Monday, July 5, 2010

Job Negotiating Strategies: (2) Bargaining From a Neutral Position

As I showcased in my first section, the “bargaining from position of strength” negotiating stance could put you, the job seeker, in driver’s seat to dictate the terms of your job offer. However, the most common negotiating position, “bargaining from an equal, or neutral, position,” does not on the surface, at least, offer you such luxury. This is perhaps both the most complex and potentially risky type of job offer negotiations. For in bargaining from a position of strength or weakness it is generally a foregone conclusion you’ll either get an excellent or disappointing offer, while in this strategy negotiating skill and planning is the determinant in where the rubber does, or doesn’t meet, the road of new opportunity. Nevertheless, after exploring all available avenues with your present employer, and find your career is at, or approaching, a dead end, the only road to career reconditioning may consist of driving a better deal elsewhere. But don’t forget to snap your safety belt on, and remember opportunity includes money and much more if you want career to be back on the right, or sometimes even fast, track. Below we will offer some tips and strategies to help you map out, and reach your new job destination, via the safest and most secure route possible to career growth and satisfaction.

Before beginning your journey for bargaining from a position of approximate neutrality, it is advisable that you be employed, be committed to change, and have most of the tangible and intangible skills the hiring company(s) you have targeted are looking for. Moreover, to maximize your potential for getting the best offer and job, it is important that you have all of the successful job search accessories in place, which includes a high octane resume, strong and steady interviewing skills, specific company’s track record, salary comparisons, and an enthusiastic audience of pre-screened references…. . This may sound like an overkill job search tune up, but by the proverbial end of the day this will significantly enhance your chances of getting what you want. Now once your search is revved up and in high gear, it’s imperative that bargaining, or negotiating, from a neutral posture presumes that there is mutual interest, and that the employer have a sense of hiring urgency to fill their open position. Of course, the company may prefer to opt out for outstanding, “bargaining from a position of strength” type candidate, but they may realize they don’t have the available horsepower to attract their ideal candidate.

So now, let’s suppose, you and the hiring company have established mutual interest, what can you then do to maximize the probability of the best offer possible? Most people start with salary considerations, Now, I have no doubt that money may ultimately prove to be the determining factor in your final decision. However, functional job satisfaction, work environment, learning new skills, company culture, benefits, and particularly management… should be considered as well. Of course, in this, as in other job seeking scenarios, both you and the company are trying to forge the respective best deal possible. Also, as I mentioned it is important for both parties, particularly the candidate, that you definitely don’t want to over promise and under deliver, regarding your job capabilities and performance; The worst case scenario of such hyperbolic hubris could wreck your credibility, and possibly even your career in that field.

Next is the time for salary negotiations to begin in earnest. It is essential that you do research into what the market value salary range is for your skills and experience in your geographic locale. Often people are paid in the mid to low end of what this local salary range is, and the hiring companies often have this information. Their question to you then becomes what are you making and what do you want? An appropriate response might be that you, based on your research, know this type of position pays in the (give the mid to high point)) and I’m looking for the best offer although what is equally or more opportunity is the job, including promotional possibilities, learning opportunities…..Then leave it in their hands. By using this technique you may avert the possibility of having to possibly disclose that that your current salary may even be lower than the low end of the market range, which opens the door to the hiring company offering you a low ball offer. However many companies may insist you give what your current salary is, and if they do, and your salary is below the range entirely, it is important to give the extenuating circumstances why this so (e.g.; the company is in financial trouble and no one has gotten raises for x years, or I got a promotion from a lower paying function but didn’t get a commensurate salary increase). If the hiring company insists that they can only offer you a salary increase from this lower, below market, base, then perhaps you should move on to another firm. Just do the Math. If you are, for example, being paid five k below the low or medium market range over a 40 year career, then you would be paid 220k less than if you paid at low to medium market rate. This attests to why you should be gearing your efforts towards at least at the mid-point compensation for the job you want

In my opinion the best strategy, however, is to, in a firm but friendly voice, ask for the high end of the market range, enumerating how you and your skills could benefit the company now and in the future. Also I recommend, making it clear from the get go, you are a “little flexible” on the dollar number, and it is the career opportunity, and contributing to the success of their company, that is most important to you. This gives you some space to ask for other concessions like additional performance incentives, an early review, or a signing bonus if they don’t give you a dollar figure you might not have really expected to get in the first place The most important thing here is that you and your potential employer feel that both parties have reached an equitable agreement. The proposal should be enticing enough for you to eagerly accept, while not having the company offer above, or most likely at, what the high average rate for your position is in the local job market. Holding out for your most desirable dollar figure, if they don’t just rescind or not make an offer, could create the potential damaging perception that, after the race has run, they have paid you more than they think you are worth. I did this once in negotiating for a personnel director’s position in a small company, and the negative repercussions and attitudes that this engendered (the company was financially unstable and eventually closed) for a few thousand more definitely wasn’t worth me being a bit “hard ball” in my salary negotiations. Consequently, my preference is for a slightly accommodative negotiation strategy, which can reap such benefits as: (1), you still have more potential upside salary growth once you join the company; (2), other employees may be jealous or angry, or even resign, if they find you are making more than they are for a comparable position: and (3), the perceived compromises in a range that is possibly more than you initially hoping
for will usher in the motivational “win” win” mindset that is the ideal way to begin working at your new employer.

However, If you feel the company is dragging their feet or are balking at your requests that you used with your initial strategy, I would consider a more direct leveraging strategy involving either another, or potential, offer elsewhere or in rare cases a counter offer from your current company if you are certain that the new company is definitely the one you want to work for. Sometimes this strategy will buy you some additional concessions, because for the moment at least, you may move into the enviable position of bargaining from a position of strength. Now if they still won’t budge, you can either, ride away to look elsewhere, or stay with what their offer is. But still, unless they seem to be real “cheapskates”, you may want to look at the big picture and make a cost benefit analysis to give you a more rational perspective and, if so inclined, give yourself an intuitive gut check on which way you feel is on your best interest to decide. Also, this seemingly stubbornness on the companies part could be for reasons not specifically related to you, and, if finessed correctly, could make them feel obligated to give you more concessions down the road a piece. Also, always remember that in neutral bargaining there are generally other attractive prospective jobs out there. Now If it is a weak “low ball” offer prone job market like we have seen during most of the last few years, then you can remain at your current company till market conditions improve. Bottom line, if your potential company waxes and wanes on giving you an attractive offer they may not be the vehicle you want to drive your career forward with.
Now, if you decide to move to the offer acceptance stage, and you return to your previous company and tell them you want to leave, they may or may not offer a similar or higher offer than what you received. Although some career advisors may tell you different, I would definitely not reveal your intention to leave, or look elsewhere, unless you have a signed offer letter from your new employer. There is always a small, but scary, chance they would let you go if they thought you might be close to resigning, or even seriously looking. If you were viewed as an essential, “bargaining from a position of strength candidate,” then it really doesn’t matter what they know, but most likely if they haven’t treated you real well in the past there is no reason to believe, despite the short term necessity of utilizing your skills to finish an important task or project, that any positive attitudinal shift they display to you is only temporary and self serving. Moreover, they may view your external job hunting as disloyal, and possibly terminate you as soon as the critical period that requires your services pass. Consequently, I would not consider accepting their counter offer unless they, in writing, address all your reasons for looking- including often a new manager. Still unless you are absolutely certain they are sincere, and they strongly indicate you have a significant mid to long term growth potential within the company, I would still “keep on trucking” to your new company. At this point I would be polite and cordial but firmly say something like “thanks but I have already made a career decision to move on and I appreciate the time we have worked together.”
As we cross the finish line of this brief presentation, hopefully it has become clear that neutral status job negotiations, without a marked sense of strength or weakness, is by far the most common negotiating posture except perhaps in a bear hiring market, where often only exceptional candidates are hired . Moreover, bargaining for a new job when there is a good, but not great, match can be a very tricky, time consuming, and stressful trip; but if you intuitively and rationally feel it is in your short and long term best interest then put your pedal to the metal and go for it. But, again, as you accelerate off the starting line of this process, always proceed with caution for there should be multiple compelling reasons to leave, or your job search, as sometimes happens, may run out of gas. Also always get everything promised in writing, and be careful that you don’t “burn bridges” with your former company. Occasionally things aren’t nearly as rosy as they initially seemed when you were in the negotiating and offer acceptance phase with your new employer. Furthermore, I have seen rare cases where a misled employee has returned to their former company and it has worked out, at least as a rest stop before embarking on another job search journey. Still, at this juncture, shifting your mindset to a drive forward position is invariably the best route for you to follow. Who knows? In a few years you may have blossomed into that person who could bargain from a position of strength. Now that the career road ahead is clear, stay cool and composed, with your eyes firmly fixed on the well deserved prize of an attractive job offer that accompanies the completion of a well planned and executed job search.

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