Recently, I was asked by a client to help coach his wife through a job interview process. She was interviewing for a position as a general counsel – the internal lawyer for a very large company. She had deep experience in the corporate world; like most senior executives, it had been a long time since she had taken part in an interview process.
We did a lot of work together. I helped her to do all the necessary prep work and role-play practice before each interview, and I also debriefed with her after each interview. (As is normal for an important position such as this, there were several interviews with several different groups.) Fortunately, she was offered the job. When she shared with me that she had been extended an offer, I asked her what she was going to do. Without hesitation she said, “I’m going to accept it!”
My next question was: “Why?”
She shared with me all the reasons she had for taking the offer. Chief among them was the fact that the offer represented a nine percent base salary increase over what she was making now.
I asked, “Why do you think nine percent is enough?”
She stared at me, uncertain of how to answer. She asked me what I meant. I continued: “Well, what else is available? Not just in money, I mean, but also in benefits, vacation time, that kind of thing?”
It was like a little light had gone on inside of her head. She nodded, and we started discussing a counteroffer. My question had started the process of negotiation between her and her prospective new employer.
Why do I share this story with you? Because as a CEO, executive, recruiter, or job candidate, we are in negotiation situations periodically, but we may lack negotiating intelligence in career discussions. There are three primary areas that I see professionals struggle with during job negotiations; each can be overcome with focus and effort.
The first is what I call the “Inner Game” of negotiation. This includes understanding and modeling the critical behavioral traits of strong negotiators.
- Conflict acceptance.They are comfortable with conflict and don’t avoid it. If you think about negotiation in its pure sense – one person wants something and another person does not want to give that up – you realize conflict is inevitable. If we instinctively avoid conflict, then we’ll retreat, and may not even try to negotiate, even on our own behalf.
- Ego acceptance.Those entering into a negotiation situation who do not believe in themselves will struggle under pressure. Having confidence in our abilities and core values will strengthen our mindset and improve our negotiating outcomes.
- Emotional composure. Negotiating discussions can be emotional. Our ability to stay mentally and emotionally calm during a negotiation will keep us from reacting under pressure and help us respond in a way that neutralizes any emotional responses from our counterparts.
The next area that many people struggle with is asking questions. The individual who is asking the questions is in control of the conversation. Not only that: that individual is gaining valuable information and therefore creating leverage that can be used later in the negotiation. A few of the most popular sources of leverage that you can gain an understanding about through asking questions are:
- Time. Time is probably the most important area of leverage. If you truly need something ASAP, then your ability to negotiate a better deal is seriously compromised! Likewise, if you’re not in a hurry and the timing is inconsequential, then you’re in the driver’s seat.
- Need. Who needs it more? As an executive searching for the right employee, do you need the position filled quickly? If so, then you’re in a position of weakness to wait for the best candidate. If you’re a candidate who can pick and choose from among multiple job offers, or stay where you are, then your need is low. That’s a negotiating asset for you!
- Relationship. I often ask my clients this question: “Would you negotiate harder or softer with someone with whom you have a strong relationship?” Most people tell me they would negotiate softer. Consider the consequences of this. We have to be aware of what kind of relationship we have with our counterpart, so we can determine whether we have leverage we can use during negotiating discussions.
Lastly, I find that most hiring executives who do not negotiate on a regular basis do not know how to respond to an “ask” from a candidate. Typically, they make two big errors. The first is instantly saying “no.” As you might imagine, this does little to make the person feel like part of the team or company. The other big mistake I see is instantly saying “yes” – without getting something in return.
Being a strategic negotiator means investing some time planning your negotiating and concession matrix. It means you have taken the time to list out what you’d like to receive and what you’re willing to give up – or add to the mix! Understanding professional concessions does not always mean you are giving something up or taking something away. It may be more important to add something to the deal, provided certain criteria are met.
For example, let’s pretend you made an offer to a candidate who came back and asked for a $5,000 increase in base salary. Of course, you want this candidate, otherwise you would not have made the offer, but simply complying with this request may not be the best move. A well-prepared counter-offer might sound like this: “I appreciate that you came back and asked for more base salary. Here’s what I’m willing to do. At your 6-month review, provided all is going well and you’ve met all your objectives, I’ll be happy to give you a $7,000 raise.”
There are a lot of options at your disposal to ensure that your concessions will help you to build the relationship with your counterpart. The key is taking the time to look at your priorities ahead of time … and set up a written list of requests and concessions. That’s what serious negotiators do in company-to-company negotiations, and it’s what we should be doing in job-interview negotiations as well.
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