Negotiate carefully in today’s market

By Laura Raines, for the AJC

“There’s no harm in asking,” Mom always said.

But in today’s economic climate, employees and job candidates are thinking twice about negotiating for more money, benefits and perks.

“In tough times, many companies tighten their belts. Managers aren’t going to offer workers more out of hand. If you don’t ask, they aren’t going give it to you,” said Erin Wolf, managing partner of Suite-Track, an Atlanta leadership development firm for female professionals.

Erin Wolf is owner and managing partner of SuiteTrack, LLC, a company that “focuses on leadership development for women.” Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.

Erin Wolf is owner and managing partner of SuiteTrack, LLC, a company that “focuses on leadership development for women.” Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.


“The first step is to assess the timing. If jobs are being eliminated and no one is getting raises in your company, this isn’t the time to ask, but if others are being compensated better for similar work or getting the best projects, you should go for it.”

In the booming ’90s, employees held the upper hand; now employers have it, putting workers in a weaker negotiating position, said Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire and Good Morning American workplace contributor who will bring her national career expo to Atlanta on October 21.

“Many unemployed people are so relieved to get an offer that they say ‘yes’ immediately, and that’s a mistake,” said Johnson. “Conversely, I’ve seen offers rescinded because the candidate tried to negotiate too high. Companies tend to move on because there is so much talent out there.”

Johnson advised candidates to get offers in writing and ask for 24 hours to consider it.

“Study the whole package. Check several online salary calculators to see if the salary range is fair for the position and your level of experience,” she said. “Make a list of what matters to you—salary, working from home, or vacation time. Know what you’d like to change; then ask if there is an opportunity to negotiate.”

If the answer is “No, it’s a firm offer,” you need to decide whether you can live with it or not.

“But if the hiring manager asks what you have in mind, be prepared with your talking points,” said Johnson. “You want to negotiate based on the worth of this position, not your previous salary or experience. A higher degree isn’t relevant if the job doesn’t require it, for instance.”

Historically, men have been better negotiators than women.

“Men tend to equate negotiating with sports and competing and can’t wait to do it,” said Johnson. “Women often equate it with having a root canal —necessary, but uncomfortable. Accept that you may never achieve a level of comfort with the process, and do it anyway.”

Think beyond salary, Wolf said.

“To get where you want to go, you’ll also need to negotiate for those pitcher and quarterback positions [the standout roles] and projects that will increase your visibility and skills,” she said.

“When preparing your points, think win/win—don’t ask just for a project because it would be good for you. Point out why you are a better choice for the company. What do bring to the table?”

Talk with peers or mentors to asses the timing and to get a clearer idea of company policies and pay scales.

“If the timing is right, ask in person, preferably over coffee or lunch in a more relaxed atmosphere. You want to avoid your boss’ desk sitting between you,” Wolf said.

Never negotiate by e-mail. It may seem less intimidating than a face-to-face negotiation, but it’s also easier to say no on the page.

“A negotiation is getting to common ground. In person, you can pick up subtle cues, and may find you’re on the same page, or farther than you thought.”

If turned down, ask what you need to do to have your request considered later.

With so much uncertainty, emotions are running high in the workplace now, “but you want to keep emotions out of the negotiating process. Stick to the facts. When you’re emotional, you look more out of control and less professional,” said Wolf.

Negotiation is a critical workplace skill, but one you can learn and improve on with time, said Wolf. She recommends the book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” by Kerry Patterson, etc.

“If you want to get to the top, make a higher salary or get noticed by a better company — start practicing,” she said. “Practice when the stakes are low, and work up.”

One comment Add your comment

Ginny P.

October 18th, 2009
11:37 am

I definitely think it is important to not sell yourself short, I often take note of jobs that I have seen posted numerous times say in 6 month intervals, esp. if it is a low-ball poverty level salary and I have told the contact that they may want to rethink that salary level b/c someone will take it for experience and then move on after 6 months..