4 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer

Getting a job offer is a very exciting time. It often comes as a huge relief after a prolonged period of emotional and financial stress for you and your family. It feels like massive weight has been lifted from your shoulders. This is one of the reasons why so many of us mishandle this very important final step in the job search. We so badly want to secure the job that we are afraid to do anything that might make it go away. We rush to get the deal closed as quickly and quietly as we can because we just can’t bear the thought of screwing it all up at this point. It’s a completely understandable fear. Understandable … but unwarranted, and very bad for your career.

As a hiring manager I have the opportunity to make job offers all the time. I’ve also received a few offers myself over the years. I’m surprised how consistently candidates either don’t negotiate at all or approach the offer negotiation stage without a proper plan. If you’re not completely comfortable with negotiations – don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Here are some tips I’ve used over the years to get the most out of job offer negotiations without putting the offer itself at risk.

Let’s start by making one very important first point: You should be negotiating 100% of the job offers you receive. There is no scenario where not negotiating is ok. I realize it can be easy to convince ourselves that negotiating adds risk or might offend the future employer, and a host of other reasons to avoid it – but they are all wrong. You need to negotiate your job offer. There are two major reasons why this is the case. Reason number one is that if you don’t negotiate, you’re virtually always accepting the employers low ball offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something like, “Ok so we’ll offer 65K and take 70K if she counters …” Basically every offer is made with a contingency buffer of 5%-10%. You need to take advantage of this buffer or you’re just leaving free money on the table. The second reason you should always negotiate is that not negotiating sends a very bad message to your prospective manager. As a hiring manager, I want my future staff members negotiating – it tells me they are serious professionals who know how to communicate their value and have the strength to fight for it. There are so many practical applications of negotiation skill in almost any job whether it’s negotiating priorities with internal teams or negotiating terms with a vendor or customer. Negotiation is just a basic professional skill we all need to develop. In fact, each time I make an offer and the candidate doesn’t negotiate, I worry if I’ve hired the wrong person. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s true. The good news is if you negotiate correctly, you introduce almost no risk into the equation and reap all the benefits.

Here are 4 basic rules I use to guide my job offer negotiations. Try them out next time you have the chance.

1.    Keep it friendly and constantly reaffirm interest.

I first learned this valuable lesson when I was travelling in Egypt and Morocco after university. The market vendors there have a magical way of negotiating extremely hard but making you feel good about it the entire time. A practical lesson you can take from that is to constantly reaffirm how excited you are about the job while you’re asking for better compensation. By contrast, one thing you should never do is use feigned reluctance as a bargaining tool. “Playing hard to get” is one of the absolute worst things you can do when negotiating an offer. When I counter an offer I find several occasions to reiterate just how much I want the role and just how perfect I think I am for the job. And I never use ultimatums. You want to create an image in the mind of the employer that this is the perfect match for both parties and all that stands in the way of a win-win is a small concession. If you keep negotiations positive and avoid presenting ultimatums or binary decisions you never have to worry about the offer being pulled. This is vital to being able to negotiate with confidence.

2.    Always present a package of options.

Most compensation packages have several components to them and most employers have a variety of vehicles by which they can affect compensation. It’s a mistake to fixate on any one offer component when you negotiate. Too many of us focus too much on base salary. For example, we will respond to a base salary offer of 50K with a base salary counter of 55K. The problem with this approach is twofold. First off you haven’t provided a very good opportunity for a win-win resolution to the negotiation by framing it as a binary decision i.e. either you give me exactly what I want or you don’t. And secondly you aren’t giving the employer enough flexibility to be able to easily accommodate your request. By making the offer decision binary you’ve painted the employer into a corner. This is level one negotiating. Level two negotiating is about creating a package of negotiation points so the employer can pick and choose and customize a revised offer that gives everyone a chance to win. For example, rather than the counter a base salary of 50K with 55K, I would say something like:

Thank you very much for the offer. I am extremely excited for the opportunity to work with the company and I’m confident I can make an immediate and positive contribution. In terms of compensation specifically, I’m hoping we can find a way to create a package that is more in line with my skills and experience, and that can work for everyone. I would very happily execute an offer that contained the following amendments:

  • Base Salary: $52,500

  • Annual Performance Bonus: $5,000

  • Sign on Bonus: $2,500

By presenting a package like this you've done a bunch of very good things. First off you’ve given yourself a chance at the home run i.e. that they give you everything you’ve asked for, which in this case goes far beyond the 5K increase you would have otherwise requested. Secondly most of the increase you've asked for is in the form of bonuses which are contingent on you achieving a certain level of success. This takes the risk out of the equation for the company and gives you the chance to earn more money. Lastly, this gives the employer the chance to reject parts of your counter while still giving you a win i.e. They can reject the sign-on bonus and the base salary and you still end up with 55K or they can reject the performance bonus and you also end up with 55K. There are many more paths to success with this approach. One final detail to mention – notice in my example message that I don’t position this counter offer as an ultimatum. I only say how happy I would be execute the offer if certain things were amended. I make no mention at all of what I might do if they don’t acquiesce. This allows me to stay confident in my negotiation strategy and not worry that they might walk away. My worst case in this scenario is that they’ll say no to the changes I proposed and I’ll have to stick with the original offer. Whereas if I had framed it as “I can’t accept this offer because of xyz,” I’d be introducing a bunch of risk into the equation unnecessarily. Stay positive and don’t make ultimatums.

3.    Never … ever negotiate vacation time.

I won’t spend too much time on this one but it’s something I feel quite passionately about. You are much better off negotiating for more salary or bonus or stock options than negotiating on vacation. People who negotiate for more vacation send a very clear message that have a poor work ethic. I’ve had several occasions where I chose one candidate over another solely based on this point. Do not, under any circumstance negotiate your vacation time – find something else to ask for.

4.    Don’t negotiate live or over the phone.

This is another one I personally feel strongly about though I’m sure some people may disagree. I never negotiate live or over the phone if I can help it. The reason is I want to think very carefully about everything I say and ask for. I want the benefit of time to consider an offer before countering and to craft my response in the best way possible. Having to respond in real time presents too many opportunities for mistakes and doesn’t give me the time I need to build a thoughtful counter offer. If I’m presented with an offer in person or on the phone I’ll just politely ask for 24 hours to speak to my spouse about it and then respond via email later. An important point here is that I don’t ask for time to “think it over” because that sounds too negative – like maybe I don’t want the job after all. I prefer to ask for time to speak with my family about it because that is a perfectly reasonable thing to request and sends no negative message whatsoever.

The 4 Best Business Books I've Read this Year

One of my personal goals for 2015 was to read one book a week. In my opinion we all need to be investing more time learning and expanding our expertise and spending a little less time focused on the day to day minutia of our jobs. I talk about this at length in my own book; Stealing the Corner Office. In addition to this personal goal for 2015, I also had a professional goal to evolve from being a good individual contributor and a so-so manager to being a great manager. So far this year I’ve been killing two birds with one stone by reading a crap load of management books. I’ve read 12 thus far.

I’ve listed the books I’ve read in 2015 in order of how much I enjoyed them and how much impact they had on me. For the most part these are all pretty solid books which shouldn’t be too surprising since I selected them from other people’s top 10 lists. I will say however, the top 4 on this list are absolute must reads for business professionals, aspiring managers and entrepreneurs. These are the kind of books that when you finish them you feel simultaneously happy that you’ve read such a great book, remorseful that it took you so long to read them, and sad that the experience of reading them for the first time is over. Truly great books.

Absolute Must Reads:

Solid Business Books:

  • High Output Management
  • Purple Cow
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
  • The Personal MBA
  • Eat That Frog
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

This book by Ben Horowitz spoke to me like few business books ever have. Rather than focus on success with the revisionist lens like so many other books of this genre, this one sheds light on the impossible choices and devastating failures we really have to navigate on the path to business greatness. I absolutely loved this book.

American Icon

A really entertaining business book by Bryce Hoffman. This one reads more like an adventure novel than a collection of best practices which makes it captivating and useful. I spent a lot of time reflecting long after I’d put the book down on how I can adopt some of Allan Mulally’s practices in my own career. This book inspired me to want to be a better manager.

The Strategy Mindset

This one from Dr. Chuck Bamford is probably the most succinct playbook I’ve read on building and executing strategy. The book is quite short but in a good way. It cuts through all the crap and myths about business strategy and crystalizes it down some absolute truths. Unlike some strategy books that give you some hints but leave you hanging, this one gives a very precise framework you can easily implement in your own business. If you like reading about business strategy, I’d recommend starting here.

Disciplined Entrepreneurship   

A very practical book for entrepreneurs by Bill Aulet. I especially liked this one because it provided a real framework for approaching the start-up process. A lot of the other books in this category are too fluffy in how they describe entrepreneurship – this one gives you a real process. One way I know it was a good book is that I told myself immediately upon finishing it that I better remember to go through it again if and when I start up my own business.

If you've read any of these books i'd love to hear your thoughts. Send me an email or add a comment below. Also if you've read any other great business books lately let me know so I can add them to my list.

4 Tips to get a Promotion this Year

There are three questions I get asked over and over again by friends and readers who care about advancing their careers.

  1. How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion or raise?
  2. How do I deal with a colleague who seems determined to F up my life?
  3.  How do I re-brand myself so people take me more seriously at work?

Over the next few weeks I’ll go through each one of these to give you some tips that have served me well in my career so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way. Since it’s a new year and we’re all still feeling positive, let’s start with #1:

#1: How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion or raise?

The phrasing of this question is actually a great place to start. More often than not the promotion question contains phrases that sound a lot like these:

  • How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion?
  • How do I ask my boss for a promotion?
  • How can I make my boss recognize that I deserve a promotion?

If you’re thinking about the promotion process along these lines i.e. as something you have to pitch, show or make your boss do, I’m afraid you’re already heading down the wrong path. In fact, the biggest mistake I see friends and colleagues make when it comes to promotions, is that they treat them as a point in time event - a binary decision or pitch to their boss. This strategy will get you nowhere.

It doesn't help matters that so many career blogs and workplace columns focus so much time on the importance of bringing in data to support your case, preparing your pitch for a promotion etc. They’re all missing the point.

The single most important thing you can do to get a promotion is to stop thinking about it as an event or a decision, and rather turn it into a journey you go on together with your boss.

I've never asked for a promotion in my life but I've had several. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, when it comes to promotions, you have to play the long game to make them happen fast.

So how does that work?

When you frame your promotion as a journey, your boss can never say no:

If I walk into my boss’s office tomorrow and ask him to promote me to President, I’m putting him in a very difficult spot. I’m unnecessarily forcing him into making a binary decision which will more than likely result in a “no”. There are just too many reasons for him to reject this style of pitch. The timing may not be right, there may be someone in the job already, the budget might not be there, and my skills might not be adequate. By forcing him to make a discrete yes or no choice, I’m inadvertently hurting my chances for a promotion and I’m also risking the relationship I have with my boss by putting him or her in such an uncomfortable position. Making your boss uncomfortable in the promotion discussion is exactly the opposite of what you want.

The secret to getting promotions is to get your boss on your team – rooting for your success. When I’m working towards a promotion I want my boss to be my biggest cheerleader – I want my promotion to be a day he celebrates with me, not a day where I finally get him to capitulate. Turning the promotion conversation into a journey means that you reframe the conversation away from a “yes” or “no” decision and towards a “what will it take for me to get there and how can you help me” conversation – which is almost never met with a “no”. A journey, unlike a binary decision, carries no defined date, which means you’re only asking your boss to join you on a path towards a promotion which you’ll define together. This is fundamentally different from “asking” for a promotion. It turns the promotion into a win-win scenario for both parties. You give your boss the opportunity to define all the criteria and skills he’d like in his ideal candidate and you get absolute clarity and buy in on what it will take for you to get there. This approach might seem like it will take a bit longer but it’s infinitely more effective than forcing an on-the-spot decision.

Here are three ways to get your boss to join you on your promotion journey and become your biggest cheerleader:

1.       Tell your boss what you want 12 months or more before you actually want it.

This one may be frustrating for those of you who are dying for that promotion right now, but you need to be patient. The earlier you engage your boss in the promotion journey the sooner it will happen for you, but you just can’t force it.

2.       Engage your boss like a friend and mentor – not like an adversary.

People respond well to being approached as a mentor. Don’t make the promotion discussion overly formal either, keep it friendly. You want your boss to WANT to help you get there. By not forcing her to make a decision on the spot and by soliciting her help as you work towards your goal, you’ll accomplish that.

3.       Don’t focus on dates – focus on skills, deliverables and development.

You need to re-frame the promotion conversation to be about you achieving specific development milestones. Maybe you need training or you need to improve on a particularly metric or deliverable.  You need to work with your boss to set up a list of achievements that when met will mean you’re ready. This puts you in the driver’s seat and in control of how long it will take to get promoted.

4.       Maintain a regular dialogue to understand your progress towards the goal.

This doesn't need to be formal – in fact I recommend it isn't. But one way or the other you need to be talking to your boss about your progress at least once every couple of months. Do not let it go for six months or a year and then bring it up again all of a sudden – that’s just making the same mistake all over again. And when you do talk to your boss about it, keep it light, let her know how good you’re doing on your journey but don’t push it too hard.

If you’d like to read more tips for getting promotions check out my recent article on careerealism.com

 

5 Secrets from a Hiring Manager - Tactics to Get Noticed and Get the Job

Part 1:

This week I'm going to do a blog series on how you can stack the deck in your favor when looking for work. In this first post I'll set the lay of the land, which I'm sorry to say is quite grim for anyone approaching a job search using conventional tactics. They just don't work anymore. So i if you've been out of work for a while or you just can't shake the feeling that your job search or interview strategy needs tweaking, this blog series is for you.

Before we get started, if you haven't read it already, I highly suggest checking out my blog on building a resume that will separate you from the pack. You should also grab my visual resume template for Microsoft Word. Its the resume template I use. In fact I used it recently to beat out a ton of competing candidates to land my dream job.

Get my resume template for Microsoft Word

Looking for a job is one of the hardest things we have to go through in our professional lives. All of us, at one time or another have to do it. And if you believe the recent statistics, most of us are going be looking for work every couple years from here on in. It sucks. There’s no way around it. And at the risk of rubbing salt in the wound, it’s getting harder every day. The game has changed.

I interviewed a candidate recently who revealed something to me that has had me seriously vexed for a few weeks now. He had applied for 1,100 jobs, received 25 phone interviews, 6 in-person meetings and got 2 offers. ELEVEN HUNDRED?!?! This is what you’re up against these days – job seeking superbots playing the numbers game to get hired. And don’t get me wrong – I commend them for doing it. They’re taking advantage of technology and putting in incredible amounts of time and energy to find work so they can support their families – good for them. But what does this mean for your job search? How will you possibly stand out when so many candidates apply for every job?

The simple answer is ... you won't - not using the same old approach that worked for you even three years ago. Its gotten to the point now where you need very specific and unconventional tactics at every stage of the job search process in order to sufficiently differentiate yourself from the hoards of competitors you're up against for every job. Here are the five phases you have to get through to get a job in most companies:

Phase 1 - Getting Seen: A friend of mine recently applied to 10 jobs on LinkedIn and told me several weeks later only 1 of the 10 applications had even been read. How are you supposed to make those numbers work?

Phase 2 - Jumping Out of the Pool: A recruiter friend of mine told me she spends about 30 seconds scanning each resume she reads to create the first pool of applicants to screen. What do you need to do to make your resume stand out in 30 seconds?

Here's a great blog on this topic.

Phase 3 - Pass the Phone Screen: This is an easy one if you know how to play it but many of us don't know the right tactics to get past the initial screen. How do you make sure to check all the boxes in a screening interview?

Phase 4 - Ace the 1st Interview: Typically this is with the hiring manager. I've done hundreds of these interviews and I've seen some very common mistakes being made. More importantly I have some tips on how to double your chances to get out of the first interview alive with a great chance to get the job.

Phase 5 - Impress at the 2nd Interview: Usually this includes various team members and potential peers in the company. To be successful here you need a special set of tactics to convey the right image and take advantage of the consensus hiring approach.

There is no question the job search is harder than ever and you need to step up your game if you want to improve your chances of getting your dream job. There are specific strategies you need to embrace at each phase of the process to increase the probability of getting deeper into the hiring process. The more often you can get out of the applicant pool and into 1st and 2nd interviews, the more offers you're ultimately going to get.

Check back later this week and i'll give some of my secrets for "Phase 1 - Getting Seen" and "Phase 2 - Jumping out of the Pool".

New Boss? Company Acquired? 3 Tips to Take Advantage of Change

In my experience, the greatest moments for career advancement come in times of uncertainty and disruption. I know this sounds counter intuitive but its very true and something most of us overlook or won't admit. During highly tumultuous periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities are actually at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. In these chaotic times, roles change, departments get reorganized and objectives and power shift. If you execute strategically you can find many career advancing opportunities. If you operate emotionally (like most people) you can lose out on your best chance to get ahead. While your peers are rebelling to change and worrying what the future may hold, you need to be executing your advancement strategy. Here are some tips for how to embrace change from the book Stealing the Corner Office:

A very important first step is to create a Change Playbook so you can take advantage of these moments when they present themselves. I find it helpful to document my game plan when I see big changes coming. The process of actually writing my plan down helps to remind me how important it is to be consciously executing purposeful tactics during these periods versus reacting emotionally.

I recently met with a business partner who confided in me within an hour of meeting him that he had a new boss he couldn't stand. He just couldn't figure out how to deal with him and he and the rest of the team missed their old boss immensely. As much as he delivered the polite version of his plight, it was pretty obvious that he and his peers were not handling this change scenario well.  A management change is almost universally mishandled by staff who fight against what has already taken place in some naive hope their discontent can actually reverse time. In this case, when your peers are all gossiping and griping about the evil new boss, you should be actively networking with him or her and finding ways to be helpful in the transition. Getting on the winning side of change is as much about choosing to play on the winning team as it is about any specific strategy. Having a positive attitude and aligning yourself with the eventual winners are your keys to success.

So when change is afoot, I jot down a few key notes in three basic areas to guide my behaviors. It reminds me that my goal is to get ahead in the company and not to vent my emotions or misgivings about the situation. Here is a sample of what that might look like:

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

The first area I focus on is my Influencer List. It has most likely evolved as a result of the change that has occurred. I make a quick list of who the key players are and who can most profoundly influence my success or failure in the new environment. My only caution is not to let any personal misgivings cloud your assessment of who actually has power and influence. Sometimes we can convince ourselves power hasn’t shifted when in fact it has.

The second thing I take note of is what key transition projects are likely to take place or have been scheduled already. I want to be a part of these and will do whatever I can to participate. These will come in the form of process alignment meetings, systems integrations, best practice sharing and a variety of other events. They all have the goal of smoothing the transition from the old way to the new way. You will participate on these committees and in these meetings ostensibly to help in the transition most importantly you’re tactically demonstrating leadership and networking with the winning team.

The final area I make note of is how I can advance my position during the change period. Specifically, what actions I will take to proactively improve my status. This can include things like booking a meeting with the new boss to understand her priorities and challenges. It might be taking one or two new people out for lunch or dinner after an acquisition. It can be the small things and conversations that reveal the best opportunities for career advancements in a highly dynamic environment. If you see yourself doing the same old routine, or trying to ignore the chaos around you – you should stop and get involved.

The most important thing in taking advantage of change scenarios is your attitude. Get on the winning team. Do the opposite of what the masses are doing. Find opportunities to demonstrate leadership in the face of disruption which will often be present during this times. Get strategic during turmoil and you will rise to the top.

Here are three quick tips that will make sure you embrace the changes everyone else hates and ultimately end up on top:

  • Make a change plan. You need to actually write down what your plan is or your emotions will likely get the best of you. Jot down some tactics when a major transition occurs to force yourself to act strategically and not emotionally.
  • Pick the winner with your mind not your heart. Make an objective assessment of which side is likely to come out on top and join that team. If someone has just bought your company or has just taken over your department – choose that team. Don’t fight against the winning side.
  •  Leave your ego at the door. If you execute the correct change playbook, people will make fun of you and tease you for being a suck up. Ignore them. Your career is not about making friends, it’s about advancement.