Ten Tips: Negotiating a Job Offer Like a Champion

I have seen first-hand how both candidates and employers alike can benefit from the advice and perspective of an honest broker and an outside perspective, regardless of whether a recruiter is engaged or involved in the negotiation process. For job seekers, I hope the following ten tips will assist you in learning how just a few slight changes to your perspective and approach to job offer negotiations can result in dramatically improved outcomes or, at the very least, enhance the possibility of positive outcomes for you. I hope job seekers find my tips helpful. 

1) First Decide If You Want the Job Regardless Of Compensation Considerations

Nothing else matters if compensation considerations aside you do not even want the job. Therefore, it is paramount you ask and answer this question before having a compensation discussion with a prospective new employer. Remember, just as you hope to exit a job gracefully and on good terms, you should enter and exit a job offer discussion, regardless of the outcome, gracefully and on good terms with the prospective employer. To that end, it does not make sense to push for terms of employment only to decide in the end that the job or the company itself is not for you. The issue of whether or not the job, the hiring manager, or the company itself are a fit for you is something to decide before entertaining an offer, not during or after the discussion takes place.

2) Approach a Job Offer as A Discussion Rather Than A Negotiation

It can be helpful to think of a job offer discussion as the first of many prospective long term partnerships, discussions, and collaborations you will have with your new employer. The job offer terms are the beginning, not the end, of your employment. You can “win” a pre-employment negotiation and still “lose” long term as an unintended consequence of either the way you “negotiated” or the terms you asked for and received. It is a cliché to say this, but be careful what you ask for. With added compensation, special privileges, and/or terms of employment come added expectations for you to deliver results or handcuffs that could keep you locked into a job that you may no longer want 6 months, 12 months, or 18 months from your start date.

3) Do Not Make Any Demands

Rather than stating demands, merely state circumstances and conditions under which you can “accept an offer” from a prospective employer “at this time”. Use the phrase “at this time” as often as you can when talking about accepting or not accepting an offer. This makes clear your answer is not a definitive yes or no forever. It’s only a yes or no at this time. There is a very important difference. The prospective employer’s goal of the discussion is to get you to sign on the dotted line. As long as you articulate in a clear, honest, and respectful manner what is precluding you from signing on the dotted line, it enhances the possibility (though not necessarily the probability) you will get what you want. Either way, you win by taking this approach, as you should receive an indication of how much flexibility and ability the prospective employer has to adjust the terms to your satisfaction. If the prospective employer lacks the ability and flexibility needed to meet your expectations they should reciprocate your clear, honest, and respectful communication by telling you they lack such ability and flexibility.

4) Get Rid Of All Negative Words. They Stink Up Job Offer Discussions

Avoid all negative words such as “no”, “won’t”, “can’t”, “don’t”, and “decline”. Think long term. You do not wish for your job offer discussion experience to be negative, your employment experience to be negative, or your departure from such employment to be negative. Therefore, it can be helpful to you both tactically and strategically in regards to your career goals, to avoid introducing negativity so early into your prospective long term relationship with a new employer. Instead make sure to use positive words such as “cannot accept (at this time)” if it is something you do not find acceptable. It’s a small difference, but saying “cannot” instead of “can’t” has a more positive and considerate connotation than the word “can’t”. The words you use during a job offer discussion are like seeds. If you plant positive seeds then you enhance the possibility of a positive outcome.

5)  Avoid words Like “Have To”, “Must”,  And “Need To”

These words eliminate options and leave less room for other possibilities. You do not “have to” have anything; there is nothing you “must” receive. The prospective employer nor you do not “need to” do anything. The status quo is always an option. Doing nothing, as unappealing an option as it may seem, is nonetheless always an option. Practice these words in the mirror: “in order to accept an offer from you it is extremely important, I join under circumstances and under terms in which I am set-up for success and in position to meet and exceed your own expectations for me”. Another possibility is to say “I hope”; as in “I hope to join your company under circumstances and under terms in which…” Use tip number 6 below when elaborating on these phrases as a guidance on how to do so in a way that appeals to the prospective employer and takes their perspective, value, and interests into account. 

6)  No One Gives A Darn What You Think You Are Entitled To

It is important throughout the job offer discussion to maintain in your thoughts, words, and actions a “what’s best for we” rather than a “what’s in it for me” perspective. The prospective employer is interested in hiring you because of what you can do for them not because of what they can do for you. Trying to make rational and logical arguments as to what you deserve as opposed to the value you can deliver is ineffectual at best and counter effective at worst. People -all people – use rational thinking only to justify existing conclusions stemming from their own instincts, biases, and prejudices, not the other way around. Therefore, in a job offer discussion, if you want to change someone’s mind, you must appeal to their instinct not their reason.

Like you, a prospective employer enters a job offer discussion with a goal and a number or monetary range of what they believe you are worth to the company. This is their instinct. It is their bias. Therefore, there is almost nothing you can do to change their mind using rational and logical arguments about how much people like you are paid, people from your school and graduating class are paid, how much someone doing this type of work deserves to be paid, etc. Instead, if you wish to change their mind, you must appeal to their instinct and bias of how much you are worth to the company, by demonstrating unequivocally how much monetary value you can deliver above and beyond the amount they are offering. It is that simple. Entering the job offer discussion, prospective employers are thinking in terms of value to the company. Therefore, you must also think, talk, and act consistent with their values and line of thinking if you wish to move their thinking, in regards to an offer, closer to your own.

7) Do Not Feel Forced To Provide Definitive Yes Or No Answers To Anything In The Moment

Never allow yourself to be pinned or trapped during a job offer discussion. This relates to something you do not feel comfortable making a decision on in the moment.  All you need to say instead of yes or no is that “you need more time and information” in order to give them a definitive answer on that question.  You “wish to give them your one and best answer.” This demonstrates to the prospective employer not only that you are respectful and considerate, but that you are also acting in good faith.

8)  Always Be Positive and Thankful

Earlier, I mentioned that you should avoid introducing negative words, thus negativity into job offer discussions. Conversely, as much as possible, try to introduce positive words, thus positivity into your job offer discussions. Keep reminding the prospective employer how excited you are about the company and the possibility of joining the team. You never know what thoughts, concerns, or ideas are going on in the mind(s) of a prospective employer. Overtly stating your enthusiasm for the job, the hiring manager, and company as much as possible can be reassuring to a prospective employer that the time and efforts devoted to working out terms agreeable to you are worthwhile. Planting positive words into your job offer discussions enhances the possibility of a positive outcome. 

9) Do Not Be Afraid To Call a Time-Out

Job offer discussions can be stressful for employers and candidates alike. Sometimes they inadvertently become emotional and heated. Do not be afraid to suggest taking a break from discussions if you feel it can restore calm and perspective on both sides.  Earlier I mentioned at can be helpful to not give definitive yes or no answers until you are ready and to be candid in regards to your reasons for not being able to provide a definitive answer. Similarly, it could be helpful to a break from discussions, even just a few minutes, while one or both parties are not in a proper emotional state to think, speak, or act consistently with their best long term interests in mind.

10) Remember the “Negotiating Period” Is Simply the Opening Round

Nothing is set in stone forever. If you feel you deserve more money or better terms and don’t get what you wanted in this round, you can always ask for more after justifying it with a track record of success and achievements at your new employer. You already “won” by getting the job offer over the other candidates. It is very likely you will eventually regret a decision to turn down a job offer merely due to a short term psychological need to “win” a negotiation. Think long term. Do not think in regards to winning or losing. Negotiations have perceived winners and losers. Discussions do not. This is why it is important to think of the job offer as your first (of many) discussions with your presumed new employer. Assuming the prospective employer is close to your acceptable terms, it is important to remember you can always “negotiate” better down the road by meeting and exceeding your new employer’s goals for you. It is short term and not strategic thinking, in regards to your career, to turn down a job offer because you are not quite getting everything you want at this time. Earlier I advised to say “cannot accept” at this time in certain situations. Conversely, If push comes to shove it simply may not be possible for the employer to provide you with everything you want “at this time.” Use the job offer discussion tactics  and advice provided  in this posting to see for yourself if the prospective employer is the type of manager and company that will appropriately compensate you and reward you should you deliver value and results commensurate with your compensation expectations.


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