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Five Steps to a Successful Negotiation

Guest Post by Lena Bottos, CCP, Salary.com Compensation Market Analyst

Everything is negotiable. Or so the saying goes, but is it true?  Is everything negotiable?  At work, many aspects of your job are still negotiable. When done well, a solid negotiation will result in a win-win situation for both you and your employer and will get you closer to your dream job. Whether you’re looking for a new job or just trying to get more compensation for your current job, good negotiation is essential to attaining that ever-elusive ideal deal. 

 Step 1: Reflect

Look in mirror and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. Two of the biggest mistakes people make when negotiating on their own behalf are to ignore their failures and weaknesses and to underemphasize their accomplishments and strengths. Make a list of each and commit it to memory. Your existing employer is already aware of items on both lists, so use the strengths and be prepared for the weaknesses.

Tip: Individual strengths and weaknesses are valued differently job-by-job. If you’re interviewing for jobs, highlight your most relevant strengths for that job. Also, if you’re looking for a raise at a current job and you're concerned about a specific weakness, look for ways to address that weakness such as training programs, books, or even asking your boss for advice before the negotiation itself.

 Step 2: Prepare

Nothing can sour a negotiation more than an ill-prepared employee or candidate. If you are trying to negotiate for a higher salary, do your research and find out what an employee like you should be making. Talk with recruiters, your peers and visit salary websites, such as www.salary.com. Also make sure that you have a good understanding of the company’s policies on the salary or benefits for which you are negotiating.

 Tip: Gather and organize all necessary documentation and facts, such as transcripts, prior reviews, current salary, and salary expectations, so that you don’t have to struggle with facts and figures during your negotiation.

 Step 3: Prioritize

Many people overlook that fact that total compensation is made up of numerous components – it's not just base pay. You’re more likely to get what you want if you know what you want most. For some it's base pay. For others (e.g., sales people), commission rates are more important. Entrepreneurs will focus on stock or stock options. Still others, such as second wage earners, find health benefits or flexible work schedules are the most valuable component of compensation.

 Tip:  Knowing what’s important to you sounds simple, but it requires some thought. You might even find it worthwhile to give up on something less important to get something more important.

 Step 4: Present Your Case

Make an appointment with your manager or human resources department – preferably before budgets are set and reviews are done to give the employer an opportunity to plan ahead. Discuss point-by-point what you can bring to the organization as an employee and take time to highlight specific major achievements or special skills. Make clear to the employer exactly what your compensation expectations are and why you deserve them.

 Tip:  Be careful to use only business-related reasons for deserving a raise or benefit increase. Not being able to take the family vacation you want is not a valid reason for deserving a raise. Also, be sure to connect your past achievements and future abilities to the manager’s (and company’s) goals. This will help put a value on what you can do.

 Step 5: Negotiate!

This is where you and the employer discuss what you have presented. In today's sparse job market, chances are you’ll have to make a few sacrifices when it comes to negotiating a deal. It is therefore important to define ahead of time the minimum salary and other compensation figures you are willing to accept. You will need to gauge the employer’s willingness or ability to negotiate. It’s okay to be firm about stating your requirements after an offer has been made, but remember that the company has its own requirements as well, so a certain amount of compromise is necessary for both sides to achieve their goals. 

 Tip:  It is important to stay level-headed during this meeting. Your negotiation is just a conversation between two parties looking to achieve a common goal of either employee acquisition or retention. Companies want happy, productive employees and the negotiation process highlights the specifics of what is needed to get you there.

 Always: Follow Through

An important part of the negotiation process is discussing your abilities to deliver outstanding results. Do it. Your best negotiating leverage next time around is to over-deliver on the promises you made to get the raise or job offer. Remember, even in a down economy, the top performers will be taken care of.