business reasons only – to back up your bid. Be prepared to walk away if you have to, and make sure that comes across. If you are pressured during a negotiation, either ignore it or directly question it.

And remember that silence is powerful – to speak is to reveal information about your position.

During parts of a negotiation, exchange of information is important to establishing the playing field. But sometimes it is to your advantage to reveal nothing. Say nothing when you get the offer you want. Say nothing when you don’t like what you’re hearing. Let the silence linger, and see what happens. The longer you hold out for what you want, the more you are likely to get.

The famous Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy offers this advice to people who are detained by the police: "Shut up." He advises that if you are arrested and cannot resist the urge to speak, to utter just these words: "I want to talk to my lawyer." A less-guilty variation on Liddy’s advice works for negotiations too.

In this instance, however, the words you’re allowed to say after a long silence in a negotiation are these: "how did you come up with that number?"

Strategic silence is a good way to force the other party’s hand. But be careful: the person on the other side of the table may use strategic silence too. If that happens, stay cool, and shut up.

No Going First

Wait until an offer is on the table before you start negotiating. Your price goes up when the prospective employer is sold on you. And never be the one to mention salary first.

  • If you go first and you're low, they win.
  • If you go first and you're high, they may think you're out of their price range.
  • If you go first and you're just right, you may never know whether you could have gotten more.

If you post a resume online and the form requires that you state a desired salary, put $1.00. If you work closely with a search firm, you may find it fruitful to discuss a salary range with the headhunter, who gets paid for successful placements. But it’s better to get the recruiter to mention a figure first; you never know what they might be able to get for you.

Here’s how you can counter an attempt to get you to say a number first.

Company: "What were you looking for in terms of salary?"

  • You, version 1: "Something comparable to the market rate, given my skills and capabilities."
  • You, version 2: "Let me throw that back at you. What were you expecting to pay?"
  • You, version 3: "Are you putting an offer on the table?"

Company: "Well, we need to know your salary history so that we know whether we’re in the right ballpark."

  • You: "The more relevant figures for this job are the going rate in the industry for someone given the unique contribution I can make. I’ll let you know whether your offer is in line with my expectations."

Company, yet another attempt: "But I just need you to give me a starting point."

  • You: "Silence."

One visitor described a recent negotiation:

"The interviewer just wasn’t going to be the first to name a figure. I held my ground through six or eight attempts to get me to give a starting point. They kept arguing as if my past salary history had any bearing on what they should pay me. I was going for a big jump in total compensation in my new position, and besides, I knew they were also testing my negotiation skills. So I said, ‘Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you soon,’ and got up to leave. Before I could get out the door, I had my offer."

Yes, Please. I Accept.

When you’re ready to accept an offer, do so graciously. Since you won’t accept something unacceptable, the offer you do take should make you happy. Then it’s time to show it – and end the conversation.

The negotiation is over.

Nothing else you say will change the outcome, and you don’t want to leave a different impression from the one you created during the negotiation. After all, the next time you speak to the person with whom you have been negotiating, he or she will be your coworker.

And congrats on your new job!

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For Employees

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