Ten Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer
When the story of how I landed a job at Airbnb went viral, I was surprised at how infatuated people were with my negotiations. Media stories portrayed me as some kind of master negotiator — a wily ex-poker-player who was able to con the tech giants into a lucrative job offer.
This is silly. It’s silly for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that in reality, my negotiation skills are nothing special. There are lots of job candidates who are better negotiators than I, to speak nothing of recruiters and other professional negotiators.
Worse yet, most of the advice out there on negotiation is borderline useless. Almost anything you read on the subject will be a vague and long-winded exhortation to “make sure you negotiate” and “never say the first number.” Beyond those two morsels of advice, you’re pretty much on your own.
I thought to myself: why is there so little actionable advice out there about negotiation? I suspect it’s because deep down, many people believe that negotiation is inexplicable, that it’s something some people can do and others can’t, and that there’s no real way to break it down so anyone can learn it.
I say that’s BS. Negotiation is a skill that can be learned, just like any other. I don’t believe it’s particularly elusive or hard to understand. So I’m going to try to explain how anyone can do it.
Second: negotiation is tricky to generalize about because it’s deeply intertwined with social dynamics and power. The appropriate advice for an Asian male in Silicon Valley may not be appropriate for a black woman in Birmingham, Alabama. Racial, sexual, and political dynamics accompany you to the negotiating table.
At the same time, I want to caution against overemphasizing these factors. Being afraid to negotiate out of fear of discrimination can often be just as deleterious as discrimination itself.
Third: I’m the first to admit that negotiation is stupid. It’s a practice that inherently benefits those who are good at it, and is an absurd axis on which to reward people. But it’s a reality of our economic system. And like most collective action problems, we’re probably not going to be able to abolish it any time soon. In which case, you might as well improve at it.
So here’s my guide to negotiation. It’s going to be split into two parts: this first part will be about conceptualizing the negotiating process, about how to begin the process and set yourself up for maximal success. The second part will be advice on the actual back-and-forth portion of negotiating and how to ask for what you want.
Salary Negotiation Tips 1-11 Getting Prepped
1. Know Your Value
If you’re going to get the pay you deserve, it’s crucial to know the going rate for your position in your specific industry and in your geographic area. As I Will Teach You to Be Rich’s Ramit Sethi points out, if you walk into a salary negotiation without a number, you’re at the mercy of an experienced hiring manager who can simply control the conversation.
2. Talk to Recruiters
Another way to do some research? Pick up those calls from recruiters. They know what people with your experience and expertise are worth, so use it to your advantage! The next time one reaches out to you, engage in a conversation about the position’s responsibilities and pay. You may not get a specific number, but even a range is helpful.
3. Organize Your Thoughts
4. Pick the Top of the Range
As you’re doing your research, you’ll likely come up with a range that represents your market value. It can be tempting to ask for something in the middle of the range, but instead you should ask for something toward the top.
5. Know the (Exact) Number
Turns out, when employees use a more precise number in their initial negotiation request, they are more likely to get a final offer closer to what they were hoping for. This is because the employer will assume you’ve done more extensive research into your market value to reach that specific number.
6. Be Willing to Walk Away
When considering your numbers, you should also come up with a “walk away point”—a final offer that’s so low that you have to turn it down. This could be based on financial need, market value, or simply what you need to feel good about the salary you’re bringing home.
7. Make Sure You’re Ready
Have you been at your job for a year? Have you taken on new responsibilities since you’ve been hired? Have you been exceeding expectations (rather than just meeting them)? The answer to all of these should be “yes.”
8. Plan the Right Timing
Turns out, timing is everything. Most people wait until performance review season to ask for a salary adjustment, but by that time, your boss has probably already decided what raises will be doled out to the team.
Instead? “Start talking to your boss about getting a raise three to four months in advance,” writer and former human resources professional Suzanne Lucas of EvilHRLady.org told LearnVest. “That’s when they decide the budget.”
9. Prepare a One-Sheet
Prepare a “brag sheet,” recommends Kathleen O’Malley of Babble. “It’s a one-page summary that shows exactly how awesome you are as an employee. List any accomplishments, awards, and customer or co-worker testimonials (“You saved me when you did XYZ!” emails definitely count as testimonials!) you’ve received since your last review. You want to demonstrate your value to your boss.”
10. Remember Practice Makes Perfect
11. Set the Meeting for Thursday
We tend to start off the week more hard-nosed and even disagreeable, but become more flexible and accommodating as the week wears on. “Thursdays and Fridays find us most open to negotiation and compromise because we want to finish our work before the week is out,” reports Psychology Today.
Salary Negotiation Tips 12-20 Starting the Conversation
12. Power Up
Before you go into the negotiation, try Amy Cuddy’s tip of doing a “power pose”—in other words, going into the bathroom and standing tall with your hands on your hips, your chin and chest raised proud, and your feet firm on the ground. Doing so raises testosterone, which influences confidence and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
13. Drink Some Coffee
14. Walk in With Confidence
“The way you enter a room can dictate how the rest of an interaction will be,” says James Clear. “Ever see someone slump through a doorway with a scowl on their face? Not very inspiring. Keep your head high and smile when you enter. Starting things off with a positive vibe is very important, no matter how small it is.”
15. Start With Questions
You should start the negotiation conversation by asking diagnostic questions to understand more about the other party’s true needs, desires, fears, preferences, and priorities. Professor Leigh Thompson at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University says that 93% of all negotiators fail to ask these “diagnostic questions” in circumstances where getting them answered would significantly improve the outcome of negotiations.
16. Show What You Can Do
Remember that brag sheet? Now’s your chance to walk through your accomplishments with your manager. If possible, print a copy for your manager to look at while you summarize what you’ve achieved this year. You’ll want to specifically highlight times when you’ve gone above and beyond in your role, which will build the case that you deserve a raise. Then, be prepared with a few thoughts on what you’re excited to take on going forward—whether that’s freeing up some of your manager’s bandwidth by taking on an existing project, or proposing a new idea that you’re excited to own.
17. Focus on the Future, Not the Past
When negotiating the salary for a new job, it’s not uncommon for the company (or even a recruiter during the job search process!) to ask about your current salary. (Note that in many localities, doing so is now illegal.)
Instead, give your current number (including benefits, bonuses, and the like) and then quickly move the conversation along to explain the number you’re looking for, focusing on explaining your new skills or responsibilities, your market value, and how you’re looking to grow, explains Pynchon.
18. Think About the Other Person
When preparing for negotiating, get in the mindset of thinking about the situation from your opponent’s perspective, recommends career expert Steph Stern. Research by Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky shows that when we consider the other person’s thoughts and interests, we are more likely to find solutions that work well for both of us.
19. Try Thinking About Someone Else
“So, in preparing to negotiate, think about how what you’re asking for will impact those around you: It’s not just for you, but also for your family and your future. It’s even for your employer! After all, if you are happier with your position and compensation, you’re more likely to work hard and be successful.”
20. Stay Positive, Not Pushy
Negotiation may be scary, but you should always keep the conversation on a positive note, recommends Forbes. “[Kick] off the conversation with something like, ‘I really enjoy working here and find my projects very challenging. In the last year, I’ve been feeling that the scope of my work has expanded quite a bit. I believe my roles and responsibilities, and my contributions have risen. I’d like to discuss with you the possibilities of reviewing my compensation.’”