Encountering the Money Curve on the Interview Road – Negotiating a Job Offer

Let’s assume for a moment that your job search has finally resulted in the hoped-for outcome. You’ve made it through an extensive, lengthy, and grueling series of interviews. You’ve given your best effort to dazzle and impress your future employer and it has paid off. They’ve decided to make you a job offer. Congratulations! It’s all smooth sailing from here on out. Or, is it?

As a rule, YES, it is a time to celebrate. However, this may also be the point on the road to being employed where you will encounter a signal to “proceed with caution”.

Sometimes the job offer is just right and the new company and position are ideal. You accept immediately, establish a start date, and prepare to resign from your current employer with fortitude and grace, excited to start a great new career path. That most often is what happens. However, what if you have to negotiate the dreaded money issue?

If so, the straight road you’ve traveled on through the process may hit a curve. If it does, a thoughtful approach and knowledge are essential. If you handle salary negotiations without this knowledge, you run the risk of alienating your future boss or the company and having the offer disappear into thin air.

Be assured that if a company wants to discuss money, it is a good sign. They are seriously interested in you. We all know, too, that money is important in any career decision you make and is a definite factor when you evaluate an opportunity.

This is a subject that is multi-faceted and complex, but let me give me some key points that may assist you in the event you need to negotiate.

First, let’s go back to the beginning. It is a standard rule of interviewing that the candidate should not be the party to bring up compensation during the job interview process. There will be plenty of time for that to take place and it’s the employer’s responsibility to discuss it when THEY are ready. Like in any type of negotiation, he who speaks first most often loses. If for some reason the money issue goes completely unaddressed and the ball is left in your court, the time to bring it up is late in the process and only after they have indicated that an offer is forthcoming. Keep in mind that the minute you name a price and fix it, any chance of negotiating is over. At that point, the employer will have that number in his mind, set in stone, and if you try to change the rules and ask for more, you look very disingenuous.

Before you start the interviewing process, it’s also wise to evaluate your current compensation in relationship to the average in your industry and the specific position for which you’re interviewing. Some companies have higher pay scales than others. You may not be affordable to a company if you are in a firm that pays on the high end of the scale. Yet, you may be very interested in them for a myriad of reasons (culture, growth opportunity, location, technology, etc) and making a lateral move or taking a small step back to make a big step forward in your career may be wise and a fine decision. If you have emphasized your current compensation and stress the desire to increase it early or during the interview process, it may frighten the prospective employer. Rather than risk making you an offer that is less, he may pass. So, take care not to price yourself out of the market. It limits opportunity. If you are realistic, compensation is only one piece of the puzzle anyway. You should and probably will consider many factors when you make a career change which are unrelated to the money issue.

A question I am asked often is, “Can I negotiate an offer?” The answer is, “Maybe.” Some companies will negotiate and frankly, some will not. No two companies are alike. There are sometimes ways to know beforehand. If you are working with a recruiter, he will probably have an idea about offer flexibility or should. Actually, it’s the recruiter’s job to insure that by the time the offer rolls around, everyone is on the same page and if so, there won’t be any issue over whether the offer will be accepted. Other sources of information might be a previous employee of the company or perhaps contacts you have in the industry. Often, though, if you have no third party input, you are simply flying blind. However, if you listen during the interview process to the potential employer, you may pick up clues as to whether his company is flexible when it comes to compensation. If you’re unsure, it’s a judgment call on your part when the offer comes in and you were expecting or hoping for more. If you do decide to negotiate, be open and reasonable. Have solid reasons regarding why you are asking for more compensation.

Also bear in mind that the best time to look for a position is when you’re employed and don’t necessarily need to make a change, but would for a better opportunity. That is when your marketability is at its highest. If you are unemploye, it’s a whole new landscape. Negotiating, while not impossible, becomes more difficult, especially if market conditions dictate an abundance of available candidates. It’s entirely possible that if you don’t accept what they have to offer, they’ll move on to someone who will. You can certainly query about flexibility on the salary, but keep it just that, an inquiry. Don’t expect a better offer just because you asked for it and don’t assume that there is more to be had or that they’re offering less than they can. Most employers will come in at the point that they feel is reasonable for them while ensuring that you’re pleased and excited to be in their employ.

The last word of caution in terms of salary negotiations is this: never try to evaluate two or multiple offers, pitting one against the other. It’s unfair to each employer and a disservice. It’s like comparing apples to oranges most of the time which can be very confusing for you. Each company and offer needs to be evaluated on its own merit based on the criteria that matter to you. Compare each opportunity with your objectives, not to each other. Every opportunity has pros and cons and money is only one factor. Only you know whether your instincts say, “This is my job.” Making a decision on that basis is far better than to invite a bidding war. To do so can result in no bid at all in the end.

In traveling the interview road, everyone will come to the money curve eventually. Proceed with caution, and if you choose to negotiate, do it with solid reasoning, respect, tact, and a reasonable expectation of a positive outcome for both you and the employer. Consider each offer on its own merits and present your value in terms of your own. From that point forward, it truly is smooth sailing.