Tired of Being a Wimp in Salary Negotiations?

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If you’re tired of being underpaid and underappreciated, it’s time to learn some new tactics. Let’s start with laying a solid foundation for negotiations. Obviously, there’s lots more to negotiations than can be explained in a short article, but let’s make a good start. What’s a fundamental rule for gaining true power in any negotiation you become involved in?

Salary Negotiations Fundamental: Be willing to say no.

Granted, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you REALLY Need that Job. So walking away doesn’t always work. When the bank account is low (or you’re living on credit cards) and you’ve got to pay the mortgage and buy groceries and fix the car and…  You may need to grab onto that job offer, even if it’s far from ideal. Still, many people who aren’t desperate accept job offers they should reject. They ignore a feeling in their gut that something is wrong.

The hiring process and dating

Whether the relationship is a romantic one or an employment relationship, the conflicts that destroy relationships commonly appear right at the very beginning. If the relationship doesn’t begin right, it’s unlikely to get better with time. But too often, we dismiss things when we ought to pay attention. Just as with dating, job interviews and salary negotiations have one thing in common: if the first date is bad, it’s unlikely to turn into a happy marriage. Sure, the man (or woman) showed up for the date two hours late, but you tell yourself there must be a good reason. But usually, it turns out to be a pattern. And it drives you crazy.

My job interview with a corpse

Years ago, I was new in town and needed a job badly. I sent in my application and then called to follow up. The boss, whose name was Herman, answered the phone. “I have your application,” he said, “and if I determine that I would like to talk to you, I will call.” I felt like I was talking to a corpse.

Herman calls for a job interview

A while later, Herman called me in for an interview. I didn’t like the man any better in person. But soon, he called to offer the job. In that same corpse-like voice, he told me what the pay was (not great), and said, “If that’s not enough money, we can stop talking right now.” I thought, “How rude!” But I needed a job, so I swallowed my pride and accepted. Not surprisingly, things with Herman were never good. We never could get on the same page. I left after two months.

Our belief in scarcity sabotages us

Sometimes jobs are in fact scarce, but more often, it’s our belief in scarcity that leads us to take jobs that aren’t right for us. If we’re convinced that it will be really difficult to get another offer, our leverage in negotiations crumbles to dust. We accept jobs that are less than what we deserve and we don’t get fair pay. In dating and employment, people who feel they have no other options tend to get mistreated and are perceived as less attractive.

Jerry Gets An Insulting Offer

Every once in a while, someone calls thinking we have magic that can transform negotiations that are stalled. One of them was a Highland Park executive we’ll call Jerry, who interviewed with a company in the Chicago suburbs. He called saying that although his sterling record of achievement warranted a six figure-offer, the employer sent him an offer letter that was downright insulting—$90,000. Jerry was savvy enough to know that he should negotiate with the hiring decision-maker instead of Human Resources. He requested a face-to-face with Bill, the man who would be his boss. But Bill said, “No can do. I’m very busy for the next couple weeks. All I can spare are a couple minutes on the phone.” Bill wouldn’t budge on the salary, so Jerry tried to negotiate for another week of vacation. No. Travel allowance? No. Paying for some training? No. Bill said no to everything Jerry asked for. On top of that, he told Jerry that he had to decide no later than 5:00 that day.

Looking for magic in salary negotiations 

Jerry called to seek coaching in the negotiations. Surely, he said, there are some magic words that can make the negotiations turn in his favor. Many times, we can provide magic phrases and make negotiations go spectacularly well, but not always. Jerry had played his cards well, but Bill didn’t want to be fair. Bill didn’t want to negotiate. Maybe he sensed that Jerry wouldn’t turn down the job. We gave Jerry what we believed was the best advice: reject the offer. But Jerry didn’t want didn’t want to hear this and accepted Bill’s insulting offer. We wish Jerry the best, but believe he will regret this decision.

Pay Attention to Signals In Salary Negotiations

Of course, you should be on your best behavior during the job interview/salary negotiations process, and the employer should too. They should want to make you want to come on board. But Bill lowballed Jerry, wasn’t willing to make time to meet with a high-level employee, wouldn’t budge on anything, and he demanded a response that day. In short, he was disrespectful. Though we advised Jerry to decline the offer, he decided to take it. We think he made a big mistake. We think Bill’s disrespectful treatment will not only continue, but will get worse. Trust your gut reactions. If it feels like the employer is being disrespectful, they probably are. Sometimes, we need to take a job. Any job. If that’s you, then take the offer. If that’s not you, be willing to say no. That’s a short lesson on salary negotiations. If you’re hungry for more, pick up Jack Chapman’s book on Salary Negotiations.  Jack is also available for personal salary coaching.
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