Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What's negotiable?

Lately, I've been trying to learn a bit about negotiation.  Specifically, what is negotiable at the start of a job.  I have a general sense that the starting salary is, but I don't know how I would ask for that.  I've also heard plenty of internet blabber that Everything Is Negotiable.  But at the very least, no one is going to want to sit down with the new hire and negotiate every little dumb detail about the job before they are clear you are pretty much onboard.  So I surveyed some friends and colleagues to see what is common to expect from a professional job, and what/how to ask for other things.

Basically, everyone said you should negotiate your salary, and this was across the spectrum of "Take'em for all their worth!" to "it never hurts to ask."  What was interesting to me what what was suggested as things to factor into this number.  A friend said, you have to get out of "Ohmigosh, I'll do anything to work for you!" sucker mode, and move quickly into, "My skills are valuable, and valued at X price."  But really, if you think of yourself, your potential, you as The Whole Package, it can be hard to distill all that into one number, especially when it's hard to gather objective evidence about your market value.

Several people (with enough work histories I am inclined to believe them) said vacation, health insurance and retirement aren't usually negotiable.  But I need to find out about them so I can adjust the required salary accordingly. Terrible health plan?  I'm going to need extra cash to make up for the fact that your competitors would include this in my package.  Several people recommended I look at and to be sure that the number was in the range for the position, and use this as the start point to add extra salary on to.

As for these other things, what can a professional still expect these days? Healthcare is a yes.  Hopefully details of the plan can be made available before just accepting that "Health Plan" = "Good."  There should be a 401K, with matching, most people said matching at 5% was standard (still), although it may take time to vest.  I heard 3-4 weeks of paid vacation.  I find that odd, since my husband only gets 2 weeks of "vacation time'" but he also gets another 10 days of holidays during the year.  I suppose it all works out.  The idea is, if an offer is lacking in any of these things, you ask for more salary to make up for it (since that makes for good leverage).  No one addressed how to respond if these were all above average- probably thank your lucky stars and keep your mouth shut.

I also asked about other things like parking, bus pass, gym membership and other random perks.  Most people said it's ok to ask for and about those things, but I should wait until the salary number is already lined up.  When the question of salary is still on the table, it seems like you might walk.  And it would be weird to turn down a job because you had to get your own bus pass, right?  Or worse, if you are fussing about the parking, you are cool with the crappy salary number, right? You often have more leverage for those little things at that point.  By the time an employer has gone through the HR hoopla to get you that far, they are keenly aware of how much they want you and need to make you happy to get you. Of course, if it was generally considered that these perks were valued by employees and available, they might think to mention it during the hiring process.  That being said, the corporate goon who hires me might not be aware of how amazingly liberating I think it is to work flex time, so I will ask rather than assume someone will tell me about this nonsense. If I have learned anything in looking for a job, it is that what is important to me as a job-hunter is not what is important to a potential employer.

And then tactics.  With luck, the employer will make the first offer, which gives you a number to start from.  Countering with 5-10% more (and valid, sound reasoning), seems pretty much expected.  Since I am terrible with arithmetic under pressure, I would make a table of annual and monthly salary numbers to compare with.  I also heard that it is ok to take day to think about it- do your due diligence, and prepare a thoughtful counter offer.  (Seriously? That's allowed??)  And the valid, sound reasoning for your counter offer should include other offers, previous salary, the accepted salary for the industry etc., not so much personal budget issues (I've got this HUGE mortgage).

That's what I've learned so far about negotiations.  This seems like a pretty key moment to have a spine and stick up for yourself, which isn't a good time to decide you dont't need one.  I should probably practice this stuff.

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