The Art of Negotiation

By Kathleen Brady, CPC

The compensation package you draw at one association can set the pattern for the level of income you can command when negotiating with future employers. The terms you agree on will have a far-reaching impact on your entire career, so it is important to master the art of negotiation. It is not unusual for the difference between the earnings of two individuals to have far less to do with skills and talents than with each person's ability to negotiate.

Avoid the trap of viewing negotiating as an adversarial process with winners and losers. Think of it instead as individuals working together to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. It is more than trading with others for the things you want: It is discovering ways you can work together to produce positive results for everyone involved.

The first step is to have realistic compensation expectations. Some people have an exaggerated notion of their worth to prospective employers. At the other end of the spectrum are those anxious job seekers who assume that by putting a low price on their skills they will stand a better chance of getting a job offer. If you don't think you are worth much, neither will an employer. Grounded in your knowledge of the market value of the position and your ultimate knowledge of your quality, you should develop a preliminary negotiation tactic at the start of the job search process. You need to be able to articulate what you want specifically. Break down your financial and non-pecuniary needs into three categories:

  • It would be great to have;
  • I would like to have;
  • I must have.

But remember, you must be able to describe your worth in relation to the position that has already been defined. Your approach should always be employer-centered, not self-centered. Employers do not care that you have been unemployed for seven months; they do not care that you have $80,000 in school loans, or that you have a mortgage and two children in college. Those facts do not increase your worth.

Understand that before interviewing candidates, employers have established a predetermined budget in their minds for the salary that they would like to pay. This figure, of course, is most financially beneficial for the employer. Most employers have some flexibility to negotiate salary, particularly for higher-level positions, but, contrary to popular belief, everything is not negotiable. Many employers have rigid pay systems—particularly government agencies and some nonprofits that use the lockstep model of compensation. These employers try to keep salaries equitable within the organization by not paying anyone much above the norm. As the interview process progresses, the employer may consider altering the budget if impressed by the special skills or background of a particular candidate.

It may be at this point that you are asked what your salary expectations are, but be prepared because the salary question can crop up at any time during the job hunt, and it can come in many forms:

  • What is your current salary?
  • How much were you paid at your previous employer?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • What is the lowest figure you would accept?
  • How much do you think you are worth?
  • Why should we pay you more than other executives?

You must be prepared to discuss the salary question whenever the employer raises the issue. But remember, you should never ask about the salary until you are offered the job. Be careful. If you state a figure outside of the range the employer has in mind—either too high or too low—you risk having salary used against you as an easy, objective-screening device. That is why research during the early stages of your job hunt is so crucial.

Should the salary question arise early in the interview process and you feel you do not have enough information about the position, try to deflect the question:

  • I am unclear about the responsibilities of the position. Could you tell me a little more about…?
  • I'm looking for a fair market value for the responsibilities involved. I'd like to discuss that when I know a little more about what will be required and you know a little more about what I have to offer you.
  • My interest is in a complete picture. Salary is just one piece of the puzzle, which includes professional challenge, growth opportunities, benefits, work environment, and commitment to the organization’s mission. For the right position and association, I'm confident we can come to terms. What about xxxxx? (Redirect the discussion.)
  • Or, if said with good-natured humor, you might be effective by asking: Are we starting negotiations? Do you have an offer in mind?

Be careful when using humor. If you use the wrong tone or body language, intended humor could come across as obnoxious.

Another technique you could try is to turn the table:

  • Do you have a range in mind, and, if so, would you mind telling me what that is?
  • What is the normal range in your association for a position such as this?
  • What would the range be for someone with my qualifications?

By getting the employer to state a range first, you can then place the top of this range into the bottom of yours. For example, if the employer's range is $80,000-$100,000, your range should be $100,000-$120,000. Be prepared to articulate why you are worth the salary you are seeking.

If you cannot get the employer to reveal a figure first, try saying:

  • From my research, I learned that the range for marketing directors at associations in New York City is ________. Does this fit your expectation? (Or, Is this the range you were considering?)

Notice this has nothing to do with the salary you are making now. Rather, it focuses the employers on the requirements of the position and on what a fair market value is for equivalent work. If there is an obvious gap between the ranges and your salary expectations, don't simply end the conversation. Go back to criteria and get off of the subject of salary. Try something like:

  • Maybe I didn't understand the requirements of the job. (Restate your understanding of the position.) Is that a fair description of this position, and are there other requirements? From what you have told me about your needs, I was thinking my skills and background in xxxx and yyyy (pick something that emphasizes the unique contributions and spin you would bring to the job) would be an asset, do you agree?

Emphasize the level of skill and talent you bring to the table by citing achievements and using statistics, comparisons, and even testimonials to support your case. In other words, state your value. You need to explain why the employer will benefit by paying you more money than the predetermined budget.

Remember, the value of what you have to offer depends on the perceptions of the person or people you are negotiating with. To strengthen your negotiating stance, determine what the employer values and respond accordingly. Discovering what the other side wants is crucial to arriving at satisfactory agreements. Build a strategy that focuses on working out the best agreement for everyone.

You can affect—positively or negatively—the way you are positioned in the minds of those with whom you negotiate by the attitude you project. Confidence is an extremely important asset. Focus on clarity and precision in your speech. Skillfully asked questions can transform negotiations from an adversarial conflict into a partnership. Phrase inquiries in positive, non-threatening terms. Start with open-ended questions and move on to narrower, more direct questions. Once you have asked a question, sit quietly and listen to the response. Then, state your position firmly. Carry yourself with confidence, and position yourself as a person with negotiating power.

Throughout the negotiating process remember to constantly reinforce the perception that you are excited about the offer and that you want to take this position, even if you are disappointed with the figure. You do not want the negotiation to be an argument but rather a way that you can get to the place where you want to be in order to accept the offer. Remember, your strategy is to get to your top figure in a way the employer thinks is fair.

If you are unhappy with what has been offered, it is appropriate to come back with a counteroffer. The key is to emphasize the benefit to the employer of paying you more. Perhaps if the employer cannot meet your salary expectations, you may be able to convince the employer to give you credit for superior academic performance, past careers or skill sets. Perhaps you can convince the employer to create a new position that would better accommodate your skills, interests, and abilities, as well as meeting the employer’s needs. If new to the association and nonprofit world, keep in mind the employer may want proof of performance before feeling justified in giving you the income you want. Request a review and increase in six months based on your ability to meet a preset goal. Demonstrate your confidence in your abilities by saying something like:

  • Let me prove I am worth this. I would be happy to come in at this salary if you could agree to review my performance in six months.

Even after you are clear about the offer and are pleased with it, it is in your best interest not to accept the job just yet. Take time to reflect on what has been agreed upon:

  • This sounds terrific. I'd like to think it over to make sure we have covered everything. What is your timeframe? When would you like my response? OR
  • I am very excited about the offer. Can you tell me what your timeframe for a reply is?

It is common professional courtesy for employers to provide candidates with at least 48 hours to consider an offer.

If you are waiting to hear from other employers, contact them immediately and let them know you have an offer and would like to clarify your application status before you make any decisions. A second offer in hand could enhance your bargaining power. However, never lie about having another offer. While the lie might work, it could backfire and create ill will if the employer ever finds out. When you compromise your integrity, you demean your value to others and to yourself.

Finally, don't leave details hanging. It is often amazing how two people sitting in the same room can have quite different perspectives concerning what was agreed upon. To ensure that everyone is clear, you may want to summarize by saying:

  • So, as I understand it, I will be expected to (restate your understanding of the position) in exchange for (restate the compensation package offered).

It is important to know when to stop negotiating and start the job. Reaching common ground and setting the stage for mutual respect and cooperation may be more important than the few extra dollars you might be able to obtain by playing games. Having your priorities in place will help you decide which things you are willing to sacrifice in the negotiating process. Always be mindful about how this negotiation might affect future relations.

Kathleen Brady, CPC, is a career coach and corporate trainer with more than 25 years of experienceIn . GET A JOB! 10 Steps to Career Success (©2013, Inkwater Press) she shares her secrets for navigating the job search process from start to finish as well as practical exercises for job seekers at every level. She can be reached through her website at