By Lee E. Miller
In the early 1980s, the country was in the midst of a major recession--unemployment was in the double digits, and so was inflation. Yet I was able to negotiate a fifty percent salary increase when I took a job with a new firm in Washington, DC. Although I would like to be able to say that my success was due to my extraordinary skill as a negotiator, it wasn’t. I was still in my twenties at the time; this was the first time I ever really had to negotiate about my own compensation and, in hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes. The things I did do right though, were to negotiate with the right employer, at the right time and I was able to convince them that I was the right candidate for the job. Then and only then did we seriously talk about money.
Especially in a tight job market, most individuals don’t think they have the ability to negotiate salary. Regardless of the state of the economy, if you are able to get a job offer, you probably are in a better position to negotiate than you think. When it comes to negotiating, as in every aspect of your life, you limit yourself by what you think you can do. If someone wants to hire you, it is because you offer something that they value. As a result, you are in a position to negotiate for additional money, benefits and opportunities. There are, however, right and wrong ways to go about it. Here are some tips to help you negotiate better even when the job market is weak.
- Take the time to learn how to negotiate, Negotiating is something you can learn. Like good writing and math, negotiating skills have to be learned. Take a class, attend a seminar or read a book on the topic. The ability to negotiate effectively will help you throughout your working career, not only when are negotiating about compensation. Every day at work you negotiate about deadlines, to get resources, about time off and to get assignments that will propel your career forward and enable to earn more money. Ultimately, your career success depends on your ability to effectively negotiate. Time spent learning how to negotiate is time well spent and will pay dividends throughout your career.
- Get a potential employer to “fall in love” with you before you talk about money. The time to be asking for things is after an employer has already decided to hire you. Focus on what is important to the employer and what you can do for them. In tough times making or saving money is always important. So is your ability to make your prospective boss look good. Employers want to hire people who bring value and they are willing to pay what is necessary to hire them. Once the employer has decided to make you an offer, then, and only then, should you start discussing the terms of employment. Until that time, whenever the subject comes up, talk about the job. Be enthusiastic about wanting the job. Show that you really want to work there. Ask for the job. No one wants to hire a person who is only looking for a paycheck. If asked what you are looking for in terms of compensation, say something like “I am sure that if I am the right person for the job and the job is right for me, something that is fair will be worked out.” Then ask some questions about the job. You will look good to the employer and defer the conversation until a time that is more appropriate.
- The only difference between being employed and being unemployed is your self-confidence. You are same person when you are unemployed as you were when you were working. You have the same skills and same experience. The value you can bring to an employer doesn’t change just because you don’t have a job. The only difference is your confidence. If you exhibit confidence you can not only negotiate effectively, it will help also you land the job you want. Competition for your services will also make you seem more valuable in the eyes of a prospective employer. Talking with several prospective employers at the same time will not only increase your confidence but will enhance your bargaining leverage.
Once you are hired, do a good job and continually seek out new challenges. As you take on added responsibilities and learn new skills, there will be opportunities to negotiate further improvements.