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Write your resume like a pro.

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Guide to Negotiating the Best Overall Compensation Package

Negotiations of all kinds can rank among the most stressful conversations you can have in your lifetime.

Negotiating a compensation package is no different. A part of the reason for that is that negotiations can be inherently adversarial. Another factor that contributes to the stress and the pressure is that we are not taught how to negotiate, particularly about the money. Many professionals don’t have the skills to keep the compensation discussion constructive and moving forward. Some are afraid to compromise the opportunity by appearing to be greedy.

The good news is that negotiating is a skill like any other. You can learn it through practice, reflection and more practice – no different than riding a bike, swimming or typing.  

Here is your primer to negotiating a compensation package for your next job.

1. Make sure your negotiating points are reasonable and well-supported.

Coming into the conversation with clarity on your personal best-case outcome will help you judge progress and steer the negotiation. By all means, ask for what you want and need – but be certain that your requests are reasonable and well-supported. Look at the average market salary for similar positions, consider your own salary track record, and think through the ROI and the impact you will have on the employer’s business. Numbers pulled out of thin air are likely to get shot down. Numbers backed up by research have a chance to stand.

2. Try to avoid negotiating with HR.

That may or may not be possible in your case, but my advice is to negotiate directly to your future boss if you can. Quantifying the value you will add as an employee is much easier if you are dealing with concrete examples – and no one has a better understanding of desired improvements and impact than your future manager.

3. Be clear on your absolute minimum.

Just as you have considered the best-case scenario, think through the point of no return. Most professionals have a non-negotiable minimum package, and won’t consider opportunities below that level of compensation. Be clear on what your acceptable minimum looks like.

4. Have a strategy for dealing with counter offers.

It is not unusual for the compensation negotiations to go back and forth several times until an acceptable compromise is reached.

If the company comes back with a counter offer, which addresses your major must-haves, take it. Haggling on minor points may not be worth compromising an opportunity.

If some of your critical compensation components are not in the company’s first counter offer, present your own counter offer. Aim it to land somewhere between your original offer and the company’s first counteroffer. Keep your non-negotiables, and consider compromising on other points.

5. Remember that prolonged haggling over little details is a bad sign.

If the ping-pong of counteroffers is going on for an extended period of time, take that as an early sign of what it will be like to work at that company. Consider a big-picture look at the most recent version of the offer. If it does not include the points that are critical for you after several rounds of back and forth, perhaps it’s time to pursue other opportunities. If you are fighting over minor details to make a point, you are setting yourself up for an adversarial relationship with the company.

6. Your goal is to get an agreement that has both parties thrilled to begin working together.

Remember that the negotiation is not about one party getting the upper hand. It’s about finding an arrangement that makes the company and the candidate happy to begin working together.

Sometimes, negotiations on the base salary and bonus can lead you into a dead end. Maybe the company loves your candidacy but genuinely does not have the budget to pay you more right now. Remember that the overall compensation package is bigger than just your base salary and bonus! Here are some ideas on valuable components that you can negotiate into your offer.

  • Title. Let’s face it, Client Relations Manager sounds better than Customer Service Representative. Consider the existing structure of the department, and research industry practices before you propose changing the position title. If you can, present it as a benefit for the company – after all, your title will affect your interactions with customers, and through that their experience with the company.   

  • Guaranteed severance package. In an uncertain economy, having a guaranteed severance package at the start of the job has value. This is particularly relevant if the company or the industry you are considering is in distress.

  • Additional vacation days. A company may not be able to budge on your salary – but how about adding a week of vacation to your package? Paid vacation days have value, too.

  • Clothing stipend. You can make a good argument for this if you will have a client-facing role where you will be expected to have a rotation of nice suits. You would want to represent the company in the best possible way, and looking nice is a big part of your professional image.

  • Child care expense reimbursement or subsidy. Many companies offer child care subsidies and even affiliated child-care facilities.

  • Commute reimbursement. If the position will require driving or taking public transportation, ask for a full or partial reimbursement. Mileage, gas costs or monthly pass expenses can all be valid ways to calculate your expense.

  • Housing subsidy. This is rare, but if your position requires many late nights, you may consider asking the employer to help pay for a hotel room or a corporate apartment. Having a place near the office to rest and shower can go a long way towards your productivity the next day!

  • Your own office. There is a world of a difference between working in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, and having an office with a window that lets in the sun. You may not get a brand new gorgeous corner office, but anything that helps create a better working environment for you is a win.

  • Continuing education expense reimbursement. Your employer would want for you to continue your professional development for the benefit of the company and its customers. Formal continuing education, including CE courses, an advanced degree and license renewals all contribute to your ability to grow as a professional.

  • Coaching. This is a newer addition to the possible perks, but professionals in many industries have used it with great results. Consider negotiating an allowance to use towards professional coaching as you step into your new role. A great coach can shorten your learning curve, help you create a professional network that gets things done, and support you in getting up to speed and becoming effective and productive quicker.

  • Flexible scheduling/telecommuting/working from home. In this age of technology, you can set up a virtual office anywhere as long as you have a cell phone, a laptop, and a WiFi connection. Consider presenting your track record of productivity and effective teamwork while working remotely for best results.

  • Earlier compensation review. Sometimes, your hiring manager might be limited in what he can offer a new hire, but he can be open to an accelerated performance review schedule. By negotiating the option of a performance and compensation review after your first 6 months on the job, you get a performance-based opportunity for a pay bump, and the company gets the benefit of paying for proven performance.

  • Better equipment. Whatever tools of the trade you use, a better computer or software package can make a difference in how productive you are during your work day. If equipment matters to you (and it usually does), consider asking for an upgrade.

As with all compensation-related negotiations, remember about the tax implications! Just because something is not coming to you in the form of cash does not mean it’s not taxable. When in doubt, talk to a trusted CPA.

I would like to wrap this up with one final piece of advice. Don’t agree to anything that you won’t be happy with in the long run. It is better to walk away from a negotiation than to accept a compromise that leaves you disgruntled before you start the job.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!