In a down economy, it can be exceedingly rare that you have an opportunity for promotion. It can be even rarer that the company is going to be willing to negotiate a higher salary when they know that there is probably 100 people at least closely qualified to take the position for the offered salary. It is ALWAYS a risk calculation to reject an offer and throw back a counter offer. No matter how well played or justified the counter-offer, an employer can always chose to go with the next candidate. However, there are some factors that can help increase your power to negotiate.
Here are some tips to help give you an advantage in negotiating the terms of a promotion:
- Reconnaissance is key. Learn as much as you can about the policies around promotions, especially this one. Are there salary bands you “must” fit in? Are they known for being flexible? Has upper management come down with a mandate that the position cannot be negotiated? Will negotiating a higher salary burn bridges with your future manager that will kill future raises or bonuses? Some of this information should be available through HR, such as the salary band for the job. If you can, talk to people who are in the role or have been in the role who can give you an idea of the flexibility and willingness to negotiate. Knowing the other players (e.g. the hiring manager/committee) and the rules they intend to play by will give you an idea of how to negotiate and how much room they are already authorized to negotiate (e.g. if there is a salary band for the job then it’s more likely you can negotiate up to the top of the band than above it).
- More reconnaissance. How big is the pool of possible candidates? How many people are seriously considered? Are you the primary candidate? Did they already say no to counter-offers from other candidates? Did others pass on the position? Are they only looking internally or externally for candidates? Again, this is an area where knowledge is power. The more you are their primary candidate the more negotiation power you have. Similarly, the more desperate they are to fill the spot the more power you have. Conversely, the more people who are begging for the position the less power you have.
- Raise your value. Make sure that you clarify why you are not only the best candidate for the role, but how you exceed their expectations for the position and how that excellence will pay dividends in the role. That helps distinguish you from other candidates, increasing your negotiation power. Additionally, when they make the offer for $X, point out that the offered amount is based on the expectations for the role but because you exceed them, you should be compensated in light of the gold you will rain down on them by exceeding the requirements for the role.
- Accurately assess the value of the job to you. Is this the dream job? Is it a key step in your career path? Does the job open up opportunities that will pay considerably more in the future? The more valuable the job in the long term, the less you probably should negotiate over salary because the more you need the job as a step in your career the less you want to hinder your long term goals over a few thousand dollars today. Of course, you will destroy your negotiation power if you tell them the job is the absolute key to your long term career, so keep that to yourself.
- Couch the negotiation in terms of “your value” rather than dollars and cents. For example, if the compensation is too low, ask them if it is a reflection of “your value” to the company. Couch your counter-offer in terms of wanting to receive fair value for your skills and attributes. It’s harder to say $Y is too much when you attach your persona to that amount.
- Fairly value your skills and attributes. If you are being offered the low end of the salary range, is it because the job is a big jump and you lack some of the experience normally expected in the role? Do you lack certifications or a book of business others have in the role? Do you exceed the expectations of the position? It’s easy to build yourself up for the purpose of selling yourself but you need to have a realistic idea of what is fair value for your work in the role, otherwise you are going to ask for to much and increase the risk of being turned down.
- Inquire about performance-based increases. If you take the offered salary today and meet A, B, C expectations, will the company agree to a $X increase in Y months? That pay-for-performance is very popular and gives the company an opportunity to test drive you at a lower rate. Of course, if you don’t meet A, B and C expectations, you might find yourself with no job at all, so make sure the stated expectations are enticing enough to deserve the extra pay but enough above the basic duties of the position so if you don’t meet them you won’t get fired. Make sure you get that promise in writing.
- If the company is hardline on salary and other forms of financial compensation, negotiate soft, no-cost or low-cost compensation. If the company cannot turn over more cash, think about what other value the company can give you. Can they offer you opportunities to network with other business units (especially those you want to move to)? Can they give you time off to obtain certifications? Will they promise you spots working on particular projects or accounts? Let you join committees? While those things may not pay off today, the experiences you cultivate today may give you a leg up for your next position or give you an opportunity to get bigger bonuses or raises in the future. Of course, you can explain your desire for these non-compensation perks as “getting the most out of the job” or “wanting to get opportunities to excel at the role” and various other euphemisms that put a polite spin on what is obviously a negotiation.
In fact, this is one you should consider even if the company is willing to increase compensation. Those soft factors can easily be the qualifications for the next role, especially if you can get agreements on far reaching opportunities. This is perhaps the most enticing (to the employer) negotiation in your favor. To put you in more prestigious projects instead of less prestigious projects costs the company little or nothing but it gives you experience that will likely help you move up the chain. As a bonus, the company gets somebody in your role with the prestigious experience. Of course, get these agreements in writing.