The Soft Skills Required in Salary Negotiation

Sandi from Quibb had a great suggestion to write a post about the soft skills needed for salary negotiation, so I decided to take a shot at it here. Would definitely love any feedback!

As outlined in my last post, there are many tactical elements you must consider when negotiating an offer. However, this post did not cover how to properly convey these messages to a potential hiring company. That’s the goal of this post.

For sake of simplicity, let’s assume that you have already received one or more offers (again, congratulations, that’s awesome!). And you have decided that you are going to negotiate with a company for a higher offer for any number of reasons.

There are five key principles that are important in this process:

  1. Make it clear to the recruiter or hiring manager what you are looking for and where they stand as a company. Are they your top choice? You should let them know. If they meet your offer straight up, are you willing to accept right away? Remove any doubt you can from the negotiation process before it gets started. If a company knows the likely path of the negotiation, it makes it easier for them to work with you.
  2. Don’t surprise a potential employer during the process. Similar to #1. Don’t hide other companies or offers you are considering. Don’t mislead a company to thinking they are your top choice only to “leave them at the altar”for a more attractive suitor.
  3. Approach negotiation with your reputation in mind. You might soon work at this company for this hiring manager. If you treat them poorly , it’s going to make any experience working at the company less pleasant, even if they desperately want to hire you. And if you don’t work for them, there’s still a very good chance you could run into that person later in your career. Don’t create a bad reputation for yourself through poor negotiation!
  4. Don’t be cocky or unreasonable during the process. Especially important if you have multiple offers. Don’t flaunt your position of power to the company. Use the offer as a guideline for what the company is likely to realistically pay you – don’t ask for ridiculously more money or equity if it’s clear that’s not in the company’s likely hiring budget
  5. But be clear and firm about your needs. Be humble, but be clear. This is the hardest part of negotiation – balancing being clear and firm about what your needs are without coming across as cocky. I’ve tried to provide a number of examples at the end of this post to try and help.

From these principles, there are three critical soft skills that you’ll need to display throughout the process:

  1. Humility. Always be humble and don’t try to come across as too cocky or deserving of the role or title. Act like you are flattered to receive the offer no matter what because the company probably did put a lot of thought into this. (and frankly, you should be excited, not every single person is able to get a job offer, don’t ever forget that)
  2. Honesty. It’s critical throughout the process to be honest with companies and help them know where they stand. And if something changes (which it will), you need to alert them quickly. If you get an increased offer while another company is working through an offer, if you get another offer, if something changes with your current employer, these details should be shared. Are there cases where the information disadvantage benefits you? Of course, but ultimately, if potential employers find out you were being deceptive in the process, that reputation will follow you.
  3. Empathy. As you go through the process, it’s often helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and consider the situation from their perspective. They are attempting to lure you to work at their company but they may also have other potential candidates they could move on to, a budget they have to work within, and only so many hours in the day for recruiting. Therefore, don’t waste their time, be consistent, and be fair as you move through the process.
  4. Consistent and Firm. As mentioned before, often the hardest to do. Be consistent and firm in what you are asking for. Have a consistent and thought through script about why you need more money/equity/title and what will happen if they give it to you.

Examples:

For simplicity, here are a number of things I don’t recommend you say in a negotiation:

  • “The market says I’m worth xyz, therefore you must pay it to me.” If the offer is so different than your perception of your personal worth, then you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. First of all, what data am I using to calculate my worth in the market? Second, how much does this company value the role that I’m applying for? Remember, you are worth as much as the market will bear for you, so blindly quoting numbers from surveys without backing for why isn’t likely to get you very far.
  • Asking for a ridiculous percentage of the company or salary when there was nothing like that in the initial offer. For example, you are offered .25% of the company and you counter for an amount that’s just way too high relative to the offer (like 1.5% or 2%). Offers should provide a relative way to think about how the company values you. You likely have a low probability of a good outcome here – instead, you come across as out of touch with the offer, the market, and it can easily leave a bad impression on the hiring manager.
  • Just saying you need more money without a clear justification for why. Give some reason or justification: you are up for a promotion or a raise at your current role, you can deliver that amount of additional value for the business, or that you have a competing offer. There needs to be some reasoning behind why you are negotiating for an increase, even if you are just trying to play the game of negotiation with the company. It’s critical that you think about how best to frame it. And remember to be consistent with your reasoning.

You should instead be framing things in the following ways:

  • Since you’re my most valued company, here’s what it will take for me to accept the offer ……
  • Here are my reasons for wanting additional compensation ……
  • Here are the things that I care about as an employee once I start …… I don’t want compensation to be an issue I think about.
  • Here’s how I will deliver value to your organization ……. That’s why I’m worth the additional compensation.

You should also be reasonable. Definitely use an offer as a starting point, but realistically assume an upside of 10-25% max on that offer.

When I’ve constructed offers historically, I typically put together an offer that has some percentage in additional money/equity/title that we can offer to the employee. However, if you go beyond that, the hiring manager then has to decide if they want to go back to their leadership team or compensation committee and fight for more. You can push that hard, but be ready for a more difficult negotiation if you decide to do it. This goes back to empathy – realize what you are asking for and what impact it will have on the hiring manager/recruiter.

Conclusion

Your reputation is on the line as you go through negotiations with a company, and oftentimes, it will paint how a company, recruiter, and hiring manager will remember you whether or not you accept the offer. Try to leave the best impression possible while also fighting for as much personal upside as you can gain.

Any thoughts you have on this topic? Or areas where you disagree or differ? I’d love to know in the comments.

 

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