What’s negotiable? The many negotiable components of a job offer

Shortly after receiving a job offer, many people’s primary impulse is to negotiate the salary. And thus they despair if the effort fails.

But why the despair? Typically because they haven’t read anything like my last post, which assured you of the approximately 43593457938 negotiable components of a job offer.

But that just begs the question: which components? In other words, which aspects of a job offer can typically be negotiated?

Now, no list of negotiable components can ever be complete, especially since there are 43593457938 of them. Nor can any list apply to every particular job. Summer support? Makes sense to an academic (sort of) but virtually no one else. Finally, a long list of negotiable issues certainly does not imply that you should negotiate everything. As always, the best negotiators push for their critical interests but also know when to call it a day.

Still, in the everlasting and never-ending quest to make life negotiable, perhaps a list of the commonly negotiable components of a job offer can help. So here goes an imperfect but hopefully helpful list of the top 10 categories of negotiable topics:

  1. Other monetary issues. Believe it or not, a failure to negotiate salary does not imply an inability to negotiate all monetary issues. Other money-oriented issues like bonuses, moving expenses, and stock options sometimes remain surprisingly negotiable.
  2. Work location. In today’s virtual world, the amount of time you spend in the office, a satellite office, or your home office is often on the table. And unless you live next to the office, it probably should be.
  3. Travel. A closely related issue is travel—namely how much of it you will do and how glamorous the location. For some people, the more the better and any whistle stop will do. For others, even the thought of another security check elicits nausea. It’s important to at least go in knowing which type you are.
  4. Physical conditions. Assuming you’ll have to spend a bunch of time in the office, many organizations have at least a few degrees of freedom with respect to what it will look and feel like. Will you sit in a cavernous corner, thereby withering away in the absence of natural light? Will you work right next to the copier, mishearing your critical phone calls due to the beep of the buttons? Better to surface those issues beforehand.
  5. Job specifics. For lack of a better title, many specifics of the job itself might remain in play after the job offer—in particular, some especially onerous tasks you might not want to complete, especially onerous times you might not want to be on call, or especially onerous committees you might not want to chair. If you think these types of issues are in fact flexible, you could do yourself a favor by mentioning them.
  6. Career progress and evaluation. Any organization worth working for wants you to make progress in your career and attain increasingly challenging goals. And some might be willing to customize your career trajectory and/or evaluation schedule to promote as much. Accelerating your career or evaluating you more frequently, in turn, might well get you to the desired salary faster.
  7. Education, enrichment, and growth. Any organization worth working for also wants you to learn, enrich yourself, and grow. And many may be willing to put their money behind it, particularly by reimbursing your tuition, supporting your conference attendance, and sending you to professional development courses (for example).
  8. Benefits. Despite the glossy and final-looking pamphlet from HR, at least some of the stuff therein (vacation time, leave, health insurance, retirement plan, housing subsidies, etc.) often remains negotiable. If a particular benefit is especially near and dear, it might not hurt to ask.
  9. Supplies. Will this job come with a stapler and that’s about it? Or could you negotiate to throw in a laptop, your own personal printer, and a particularly shiny set of paperclips (for example)? If it saves you from dealing with an unhelpful IT department, walking a half-marathon to the community printer, or buying paperclips yourself, you might just ask.
  10. Start date. The start date is the date on the job posting, right? Well, it could be. But you might also negotiate to start early (thereby earning back some of the salary shortfall) or start late (thereby earning yourself an extended vacation).

In closing, let me reiterate what I said at the beginning: a plethora of negotiable issues is not a license to demand the world on a silver platter, and then some. Doing so could easily get you branded a prima donna, or even someone with a revoked offer. But I do hope that knowing the 43593457938 negotiable components of a job offer at least calms your despair, boosts your confidence, and earns you a shiny set of paperclips.

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Five responses to one treacherous question: Your “minimum salary requirements”

Ever applied for a job online? If so, you’ve probably been asked to provide your “minimum salary requirements.” And what did you say? Whatever your answer, it was risky. Because the question is nothing short of a minefield: Too high, and your application will get binned before your browser closes. Too low, and your wish will probably get granted.

It’s a treacherous question, so there’s no surefire answer. But some simple do’s and don’ts can diffuse at least a few of the landmines, making at least this small corner of life negotiable. So I will shortly offer five tips for responding to this treacherous question.

But first, let’s answer a possible objection to the whole premise. Isn’t the opportunity to state your salary requirements a golden opportunity to make the first offer, as I’ve often advised? No. Because you’re not yet included in the discussion, and first offers only help once you are. Before you even think about anchoring the other side, you need to convince them to seriously consider your application. Since you’re not yet there, I’d suggest the following five strategies.

  1. Try to get included: Ironically, the best solution to the salary question is to get there right now if you can—to get yourself considered at least informally before you state any salary numbers. Though you can’t always do it, sometimes you can: sometimes you do have opportunities to contact an organization and pique their interest before completing an online application. If you find yourself in that fortunate situation, make the most of it! If they’re already interested before your application arrives, your salary number probably won’t scare them off.
  2. Try to skip the question: Oftentimes we can’t get included beforehand. We really want the job but just don’t know anyone at the company. In that case, you might consider skipping the salary question. It’s a simple strategy and not always possible (see the little red asterisk). And even if it is, it’s not always riskless, as the recruiter may just bin your incomplete application. But if they didn’t require a response, you have to figure they had a reason. Presumably, they wanted to give you the opportunity to abstain. Consider taking it!
  3. Try to answer with words: Sometimes you’ll see the red asterisk next to a text box. The beauty of text boxes is that they allow text. Hence the opportunity to type something like, “I would appreciate the chance to discuss salary once I learn more about the role.” It’s often worth a try. And do type something like that rather than or “…” or “TBD” or “:)”.
  4. Don’t provide a range: Sometimes people see the text box and perceive the opportunity provide words but feel psychologically compelled to provide numbers. I’d try to counteract that compulsion if you can. But if you can’t, then I’d provide a single number. I wouldn’t provide a range, especially one with the higher number being your goal and the lower number being your bottom line. Because then you can pretty much count on getting your bottom line. Although you could provide a higher range, that strategy in this situation is probably too risky.
  5. Do your homework: Sometimes the company’s sneaky programmers not only insert the red asterisk but also require you to enter a number. Worse yet, they require you to pick a number from a drop-down list. Well, then you’re pretty much cornered. So what number should you provide? The best you can do is your homework. Plenty of websites provide plenty of information on the salaries associated with various roles and companies (e.g., Vault.com). Plenty of nodes in our social networks could provide such information or at least connect us to someone who can. So, if you have to provide a number, there’s no substitute for careful research, which will hopefully surface a number larger than your bottom line. And if you’re confident in your number, state it with confidence, knowing that the company has probably benchmarked against Vault.com at some point or another.

Life is not risk-free, and neither are these strategies. But I do hope they help you diffuse a few landmines, or at least tiptoe gingerly between them.

Have you tried any of these strategies yourself?

Should you accept that job? Defining a reservation price

There comes a time in all of our lives (approximately every three years) when we must decide whether to change jobs. This decision may seem difficult (and it is). But it’s negotiable!

Now, negotiating a new job offer requires a whole host of negotiation concepts and skills, including the ones I’ve described in recent posts. But today, I’ll focus on one that becomes particularly important when you’ve actually gotten a job offer and are deciding whether to stay or go: your reservation price.

To be clear, this is the situation: you’ve already looked far and wide for the best alternative opportunity; you think you’ve found it, and they extended an offer. This alternative job, in the parlance of the last post, is your BATNA. You’re now deciding whether it’s good enough to get up and go.

Now’s the time to consider your reservation price. It may sound technical, but the concept of reservation price is already second-nature: it’s just your bottom line. How you define a reservation price and what you do with it, though, is more like third or fourth nature for many of us. That’s where this post seeks to help.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that your current job pays $50,000. You like the job; your coworkers are friendly; the commute is manageable; you see a clear career path forward. It’s just that pesky $50,000, which doesn’t seem to pay the bills and still leave enough for that long-awaited Hawaiian vacation. Thus, you decided to hit the job market and eventually found a similar job in the same field. Though waiting for the actual offer, you do have some concerns: your prospective coworkers don’t seem all that welcoming; you would have to drive 45 minutes instead of 20; and you’re not sure of the promotion opportunities. Now—before you receive the offer—is the time to define your reservation price.

In any upcoming negotiations over the new job, you will have a BATNA—your current job—and it will have a value: the $50,000 salary. Yet, $50,000 is not your reservation price; your reservation price is your numerical bottom line, adjusted for all of the intangibles. $50,000 doesn’t yet reflect the intangibles. Since you like your current coworkers, commute, and career prospects, you might say to yourself: “Self, I will not accept the new job with ambiguously-friendly coworkers, a longer commute, and unclear prospects unless it pays at least $60,000. That number, not the $50,000 salary, is your reservation price. The extra $10,000 makes up for the intangibles.

Now the situation becomes a lot clearer. If the new employer extends an offer of $65,000, you should probably eventually accept it; if they extend an offer of $55,000, you should probably negotiate. If you deploy your best negotiation tactics (and hopefully the previous posts will help) but still can’t clear the $60,000 hurdle, then you should probably decline.

Easy enough, right? Yet, few people define a clear reservation before entering into a negotiation. Still fewer both define a reservation price and then resist the temptation to “adjust” it once the offer comes in. Receiving the $55,000 offer, they convince themselves it’s “good enough.” But to perform reasonably well in negotiations, this is exactly what you cannot do. Only by clearly defining a reservation price and sticking to it unless your BATNA changes dramatically can you hope to avoid a poor outcome.

Reservation prices don’t have to be prices; they can be conditions: “My office has to be in Fort Worth rather than the Dallas to accept this job” (for example). Regardless, my advice to any negotiator would be to understand with clarity where the line falls between what will and will not work. Drawing and not deviating from that line, though far from easy, is nothing short of essential.

Have you defined a bottom line in a previous negotiation? How?