Lots of people give advice about the best way to negotiate for a job. Most of that advice is focused on how to get the most you can, and to position yourself for success once you start your job. It turns out that you can also learn a lot about your future employer by the way they negotiate with you. Here are three important things they reveal about themselves.
What do they value?
A negotiation is all about resolving a conflict in goals. Your prospective employer is going to invest in you, but they have many other employees and many things they can spend their resources on. And, of course, you have needs of your own that need to be fulfilled.
Invariably during the negotiations there are are some places where they will give you what you want, and others that are sticking points. Those places where you get pushback from the firm are a good indication of where goals diverge.
You want to pay attention to these points, because they are likely to come back up again repeatedly in the future. What exactly are they reluctant to give you? Try to find out why. The answers to your questions can teach you a lot as well.
Suppose, for example, that they hold the line on your starting salary. You might want to interpret that as penny pinching, which would be a bad sign for your future. But ask a few questions. Some firms are sensitive to salary compression. New employees often come in with high salaries compared to people who have been there for a while. They may value equity among employees. They may limit your starting salary in order to keep everyone on about the same amount of money. You may still disagree with this approach, but it is a different explanation from the one you might have come up with, had you not asked.
Are they collaborators?
There are different ways to approach a negotiation. A common one is to work dimension by dimension through your offer. Find an acceptable salary, paid time off, benefits, etc. Occasionally, the organization will also find trade-offs across those dimensions. You might care more about your start date, and they might care more about paid time off.
But the really difficult parts of negotiations come when there is a real impasse. You might need a certain amount of time off in order to take care of a child or a sick relative. They might want to limit paid time off because they have a series of new clients whose projects need to be completed over the next 18 months.
The question is whether they are willing to treat the negotiation as a problem-solving process. Rather than just talking about the dimensions of the offer, do they ask why you are asking for what you want? If they strive to understand your needs, then they can propose alternative solutions that might get you what you want in a way you did not anticipate.
Perhaps the company has a partnership with a great preschool nearby where you can visit your child during work hours. Or they might give you a chance to work flexibly to take care of a sick relative. If they are open to a variety of solutions to achieving your joint goals, that bodes well for the way they will treat you after you start working.
Will they help your career development?
Invariably, a negotiation will also lead to discussions about your career path. You may not make exactly as much money as you hope on Day 1, but they may give you an indication of when there are promotions and raises in your future.
One thing you want to listen for is the way they will help you to advance. Is there an education benefit? Does the company have regular training for employees? Are you likely to be groomed for future positions?
One way to get a sense of whether the company is going to teach you things you need to know is how they negotiate. There is always an information asymmetry during a negotiation with a new employer. They know all of their policies well, and you don’t (no matter how much research you did in advance).
If they take advantage of that asymmetry, then they are not signaling a willingness to help you develop in the future. Alternatively, they may teach you about their policies. And if they do, they are letting you know that they want you to learn throughout your time with the company.