Why Job Offer Negotiations Go Wrong

Conventional wisdom for negotiating job offers may not always apply. Our experts advise how to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Yvonne Dutchover landed a job offer complete with the salary she was expecting. There was one hitch: the copywriter position at a computer hardware company came with just one week of vacation time.

"I have two young children in school and one week is unworkable," Dutchover tells Fast Company. "I got them up to two weeks, and asked if I could take another week unpaid."

After nearly a week of silence, Dutchover noticed that the job had been reposted. Just to be sure, she emailed and asked if the offer was rescinded. It was. "They didn't tell me my request wouldn't work, but when asked they said they had decided to pursue other candidates."

Conventional career wisdom strongly advocates negotiating, especially for a higher starting salary at a first job, which studies show could net an additional $500,000 over the course of a career. Recent data from Salary.com indicates that 87% of employers won't pull a job offer following negotiations during the interview.

That leaves a 13% potential pool who may not welcome the ask for more—money, time, or benefits—even if, like Dutchover’s, the request appears reasonable. Is there a way to tell if a negotiation will slash your chances completely?

Find Out What's Feasible First

Another rule of thumb when applying for jobs is to wait until an offer is made before you start talking money. Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders, observes that it’s not uncommon for recruiters and hiring managers to ask for the applicant’s salary requirements during an initial phone screening.

She recommends coming in to that conversation with data on the going rate for the position. Resources such as Salary.com, PayScale, and TheLadders can help determine that based on location, industry, and company size. "Choose a number slightly below your target so you make it past the phone screen and on to the next round of interviews," she says.

If the offer comes in below the going rate, Augustine says there may be a little wiggle room to ask for more. "Unless you’re dealing with a nonprofit organization or small family business, there’s usually between $3,000 and $5,000."

Don’t Listen To Your Parents

They’re your biggest fans, no doubt. But mom and dad are biased when it comes to how clever and talented you are. Kevin Mercuri, president and founder of New York City-based Propheta Communications, recalls a time when he was interviewing for a junior level associate. One of the candidates tried to haggle for $10,000 more than the offered $45,000 salary.

Unfortunately, says Mercuri, the young man couldn’t provide a valid argument for the bump in pay except to lament the cost of living. To back himself up, Mercuri says the applicant forwarded an email from his father saying, "You’re worth more, demand it."

Mercuri says referring him to the forwarded email showed lack of initiative. "Had he provided a reasonable argument, I would have still considered him," Mercuri asserts, "His sense of entitlement and lack of preparation killed his chances. Our industry is wildly competitive and to have killed his chances at the 11th hour was painful to behold. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." 

Check Your Ego at the Door

Jane Perdue, principal with the Braithwaite Innovation Group, cautions: Don't negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. "This isn't the time for ego," she says, "Know what your own bottom line is, how in demand you are, and act accordingly."

Perdue remembers a time she offered a vice president position to a candidate who was so self-assured it "bordered on arrogance." Perdue says he said, "Well, baby, that piss ant offer tells me you know nothing about negotiating. Who in charge can I talk to?" Perdue pulled the offer.

"Negotiating is both art and science," she explains. Candidates need to gauge chemistry and tone, during the interview process. "Don't be confrontational or condescending," she advises, "Ask where there's room for flexibility. If you have the right skills and are the right fit, there's room for negotiation. The 'how' you handle it is just as important as the 'what.'"

Not Always About the Money

A new study from BambooHR discovered that among the more than 1,000 U.S. employees surveyed, new hires are more interested in whether the potential employer can offer mentoring and on-the-job training than perks like free food and games.

Augustine says it’s important to ask lots of questions during interviews to help get a handle on the organization’s challenges and needs, so it will be easier to sell them on investing in your value to solve problems, cut costs, or bring in more revenue, etc. If your counter offer on salary doesn’t suit them, she says the ball is in your court. "You can attempt to negotiate for intangible benefits such as a company phone or professional development opportunities."

For those still wondering what to do, Donna Svei over at the Avid Careerist offers this handy chart to plot your course.

As for Dutchover, she’s now happily ensconced in a new job with a more flexible time-off policy.

[Image: Flickr user Valery Kenski]

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  • Tyler Dukes

    Great collection of advice, thank you. Going rate of the position is very important, but you should also know your own fair value in the market. Check out sites like GlassDoor to get salary ranges as mentioned, but also get your crowdsourced salary prediction based on your LinkedIn profile at Salary Fairy (http://salaryfairy.com).

  • Douglas Haase

    Don't Listen to your Parents??? Great advice Lydia?????????????????????????????

    Once again the demise of the tightly bond for people interested in great families and guiding our children... speak to excellence not succumbing to a failing society.

  • that company failed the test. I mean it's only 1 extra week out of 52. Even worse they failed to communicate that they did not want you. My tip here if still really wanted to work for them - would have been much better not mentioning he saw the ad for the job up again, and just asked them if they were still interested, and remind them of his key selling points.

  • Great tips, and love the chart by Donna Svei. Maybe the junior associate candidate could come back with, my dad will kick in $5,000 if you will...

  • There's a free iPad app called zopaf for finding the "zone of potential agreement" between interviewees and hiring managers. You input salary, benefits, and intangibles to get a graph of possible packages that would satisfy both you and the employer. http://www.zopaf.com

    Disclosure: the company I work for, Zco Corporation (http://www.zco.com), helped develop the app for the creator.