Six Strategies for Negotiating a Job Offer

Two people sitting at a table shake hands

For sure, the job search process is demanding, with resumes to write, networking to conduct, and interviews to prepare for. 

Just because you land a job offer, though, doesn’t mean the long process is over. In fact, one crucial step remains, one that can leave some feeling uncomfortable and others unsure if they should even attempt doing it: negotiating. 

“While some are born negotiators, it can be awkward for others and tempting to forgo the conversation altogether,” says Brenda Kostyk of the Hoffman Family Undergraduate Center for Career Development at Babson College, which The Wall Street Journal named as the No. 1 school for career preparedness

Salary is an obvious issue to negotiate, but there are a host of others, including benefits, flexibility in work hours, and job responsibilities. “There are many aspects to consider with students when we meet to discuss negotiations,” says Kostyk, the center’s associate director of identity, ability, and wellness partnerships and advising. 

For college students mulling over their first job offers, or anybody in the throes of an employment search whatever the stage of their career, here are six strategies for negotiating a job offer.  

1. Ask a Simple Question 

Before you even begin negotiating a job offer, consider a simple question: Is this a position you really want? “We encourage students to think deeply about the opportunity to make sure it aligns with their interests, values, and goals,” Kostyk says. 

Given how long and arduous the job search process is, the temptation may be to take the first offer that comes along and be done with all the hassle. College students often are confronted with job offers early in their senior years. An excellent performance in their summer internship, for instance, may elicit an offer, and students may be eager to take it to ensure a worry-free last year in college. 

Kostyk points out, however, that much can happen during that last year. Students are still taking classes, meeting people, and developing interests. A job that looks good at the start of senior year may not look so good months later at graduation. “You are still growing and developing,” she says. “There is a lot of change that happens over your last year of college.” 

2. Stay Professional 

While candidates should feel free to negotiate for what is important to them, they need to be professional while they do it. This isn’t a time to be demanding or cutthroat. 

“What you say, and how you say it, matters,” Kostyk says. “Professional communication demonstrates respect, consideration, and a collaborative mindset. It reflects the ways in which you will interact with colleagues, clients, and people in general. It speaks to your character.” 

Making unreasonable requests or using a disrespectful tone will not help your negotiations. In fact, it may force a potential employer to take a pause in hiring you. 

“It doesn’t hurt to ask. Employers expect that candidates will negotiate. It’s a typical part of the offer process.”
Brenda Kostyk of the Hoffman Family Undergraduate Center for Career Development at Babson College

3. Do the Research 

When offered a job, you’ll need to do a little homework. First, look at the proposed salary and make a budget for yourself. Consider your rent, loans, transportation, etc. “What is your lifestyle? Create a budget and estimate what your expenses will be,” Kostyk says. “Will this job’s salary cover everything?” 

Next, check sites such as Payscale, Glassdoor, and and see if the proposed compensation is in line with the market (Babson students also can peruse career outcomes data for recent graduates). Then, armed with your research, you can make a counteroffer. “Be prepared with a number,” Kostyk says. “If you are requesting additional compensation, you need to state what the number is and the reasons why.” 

Companies may have strict parameters for salaries, and so they immediately may reject any counteroffer, but that’s OK. “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Kostyk says. “Employers expect that candidates will negotiate. It’s a typical part of the offer process.” 

4. Look Beyond Salary 

Don’t simply focus on salary when negotiating a job offer, Kostyk says. Think about work-life balance and what is most important to you.  

Consider whether a company’s workplace and culture will be a good fit. Check resources such as the Corporate Equality Index, the Disability Equality Index, and Forbes’ America’s Best Employers for Diversity. Candidates could ask to meet their future team or request a list of employee resource groups. 

5. Nail the Timing 

Timing is important in negotiations. To limit back and forth messages, Kostyk encourages candidates to put together a comprehensive list of questions for their potential employers and set up a mutually agreeable time to ask them. “Be respectful of the employer’s perspective and time, knowing that they have internal budgets, timelines, priorities, and likely other candidates to consider,” she says. 

If they’re trying to fill competitive positions, companies may give candidates a short turnaround, say 48 hours, to consider their offers. Such short timelines could raise a red flag. “It tells you that this is a fast-paced, competitive environment,” Kostyk says. “If that throws you, it probably won’t be for you.” 

Speaking of timing, it also matters for candidates who have a job offer on the table but are waiting to hear from other potential employers who have not decided on hiring yet. If students remain interested in a role that they have already applied or interviewed for, Kostyk says they should not be afraid to reach out. “I encourage them to contact the employer to emphasize their continued interest, along with the fact that they’ve received another offer,” she says. “Inquire about their flexibility to accelerate a decision on your candidacy.” 

6. Take the Long View 

Finally, when negotiating a job offer, consider the long view of where your career is headed. “Think beyond the current role and reflect on its potential,” Kostyk says.  

The position may not be your dream job, but it may serve as a valuable steppingstone to getting there. In the negotiations, ask about the skills you want to develop, the network you want to build, and the increased responsibilities you may want to attain. 

“Asking these questions as part of your negotiations strategy,” Kostyk says, “will help you assess your priorities in the context of your long-term career goals.”

READ MORE about how Babson can prepare you for your dream job. Check out Babson Thought and Action’s ongoing series on career preparedness: 

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