Mind the Gap - When Should I Negotiate?

This weekend I was fortunate to have the time available to attend the SWE Spring Conference in Minneapolis. Originally, I was set to be away for a portion of the day, plans changed, and I was able to attend all the afternoon sessions. I am so glad I did!

Kim Bartels from Corporate Executive Women Connect led a fantastic session titled “Best Practices in Negotiating." She did a wonderful job sparking dialogue around negotiating for yourself. She provided us all with best practices for effective negotiation at work and boosted our confidence. Kim also graciously let me provide my perspective as someone who’s been involved in hiring for most of her career. With many recent laws passed aimed at reducing pay inequities and employers making headlines for bold moves addressing the same, this topic was hot.

My biggest take-away lies in this quote from one of the participants:

“The uncertainty of the negotiation process creates a fear of the process”

This statement was an "a-ha!" moment for me. I’ve had a unique view of the salary negotiation process for most of my career. I’ve taken it for granted without even realizing it. It was a room full of engineers. Process is applied to almost every single aspect of their work daily. Offer negotiation and compensation planning are processes they aren't all that familiar with navigating. This unknown territory created fear! It became clear, I can help.

In my personal experience, there are several contributing factors to pay inequity. Negotiation tops my list. Yes, there’s more to it than this. That being said, time and time again women I’ve offered jobs did NOT ask for more when the men did. Sometimes women gave up just a bit more easily.

At the encouragement of some of the people I met, I’m beginning this series titled “Mind the Gap.” This series aims to remove uncertainty surrounding pay or benefit negotiation topics at work. I will provide my answer to questions I didn’t realize people even pondered. Anyone can benefit from this series. I will address the questions I hear most frequently beginning with those I heard in the room on Saturday.

Today’s question: When is the right time to negotiate during a job search?

In my opinion, always be negotiating. From the first phone call to the point of offer acceptance you have an opportunity to state what you want and/or need to consider taking that job with that company. Here’s a few key stages and some strategies I’ve seen be effective for candidates negotiating in each stage.

  1. The first conversation – My advice is address what is most important to you right away. As a corporate recruiter and a headhunter knowing what you need to be motivated and engaged in your work is important from the start. No one gains anything from spending hours in an interview process only to find out that you are miles apart on something very important to you. Here’s a statement you could make “Right now, I’m focused on roles that will provide me with the opportunity to achieve at least XXX in my next position. Will this position provide me a chance to do this?” This approach doesn’t lock you into anything. It represents your non-negotiable today. Determine your deal breakers and address them in conversation number one. It doesn’t have to be just money. This can be salary, bonus, team size, vacation time, travel, scope of work, future sabbatical, and more.

  2. The formal interview – I’d use this as an opportunity to learn the employer point of view. Some will be transparent, and others will keep you guessing. You’ve been warned by many experts not to bring up benefits or pay at this point? I’m not surprised, but you will lose a lot of time going on interviews that won’t give you what you want if you don’t address it early. A soft approach to learning more usually helps you keep a good relationship going. “Though XXX isn’t the only thing that matters, I want to make sure we are both making great use of our time. Can you confirm that you are able to at least provide XXX for whoever is hired to this role? What else are you able to share at this point?”

  3. The offer/pre-offer discussion –The most skilled hiring teams and recruiters will test an offer with you before they formally extend it. Either way, you know an offer is coming, or you have one! You’ve been upfront about what matters most to you in your next position. This is absolutely where you have the most power because you know they want you to join their team. Assuming you are equally excited this is when you really negotiate. If they are offering you everything you wanted, it will not hurt you to ask for more. If they aren’t you must ask. We rarely get what we don’t go after, so it’s up to you to look out for your interests. You should support any negotiation with real facts and information you’ve learned along the way. A common theme in the room, we struggle with some self-doubt when it comes to advocating for ourselves. Kim continuously reminded is that this is no time to be humble. Go for it! You've got this and you deserve it. The worst thing that is most likely to happen is you'll hear the offer is firm.

Only once in fifteen years have I seen an offer pulled because of a counter request. I think we were on different planets in that situation. This person asked for $30,000 more than ever discussed a full relocation package including buying their house AND a sign on bonus. None of these things were ever mentioned in the entire process. The company I worked for at the time decided to walk away. Success stories are more common for me. I’ve seen the following approaches work in varying situations:

Asking for more money: “I know when we originally talked about XXX I told you I was looking for XXX after learning more about the challenges I’d be tasked with, the hours I’d be working and the travel related to the role I believe the position is bigger than I initially believed it would be. I believe a fair offer is YYY” In response to “our current team is earning at this level and we can’t justify paying you XXX”: “I can appreciate the need to balance the pay across your team. I imagine, if that is where they are earning, you have a team with quite a bit of tenure. We both know that's offer is not truly representative of the market rate for this job. I’ve done my research and learned in CITY the average wage for POSITION in INDUSTRY is XXX my ask is firm. Do you think it’s fair that I should accept a below market rate because your current team is underpaid?”...ouch! It worked though. Getting financial needs met creatively: “I understand that I’m at the top end of the range for the position and can relate to the place this puts the leadership team, I’d accept XXX as a sign on bonus to make up for the difference between my ask and your offer and am willing to prove myself to earn the bonus pay and future promotions.” Getting more vacation: "I’ve got 15 years of related experience in an almost identical company doing a similar role with even less responsibility and get two more weeks of vacation than your offer. What do people with 15 years of service get for vacation in your company? I think it’s fair to ask for the same.” Getting flexible hours: “I am extremely excited about this job, I almost didn’t apply because of the location.It’s a one hour drive in rush hour.Can we adjust my start and end time to be outside of rush hour so I can spend less time on the road and more time being productive or consider 2 days of remote work?” If these discussions take place during what recruiters often call a “pre-close” it is absolutely the time to put your cards on the table. Pre-close conversations are what the best recruiters and hiring teams use to “test” an offer. They use the information you provide to go back to the hiring team and present their recommendations for an offer that will be enthusiastically accepted. This discussion is intended to be a pre-cursor to the offer so the recruiter can go advocate on your behalf and get as much as they can. If you’ve had a pre-close discussion with the hiring team and they are giving you everything you asked for, or more. Accept the offer! If you heard an offer without any discussion first, start the negotiations. Is the offer what you asked for? If not, it’s up to you to decide what to negotiate or if you want to negotiate at all.In some cases, the offer may be insulting. If they insult you, maybe you should just walk away. When you are clear about your expectations every step of the way and the employer decides not to offer you what you’ve asked for you deserve to know why. It’s up to the employer to tell you “this is a firm and final offer.” Until that happens, you can still negotiate. Be careful not to bait and switch the hiring team. Don’t change your expectations significantly after you’ve already shared them. Ask for the moon, ask for the stars, just make sure you stay on the same planet as the hiring team.

In my next post, I'll answer a question about pay ranges and how they are used.

Let’s continue the dialogue together. We all benefit from gaining perspectives of others who have different experiences. Share your feedback and feel free to ask questions for future posts.

We are better together.

#PayEquality #SalaryNegotiation

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