Tough Negotiating for Tough Times

PayIf you’ve ever read the lists for Top Ten Stressors, losing your job or looking for a new one is right up there with life altering events. After finding that dream job, you hold your breath hoping the right amount of money is offered. That little stressor is guaranteed to give you hives, insomnia or worse, little crow’s feet right around your perfectly smooth eye-area.

Relax. Chances are if your strategy is in place, you’ll end up getting the dollars you want or at least, pretty close to it. You’ve got to know at this point in your career, that there are ground rules to the negotiating game. Some of those rules work and some, well, let’s just say because nothing in life is a guarantee, they’re good to know about anyway.

1. When asked the salary you are seeking, don’t give a range as it gives employers permission to offer you the lowest amount. Many legal professionals say, “I’m seeking between $85 and $95,000” and are taken back if they receive the lower figure. It’s much better to say, “I’m looking for around $90,000”, or, “I’m seeking the upper $80’s.”

2. Never lie about your current salary. There are three things employers can check: dates of employment, reason for leaving and salary.

3. Get your hands around current survey data. If you are offered an amount below market, you might say, “According to recent salary survey information, this offer/raise is slightly below market. How can we work together to bring the up the base?”

4. Do not respond with close-ended statements such as:

a. This offer is less than what I earn now.

b. I would like the compensation part of the offer re-evaluated.

c. Can you change the salary?

d. The base salary is lower than what I expected.

There’s no room for negotiation. You’ve responded negatively to probably a well-thought out offer/raise. It is better to respond:

a. I appreciate the pressure you must be under. I would like to find a way for us to resolve one area of concern. I’m hoping that the firm has some flexibility.

b. Thank you for this insightful offer/raise. However, there is one remaining issue I hope we can resolve together.

c. I have some concerns about the level of assignment compared to the corresponding pay. Can you clarify a few things for me?

5. You also might say:

a. Given your need for someone with my background and given my interest in this firm, can you share with me how we might exercise some flexibility?

b. How can we reshape this compensation package?

6. If you still can’t get them to come up try:

a. In what ways can we redefine this offer/raise?

b. Other than compensation, can we think about changing the nature of this offer/raise?

7. You might be able to negotiate additional perks instead:

a. A better or private office

b. Additional vacation

c. Credit for more experience with the firm

d. Salary in lieu of health insurance (perhaps your spouse has you covered)

e. Better or stronger title (You can leverage it for more money.)

f. Continuing education

g. Salary review in 3 – 6 months.

You are taking a risk when you start negotiating. Employers may say no or even, while rarely, withdraw the offer. But if you accept an offer knowing that you are not happy, you’ll probably be looking to leave in a very short time.

Decide what your acceptable range is. Factor in current salary; market rate; location (some regions pay less); firm size; market conditions; practice specialty and level of assignment.

Don’t expect to go much higher than current market unless you have an exceptional skill you bring to the firm.

Walk in prepared for a collaborative discussion, not a fight. A decision to accept is based on many factors. Salary is only one. Make an intelligent, informed decision. Above all, don’t go to the session with an “all or nothing” attitude. You’ll be defeated easily.

If you are leaving too much on the table, leave the door open to be reviewed in 3 to 6 months. Ask for a salary not a performance review. If you do get the firm to commit to a mid-year review, get it in writing. Three months down the line, it will be difficult for the reviewer to recall exactly what was said, or it’s even possible that the same person will not be in that position.

Portray a positive, confident, easy-going legal professional and above all, don’t issue an ultimatum. They aren’t effective. If you are working with a headhunter, for heaven’ssake, make sure they are skilled in negotiations!

Nothing is worse when the headhunter does not understand what you want. If you are negotiating on your own, here is a greatopportunity to get involved in the process. Only you can take your career where you want it to be.