Negotiating Job Offers: 5 Experts Share Their Best Tips

Negotiating a job offer can be a scary thing. In a recent survey I ran, 6 out of 10 working adults reported they had not negotiated the terms of their current job. They accepted the first offer the employer made for fear of sounding greedy or having the offer taken away.

The issue? The second you avoid a negotiation, fear goes away and regret creeps in. So, what’s a candidate to do? How can you negotiate a job offer successfully? I asked 5 negotiation professors with extensive experience coaching job applicants to weigh in with their thoughts. Here is what they had to say.

Get Your Head in the Game

Prof. Alison Fragale
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
United States

Your negotiation success starts with your mindset.  First, you need to reduce your anxiety. Anxious negotiators are not effective negotiators. One way to reduce anxiety is to reframe the conversation from “negotiating” to “asking.”  Negotiating sounds aggressive and intimidating to many (especially women), and therefore many people opt out of it. Asking sounds more friendly and collaborative. Research shows that using the word “asking” instead of “negotiating” makes people more willing to initiate the conversation and eliminates gender differences between men and women.

The second part of mindset is “aiming high.”  You’re in the game to win, not to lose by as little as possible!  In one study, negotiators who set an ambitious goal for the negotiation and focused on that goal achieved outcomes 20% better than negotiators that didn’t have that mindset. 

So do your homework, know what a good stretch goal is, and set your mind to achieving it. If it’s a good stretch goal, you will not get everything you asked for, but you will get a lot more than if you hadn’t set the goal in the first place.

Think Broadly and About What You Value

Prof. Joshua Weiss
Harvard University
United States

You know that salary will be a part of the negotiation, but what else do you value? What else is important to you that you can ask for? Some examples include flex time (working less typical hours), remote working (even when things get back to normal), babysitting services if you have children, or a more powerful title. Thinking this way, you can add a lot of things that people often overlook.

Quick example. I had a friend who was negotiating a job offer, and the employer had caps on the amount they could pay. This meant that he could not negotiate what he felt was a more reasonable salary. We talked and I asked him what else he valued. He thought about it and said, “Well, my computer just died so if they could give me one, I would not have to lay out the money to buy a new one.” I told him to ask for that as part of the process. He did and they gave him a computer.

Be Ready to Answer the Salary Question

Prof. Catherine Rousseau-Saine
McGill University

Job offer negotiations often start right at the end of an interview when the recruiter asks the interviewee “What are your salary expectations?” It’s a tricky question that one often wonders how to answer. Here is a two-step approach:

  1. Prepare. Estimate your salary range by (1) looking at comparison points (the average salary for this role level, for your level of study or for similar accomplishments/experience, etc.), (2) asking yourself what salary would meet your needs, and (3) identifying what other elements than the salary are important for you (job title, responsibilities, paid/unpaid vacations, etc.).
  2. Be assertive but show flexibility. Since the salary question is often asked when no job offer has been put on the table yet, you want to show some flexibility while taking the opportunity to anchor the discussion around salary. I normally recommend answering salary questions as follows: “The salary I would be looking for depends on a number of things that I value, such as the exact responsibilities of the role, vacations, etc. A salary in the range of $85k-$95k would provide adequate compensation for my skill set, experience, and what the job entails.” This answer signals to your potential employer that you have an idea of what you are looking for but are open to finding ways to expand the pie during the negotiation.

Get the Best Job Title

Prof. Dr. Kasia Jagodzinska
University of Neuchâtel

Have you ever noticed how proudly people present themselves in business interactions? A title becomes your professional identity card. It reflects your status, as well as the investment and sacrifices you made to get to a certain level. A job negotiation consists of a jigsaw of elements. A savvy negotiator will place the job title at the top of the list of their demands.

The title you kickstart your career with will be your springboard to your next position. Many search engines are designed to pick up on keywords. If your CV lacks those words, interesting opportunities may pass you by.

Titles reflect expertise power. They designate you as a person who holds expertise in your field, and as such can increase your external credibility. This can have a substantial effect on the way that others perceive you.

Lastly, labels are a self-fulfilling prophecy. The acquisition of a specific title will lead to a modification of your behavior. You will carry yourself differently. A sophisticated title will make you want to live up to all the connotations related to its rank. A title is an obligation to fulfill certain expectations linked to the role. Remember that the title affects the mind, but do not let it go to your head.

Persuade Using Your Value Proposition

Prof. Emily Hunter
Baylor University
United States

There is a wrong way and a right way to ask for more money. Wrong ways include demanding with no explanation or begging for more because you have student loan debt or bills to pay. This is what I call throwing yourself a “pity party” and it has no place in job negotiations.

Rather, a good salesperson knows that to convince their customer to buy their product, they have to give a value proposition. They have to show their customer there is value added if they buy this product and that this value impacts the bottom line. You are the product and you are selling yourself to this company.

When you make a specific counteroffer asking for a higher salary, follow it up immediately with clear, persuasive reasons that you have prepared and even rehearsed for why you bring value to their company. You need to be able to express what skills or experience you bring to the job that will add value, and the more quantitatively you can express your value to the company’s bottom line, the better.

Where do we go from here?

I introduced this article with data showing how prevalent negotiation avoidance was. Here is the good news, though. Among the 4 working adults out of 10 who did negotiate their job offer, 94% reported getting what they wanted. The remaining 6% expressed no regret.

Negotiating a job offer is not hard, it’s mostly scary. Don’t psych yourself out, especially if negotiating is something new to you. Set yourself the goal of going through the steps detailed in this article and go for it. If you get what you want, congratulations! If you don’t, you’ll have tried and that’s what really counts.

To conclude this article, I want to thank all 5 negotiation professors for contributing their best advice for job offer negotiations. Please follow them on LinkedIn to read more about them!