Sunday, August 22, 2010

Negotion Strategies III: Bargaining Beyond Weakness

Now we have examined strategies of “bargaining from a position of strength,” and neutral bargaining in job negotiations, let’s consider “bargaining from a position of weakness.” This job negotiation strategy is most common in a recessionary job market like we have been experiencing from 2008 till today in August of 2010. Usually the compromised job seeker is not working. This is often the result of being laid off from their previous position; but, depending on the market, perceived bargaining weakness could be broadened to include entry level job seekers of any age, people who had been sick or institutionalized for an extended period of time… The main theme here is, unlike with the strength job bargainer and the equal job bargainer, the compromised (i. e,. the person bargaining from a position of weakness) job bargainer has less leverage due to not being employed, and consequently is often perceived less attractive to the potential employer. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and if you have desired skills and/or experience, or inside the hiring company contacts, you can improve your negotiating leverage, but again this may be a largely determined in general or, more specifically in to your job level and/or category. Here we will briefly discuss your perceived market value, and how you might be able to improve it, and negotiation strategies as well as attitudinal adjustments job search tools to do so.

Often when someone is laid off, due to such factors as a recessionary job market or outsourcing, their self image can take a hit. If this is the case, I would work on rebuilding your self image and esteem first, before embarking on a job search. Of course, this depends on if you have an adequate savings. Moreover, I have seen people immediately rush out and seek every possible avenue of finding a new job without being psychologically ready and strategically prepared. Often people that do this can come across as unfocused, unprepared, or lacking in confidence or even appear desperate of depressed, all qualities that can be job seeking deal breakers. Although there are minorities of people, often possessing outstanding qualifications, who can begin their job search at almost any time. In rebuilding your self esteem, anything you can do this is critical. I have seen people get into an exercise regimen, meditation or yoga, if possible travel, get engrossed in hobbies with the aim of building your confidence and focus. Job related exercises might involve taking advantage of outplacement resources, taking classes, certification training. Bottom line, building and maintaining an optimistic, proactive, outlook is essential. One strategy that I have found can assist you in maintaining a positive mindset is to limit your access to negative portrayals of the job market that tend to permeate the media during economic slumps. Also, in some cases state availing yourself of sponsored re-employment services can give you a boost.. These activities can be a significant help in strengthening your resume, enhancing interviewing skills, and even aiding in job offer negotiations. What you want to do is to alter, as much as possible, the potential employer’s often mild to moderate bias against you because you are unemployed, particularly when there is stiff competition for your desired position, including employed candidates.

In bargaining from a compromised position, it is more critical, than in strength bargaining or equal bargaining strategies that basic job search tools like your resume and cover letter are as flawless as possible and targeted to the job you are pursuing. I know there is a lot of controversy regarding resume length and design. My general attitude is that as much of the critical information the employer wants to see should be well laid out on page one, including skills and/or competencies, key accomplishments, career summary, career objective, and at least the most recent jobs that directly apply to what you are seeking. Moreover, if you are a junior to mid level person in your field a one page resume is generally the best idea, while in more senior person’s situation a two page resume is sufficient; but even here, because the rapid fire way hiring authorities often go through resumes, a one page resume is ideal. You don’t have to be overly thorough in presenting your experience. If you can find a tipping point between giving enough information to elicit interest but not too much that you lose your readers attention, waiting to disclose more pertinent details at the interview. Now a cover letter is, in some cases, a dying art. Recruiters, job boards, and social media generally don’t use them, but in certain instances they can be an excellent way to help you stand out from the crowd and accentuate aspects of your experience that make you uniquely attractive to your prospective employer. Also if you choose to have a “minimalist’, short and to the point, resume the cover letter can add some bulk to this bare bones approach.

Also, you need to take a very proactive, rather than reactive, role in finding job prospects. Just putting your resume into the database of a job board, or putting out blind feelers in social media sites, and passively waiting to get back to you is usually not enough. With these resources I would advise you actively pursue opportunities listed in them including calling a contact person. In the on line job search, job aggregators like Indeed and Simply Hired can be particularly helpful because most job boards and many companies jobs are listed here. In social media, where I prefer using LinkedIn, although Twitter has been ginning popularity, which is optimized for recruiters and job searching. With LinkedIn it may be worth getting assistance in putting together your profile, which is basically like an on line resume but less comprehensive.

Depending on the job market, referrals from previous colleagues is often the best way to approach finding new opportunities if you are not, or are, working. You, and your skill level often precedes you, and the referring party gets a finder’s fee, which can work out the best in some job markets. Recruiters tend not to be the best route for out of work individuals, unless you are recently unemployed, are junior with a lower salary, and/or have a skill set in high demand in a weak job market. Often companies feel they don’t have to pay a fee for an out of work candidate because the candidate is looking vigorously on their own. However a career coach can sometimes help provide the structure and accountability to set and follow through in a successful your job seeking campaign. My viewpoint on this is based on many years as a recruiter and more recently working as a career coach and a recruiter.

Next comes, for most people, the greatest challenge in the job search process, particularly for people who have are out of work, the job interview. This is the context where you need to show your best qualities, competencies, and communications skills. Like with resumes, there are many excellent books available to act as your guide. I do think interview role playing and informational interviews can be a good way to get your the optimal interview groove, before you go to a traditional interview with your career often looming in the balance. If you can be relatively relaxed, engaged, friendly, and focused, then this will go a long way in upping your odds to get a job offer, because often there are many people who can basically “do the job.” I think presence, body language, and how you say something as much as what you can say may also be determining factors in receiving a job offer.

Now, we come to the job offer negotiations. Remember that often a company may have negative negotiating bias against out of work candidates unless the candidate has an exceptionally good skill set or have outstanding industry contacts and references. One way you reverse this is to have several good job prospects going at the same time, so the company gets out of the mindset that you may take any job offer that is not too far below what you were previously making, ranging anywhere from 5 to 25% below what your previous salary was. Moreover, I have seen candidates themselves put their desired salary at significantly below their prior salary. The latter usually occurs when the job seeker is at least six months unemployed, thinking that the employer will see them as a “better deal,” when often the employer may then perceive the candidate as “damaged goods.” This strategy, although understandable, is not recommended unless there is a career change or a job in the same industry that is initially lower paying but with more upside potential and/or satisfaction. Instead I recommend that generally, unless the candidate was compensated above industry standard, state what their former salary was and state that they would like at least what the former salary was, but be open to the best reasonable offer. This may be the best way to maintain respect in yourself and in the perception of your employer, and potentially receive the most reasonable offer you can when you are negotiating from a position of weakness.

Here is a less common strategy of negotiating from a position of weakness that, in the long run, could be perceived as a turning a negative into a positive. Recently I worked with a mid level software support engineer who had been out of work approximately a year. He went on dozens of interviews but only three were of any interest. In the process he decided he would much rather be a software developer, so when a company offered him an opportunity in software development, which was more in line with his education and interests, he jumped at it even though he had to initially had to take a 20% salary cut from his prior job. To a certain degree the hiring company was taking advantage of his lack of leverage in making him a lowball offer. However, usually the upside potential for developers is greater for support people. So in a few years he may be more marketable and possibly command a higher salary than in support, and have much greater job satisfaction. Also because his new company is not compensating him fairly in terms of the market value of the work he is performing at a higher level, he feels no real loyalty. Moreover, the company’s low ball offer strategy, if not rectified in above average raises is the future, may cost them an excellent employee when he becomes more proficient and the job market improves for his skills, which it most likely will.

This example is somewhat unusual, but is still indicative of the short sighted attitude of companies when they are negotiating with a job candidate from a perceived position of weakness. If a company can save money short term on salaries they usually will. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases you might not have an option but to accept this lower- than your previous position- offer. But remember if you take a 5k cut that could conceivably add up to 150k over a 30 year career. Moreover, it isn’t just the lower dollar figure that is the problem, but it may also be indicative of a subtle attitude of disrespect you may sometimes encounter by accepting less money than you might not ordinarily received if employed. The whole notion of bargaining from a position of weakness is rife with an aura of negative psychology. If you can hold out for a better offer elsewhere, or at least get some concessions outside of the dollar figure that might elevate how you may be perceived moving forward. Ideas here could consist of possibility of incentives, bonus, early review…are all pertinent. In the end you might not get a concession, but even trying in itself may moderate the loss of self, and company, respect sometimes associated with a low-ball offer.

Here we have seen the difficulty, and a few possible solutions, involved in bargaining from a position of weakness in searching for a new career opportunity. Companies often don’t think you have any leverage in your bargaining, unless you have other situations pending, and generally will take advantage of this in making an offer. However, there are some more enlightened employers out there who may look at the long term implications of not making you happy with a lower salary offer, and if you can hold out till you find one then it can have a positive effect on not just your income, but your morale and motivation as well. Otherwise more than likely accepting this position may be a stopgap situation that you will seek to rectify as soon as either the economy improves and/or you find a company to compensate you fairly. That is why it is also imperative to dispel any negativity acquired in your termination from your former company. When there is a perceived sense of loss, a common reaction can be a lowering of self esteem, which can engender a passive, uninspired, job search. Be honest, and kind, to yourself. If you are feeling down, do something to elevate your sense of self worth before beginning your search like exercising or traveling. Make sure your resume, (if necessary) cover letter, and especially your interview skills are as strong as possible. Finally get out there, with a well thought out strategy in mind, and network with a renewed sense of self confidence. If you have friends or ex-colleagues to network with that is definitely your best path, but whatever your situation, be as proactive, persistent, and positive as possible.

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