By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners
Originally published by Forbes.
If you are conducting a job search, you may be fortunate enough to have a choice amongst multiple job offers, assuming you have been able to manage the timing of these job offers to arrive within a reasonable period of time (ideally within a two-week window). If you plan on leveraging these offers to get the best possible deal for yourself, be sure to employ the following strategies — some of which apply, regardless if you receive one offer or several.
Give general guidance. When the hiring manager or recruiter signals to you that they are putting together an offer for you, be sure to provide some general guidance as to what is most important to you so that any negotiations will have a more advanced starting point. You might indicate that you prefer your compensation to be more heavily weighted in your base salary, versus bonus or equity, or perhaps vacation time is especially important to you, etc.
Determine your “Yes” package. Know in advance what the package looks like that you would be excited enough to say ‘yes’ to it on the spot (which you should not actually do — always negotiate!). This exercise is for benchmarking purposes, so that you can assess each offer relative to this internal reference point and to each other. This ideal package should also include non-financial components that might be important to you. For example, you might value being able to work remotely, career development opportunities, etc. Think holistically about the various components that an opportunity entails.
Express excitement but keep a poker face. Upon hearing the news of the offer and its various elements, it’s good to express appreciation and excitement for having received the offer. After all, it’s nice to be wanted! However, do not say anything that would indicate your evaluation of how good the offer is or your inclination to accept it. You might say, “Thank you so much for the offer! I’m really excited to have this opportunity. Let me take some time to digest this. I’m sure I’ll have some questions and will get back to you so that we can set up a time to discuss then.”
Signal that they are not the only one. Just as you were previously competing to receive an offer for the role, once they’ve given you the offer, your potential employer is now competing for your acceptance of that offer. The hiring manager or recruiter might press you to get your initial impressions of the offer. Without making any evaluative statements, you can say, “This seems like a credible offer. I really appreciate the time you’ve spent putting this package together. As you may know, I am looking at some other opportunities, so I will see how this compares and will get back to you soon with my questions.” This is a gentle reminder to them that they are now in competition for you. This is enough of a signal to encourage them to go back and prepare what else they might offer to sweeten the deal.
Determine your preference. All else being equal (if the offers were identical), where would you prefer to work for the next few years? Much of it may boil down to your values and the company’s culture. Where will you be happiest in your daily work? Do your best to tune out what other people think you should do and identify what is most appealing or interesting to you.
Identify leverage points and prepare open-ended questions. Let’s say you’ve received offers at Company A and Company B for comparable positions. Company A’s base salary offer is 10% higher than Company B’s. All else being equal, suppose you’d prefer to work at Company B. Instead of asking Company B, a closed-ended question like “Can you match Company A’s offer?”, opt for “What more can you do in terms of salary to help make this an easy decision for me?” once you’ve let them know another company has offered 10% more. Open-ended questions do not limit the other person to what they might share or offer in return. They are prompted to play a hand. They might exceed the other offer, not just match it. Or, they may provide other sweeteners or perks to the package that you didn’t ask for to further entice you.
Note: It does not matter at all if you don’t want to work at Company A, nor are you under any obligation to reveal the name of Company A to your contact at Company B. If pressed, you can say something like, “It’s a company of similar size in an adjacent industry” or other similar high-level description.
Practice. There are several effective negotiation strategies you can and should employ. Practice with them. Negotiations can be anxiety-inducing, multi-faceted, and quite nuanced. Practicing with a coach or a friend can help to you prepare for various responses from the employer and different scenarios that might arise. Useful feedback can help you get your tone and word choice right. Make notes of the specific points you want to make and language you want to use.
Don’t waste people’s time. Don’t negotiate with a potential employer if you aren’t interested in the job and have no intention of accepting an offer there, no matter how much they sweeten it. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and you’ll create ill will. As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use those offer terms from a company that you are not interested in as leverage in your negotiation. It’s a valid data point of how much another company values your contribution.
Start with your top choice. A job offer negotiation can take a few rounds of discussions. Start the actual negotiation process with your preferred employer to allow them more time to get to the finish line (ideally, your “Yes” package or as close to it as possible) in the event they need time to get additional internal approvals to increase elements of the offer.
Be patient. Recognize that requests for additional compensation and benefits may require further approvals. That’s okay. By saying something like, “I completely understand that you may need to have additional internal conversations to get approval,” signals that you’re not in a rush (i.e., you are in a position of power now that you have the offer) and this will also buy you some time during which you can have conversations with the other potential employer(s) you are considering.
Keep your cool. It’s entirely possible that one party you are speaking with will be offended, or even take it personally, that you are talking to more than one company and aren’t replying with an unequivocal ‘yes’ to their offer. Don’t react to their reaction or take it personally. Stay calm and help them to see your perspective. Evoke empathy by saying something like, “I’m sure you can appreciate that this is an important choice for me, as it impacts my career, my livelihood, and my family. I want to take care to get this right, which I’m sure you’d do as well if you were in my position.”
Decline the other offer(s) gracefully. Once you’ve made your decision and have the final offer in writing, it’s best to turn down the other offer(s) live versus by email or text, which are passive and impersonal mediums, given the nature and extent of the discussions you’ve had by now. You can share, “It was a difficult decision that I put a lot of thought into. Ultimately, I felt that another opportunity was a better fit for me at this stage of my career. I really appreciate the time you’ve spent with me, and I’m glad to have connected with you and a number of other people at the company, and hope our paths will cross again down the road.”
While the luxury of having competing job offers can create additional stress, it’s always good to have choice. By following the strategies above, you can make the process more manageable and less anxiety-inducing, while achieving an optimal outcome.