Whether you’re starting off in the job market as a new college graduate for your first job or re-entering as a more seasoned professional coming out of graduate school, negotiating an offer can be one of the most intimidating aspects of the job hunt. But with some advanced preparation and strategy in your back pocket, you can smoothly navigate these uncomfortable waters to set yourself up for maximum success.
We spoke with career expert Bobbi Thomason, senior fellow and lecturer at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, on the best negotiation tactics for any job.
Evaluate the whole package
When you first receive an offer from a company, don’t focus solely on the proposed salary. While certainly important, annual income is just one category of many within career negotiations.
“Take time to think about all of your interests,” Thomason says. “You could get compensation through a bonus or equity, but you also might care about the projects you’re assigned.”
Thomason recommends bundling important issues together to determine which package meets your interests in the best way. For example, if your prospective employer offers you a raise to move to the Chicago office, but you want to be in San Francisco, try negotiating other aspects of a job, perhaps a particular project in that office that could advance your professional goals. Vacation and healthcare are other significant factors that contribute to your quality of life.
Prepare ahead of time
Don’t rely on your improvisational skills to carry you through the negotiation process. There are several things you can do ahead of time to make sure you’re on top of your game when it really matters.
Start off by researching the position’s market value to give you a basis for typical salary and benefits. This helps to legitimize your request, Thomason says. “If the offer strikes you as absurdly low, be prepared to use your research to say, ‘We’re not even in a reasonable realm.’”
Next, grab a friend and practice the negotiation process through role play. Rehearse using authentic language that resonates with who you are. You’ll also work out any hiccups so that you phrase your requests in the most appropriate way during the actual conversation.
Leverage your social networks
Professional networking is now easier than ever. And while you might think your connections only come in handy when trying to get your foot in the door for an interview, you can also leverage these relationships to guide you through the negotiation process.
Thomason advises turning to other people in comparable roles in your field to get an idea of industry compensation standards. Depending on the situation, you might also seek advice from someone in the company whom you met or interviewed with, but isn’t making the offer. If it feels appropriate, that person may be able to give you insight into the organizational norms and other nuances.
Plan your alternatives
After completing your research, think about your alternatives to use as a source of leverage. In other words, what do you do if you don’t come to a deal? “At the negotiating table, you may feel a lot of inertia to come to a deal. Perhaps you have invested a lot of time and energy in the current negotiation. But if you could do better elsewhere, you want to know that and be prepared to walk away to that better offer,” says Thomason.
“Here’s the one thing that’s missing. Can you help me get that?”
Even if you do come to a deal, knowing what you could receive from another company can be helpful for negotiating for all of the issues that are important to you. Thomason suggests, “If there’s only one thing that’s different between two offers, carefully say, ‘I appreciate your offer and I really like a lot of what you’re proposing, but here’s the one thing that’s missing. Can you help me get that?’”
Remember: There is life after negotiations.
Your first round of negotiations is never the last. “Just because someone says no today doesn’t mean that’s a no forever. Once you’re in an organization, you can and should continue to negotiate your career.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you ask for a raise or more vacation days on your second day of work, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities after the hiring process after you’ve proven your track record.