Accepting a Job Offer: Negotiate for What You Want

The phone rang (while you were in the shower, of course!) and that wonderful company you interviewed with last week is offering you a job. Do you take the offer made? Do you insist on certain benefits?

How, whether and to what extent you negotiate a job offer will depend a lot on your financial position and your profession. Regardless of those variables, preparation for the job offer should begin as soon as your job hunt begins.

When your job hunt begins, list all of the things you are seeking in a new job (e.g. salary, benefits, hours, culture). Rank the most important to the least important. Write them down again, this time in order of importance. Starting with the most important factor, go down the list. What items will you refuse to negotiate? Draw a horizontal line across the list: All items above it are non-negotiable; items below it are flexible. (If you have something way down on your list that is non-negotiable, that indicates it is more important than you thought it was. Move it up on your list.) You may have no items that are non-negotiable, or numerous ones. A sample list would look like this:

Salary ($50-$60K)
Medical benefits (for me and my partner)
Culture-Can be formal or informal, but must be tolerant

Hours (40-ish); flexible work week
Vacation time (3 weeks)
Sick leave

Next, add two columns to the right of your list. Mark them “A” and “B”. Column A will be used to list parts of the offer that meet what you want. Column B will be used to describe compromises you would have to make and what other items the employer offers which might offset it. Using the example above, let’s say you are offered a job with only 2 weeks’ vacation, but the employer offers two or three personal days a year. You still don’t have a three weeks of vacation, but you do have more time off than two weeks.

When you get an offer, fill out your worksheet. Are you compromising too much? Is this an offer you will take until you can get a better one? If you will receive multiple offers, this can help you compare offers from different employers with disparate benefit packages and work styles. Even before offers start coming in, periodically pull out the worksheet while you are applying for jobs and going on interviews. Have your priorities changed from when you listed them? Why? Are there other factors you failed to consider which came up during your search?

Back to the message left while you were in the shower: What do you do? Pull out your worksheet and see where you stand. Is everything on target? If it is, you might be comfortable just calling back the employer and saying “Yes”. If it lands in a gray area, how much do you feel comfortable negotiating? Let’s say only one week of vacation time is offered and there really isn’t anything to offset it. Is the company willing to approve a two-week leave of absence? Would the company allow you to telecommute for at least two weeks during the year? Think of several ways to reach a compromise. Larger companies have many set policies; smaller companies may be more flexible. Try to avoid suggesting something that goes against a written company policy, as it will inevitable be rejected.

While you look at the offer, also consider the current demand for your profession. If you are a software programmer, you can probably ask for a daily limo ride (well, almost) and get it. If you are an administrative person, competition is considerably tighter. You don’t want to over-step the demands typical for your profession and wind up losing a good offer.

If you are strapped financially, you may feel compelled to accept the offer right away and not mention any unfavorable parts. While that reasoning is understandable, it could also leave you with a lot of resentment after you take the job. Practice coming up with ways to ask for certain benefits without giving a tone of “or else”. For instance, you could say, “I know this wasn’t mentioned, but I’m wondering if/under what circumstances you offer alternative work schedules.” Or try, “Oh, it’s too bad a flexible work schedule isn’t offered. Could you give me some background on that?”

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