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Careers Café

The job offer: driving a hard bargain


It has been about five years since Careers Café started, and we’ve addressed a few before-and-after scenarios: how to explore career options and search for a job before you get one, and some tips for being in a job more happily once you’ve found work.

So, why not talk about topics pertaining to the job offer itself, that sweet transition from unemployed to employed?  Maybe it’s the sugar high from all the Hallowe’en candy, but I’m feeling optimistic.  And optimism is a good frame of mind from which to negotiate.

Happily for the non-optimists among us, it’s not the only beneficial frame of mind.  Gratitude helps more than you might expect.  Responding to a job offer with gratitude, as you start your negotiations, accomplishes a couple of things at once.  It reassures the employer that you’re interested in the work itself, and not just on salary, benefits and perks.  And it can help bring you closer to a happy medium if you’re either anxious that negotiating might offend the employer, or frustrated that the offer wasn’t in line with your expectations.

If you’ve been a perpetual volunteer, you probably fall into the former category of those who worry that negotiating is inherently offensive.  Stating your appreciation for an offer is about as far removed as you can get from being offensive.  Something like, “I’m so glad you see this as a fit, too.  I’m particularly interested in [one of the tasks that most appeals to you], especially given [the work you’ve done that most prepared you for that task].”  Then go ahead and let them know that your research suggested a fair salary range would be somewhere between X and Y.  Ask what they can do in that range, and give them some silence in which to ponder what you’ve said.  There’s no need to rush in with more words or justifications just yet.  Give the other person a chance to think first.

The same opening to negotiation can help if you feel offended by the offer.  It buys you some time to consider whether you’re feeling offended because the offer is unreasonable, or whether what you’re experiencing springs from the nature of the job search itself.  Unless you’ve achieved the sort of luck that should have you rushing out to buy a lottery ticket, the job search involves rejection, and lots of it.  It can make you feel like people think you’re substandard, your experience is irrelevant, and the degrees you’ve devoted your intellect, time and energy to are not being adequately recognized.

It’s easier to end up at either extreme of the unworthy/offended spectrum if we identify with only one aspect of the more comprehensive whole that an employer might see.  And if you’ve just spent years working on one or more graduate degrees, and experienced different levels of nay-saying along the way, those degrees become a tempting lens through which to view ourselves.  Chances are good that the employer is interested in a bunch of things: overall attitude, skills, knowledge acquired, trainability, interpersonal fit – and possibly educational credentials.  An employer’s offer will be based on their view of what you can bring to them, not on their view of you as a person, or their view of your degrees on their own.  And so, negotiations needn’t be based on how you feel about your degree, but on your eagerness to do the work that lies ahead, and on how well you plan to do it.

But do negotiate, because the employer’s offer may well also be based on their desire to get you to work with them at the low end of the “reasonable offer” range, if possible.  And they may well be willing to move up from there.


Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. Melissa / November 4, 2015 at 16:01

    Thanks for this. I’m concerned, though, about the lack of attention in this post to the gender politics of negotiation, and of any acknowledgement of the current research that suggests that women nearly always face a penalty for negotiating, even if it is with other women. The techniques that women need to use in negotiating in order to avoid this penalty are quite specific, and more women should be aware of them. Bowles, Babcock, and Lai’s study is a good starting point:

    • Liz / November 29, 2015 at 16:34

      Thanks, Melissa, for your feedback, and for the link to Bowles, Babcock, and Lai’s study. It is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, and the penalty for not negotiating can have long term financial effects. I’d still argue that anyone negotiating should aim for the combination of “warmth and competence” that the authors describe as appealing and non-threatening, and that it’s better to provide evidence for why one is an excellent candidate, rather than to request the top of a salary range, as in the scripts used by Bowles et al.

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