Key #1: Understand and Increase Your Leverage
In negotiation theory, the acronym BATNA describes your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Your BATNA is the best alternative if negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. Ultimately, strong negotiators don’t settle for a resolution that’s worse than their BATNA.
The higher your BATNA, the better negotiating position you’re in.
For example - let’s say you love your current job. The people are great, the work is meaningful, and you’re well-paid. However, a recruiter reaches out to you with an interesting opportunity. You start interviewing and eventually get an offer.
As you’re evaluating it, you’re naturally comparing it to your current role. Given that you’re very happy with it, it’s going to take a very tempting offer for you to consider leaving your job. This means your BATNA, or alternative to taking the offer, is high.
However - you might view the new offer quite differently if you hated your current job or weren’t working. This is the power of the BATNA!
It’s critical to determine your BATNA from the beginning of your job search and build systems so that you can stick to it. That might mean staying in your current job or building up your savings to reduce the temptation to accept the first offer you receive.
While it’s important to get your finances squared away, many professionals with financial security still end up settling for an offer that’s below their BATNA because they’re anxious about being unemployed. To avoid this, maintain an identity outside of work. This can include anything from a side hustle to volunteering on the weekends.
Here’s an example of how one of our clients used their BATNA to stay the course and ultimately get an offer commensurate with their skills and experience.
A product manager came to us after she’d been laid off and had started interviewing for new roles. She soon received an offer for a more senior role than she’d previously had. However, she picked up on some red flags along the way during the negotiation process. Thanks to the BATNA she established for herself (freelance work!), she was comfortable enough to decline the job and continue freelancing while searching for new roles instead.
Seven weeks later, she received an even higher offer from a better company!
Over time, holding your standards high creates financial value. If you don’t believe in the value you bring to an organization, you make it easier for potential employers to undervalue your skills as well.
Don’t Decrease Your BATNA
Once you determine your BATNA, stick to it. Don’t let lifestyle creep cut into your leverage. You have leverage to negotiate ambitiously by not needing to accept a wrong-fit job, so be sure you’re spending and saving wisely. While it may be tempting to spend more as you make more, be realistic and practical. When your savings and financial runway allow you to be choosy about jobs and only accept the best, you’ll be glad you did!
Leverage the Company’s BATNA
As important as your BATNA is, you can take your negotiating skills to the next level by determining the company’s BATNA. This will help you better suss out how much leverage you have to negotiate.
How do you do this? Here are a few questions to ask your recruiter, potential teammates, and future manager during the interview process:
- Why is this role open?
- How long have you been trying to fill this position? Is it urgent?
- Is the hiring manager currently back-filling this role?
- Are there any other candidates at the offer stage?
- What are the company’s highest priorities and needs, both immediately and in the long term, that you are most equipped to help with?
- What skills does the team need that you don’t bring to the table?
You have greater leverage when the company believes their BATNA is fairly weak and you believe yours is strong. A company’s BATNA may be weak if the role has been open a long time, is urgently needed, and you bring the necessary experience and skills to achieve their goals. It’s even weaker when there aren’t other candidates in the pipeline or they don’t measure up to you.
Key #2: Understand The Power of Social Capital
Most professionals (especially super technical ones) underestimate the impact of power and influence in negotiating a job offer. They want their skills to speak for themselves. The harsh reality is that even your best work isn’t enough to earn you the salary you deserve.
How Recruiters Leverage Their Influence
Companies design their hiring and compensation practices to prevent you from being able to influence the decision by forcing you to negotiate with a middleman: your recruiter.
Recruiters typically have a very limited understanding of the role you’re interviewing for. When you negotiate with a recruiter, you can only have a win-loss negotiation around compensation. In other words, giving you more means that the company gets less. This isn’t always the case, but any recruiter that doesn’t help facilitate conversations with your manager and team is an adversary, not an ally.
Negotiating Salary With Your Manager
Our clients have had much more success negotiating with their managers. These conversations are more productive because they’re focused on value.
A manager who is excited about a candidate can have a far bigger impact on your compensation than your recruiter. We’ve seen managers do a number of things for top candidates, including changing the leveling of the role, increasing where an offer falls within a pay band (or outside of it), and adding signing bonuses.
How to Negotiate With Your Manager
Many candidates fear appearing greedy by negotiating with their manager, but your approach to negotiating determines how it’s perceived. If your goal is to get more money without accepting additional responsibilities, managers will assume (and correctly, might I add) that you’re only looking out for your best interests.
The reality is that this win-lose paradigm is a lose-lose result because these types of work relationships over time lead to the increasingly short tenures we are seeing today. Talent doesn’t grow and companies can’t retain.
Rather than thinking of your manager as the adversary of blocking you from getting a higher salary, you should think about how you can create a mutually beneficial deal.
Instead of thinking about what’s in it for you, make a strong case that the skills and impact you’ll have on the company justify a higher offer. Spend time conveying your ability to achieve the expectations, challenges, and goals of your job. By making your manager’s job easier, you’re much more likely to then get what you ask for.
We have every one of our clients create a document that outlines the expectations and outcomes for the role – which they then collaborate on with their manager once (after they’ve received their offer, but before they negotiate). We’ve found this is a critical communication step to getting your manager as an ally in the negotiation.
Key #3: Choose Judiciously
We’ve had professionals with decades of experience negotiate poorly because they were so excited by an opportunity to join a “rocketship” startup. The stories that companies tell candidates (and that candidates tell themselves) to get them to believe in the potential of a company are truly amazing—and can lead to terrible decision making.
The Power of Patience
Companies apply pressure and urgency to candidates because they are impatient. Once you reach a certain threshold of experience or skill, it’s extremely rare for companies to have several great options to choose from. Deadlines don’t exist for executive-level negotiations.
We have seen offers change by hundreds of thousands of dollars just because a candidate was willing to wait out the process.
Reverse Interview the Company
As a candidate you should be interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing you. The best time to do this is once the company gives you an offer.
Contrary to any fears of offending your potential employer or losing the offer, asking hard questions actually showcases your experience and talent. You should interview your team, manager, cross-functional teammates, skip-level manager, and executive-level leadership if you can.
Your goal for each of these interviews should be to identify how you can impact the business. If this is your intention and a potential employer is denying you the opportunity to do so, this is a serious red flag to consider, especially if this response is followed by a sub-par job offer.
Asking tough questions also shows critical thinking, ownership, and agency. You should see negotiating as a chance to learn what it’s going to be like working at the company. How your manager handles hard questions is a strong proxy for the difficult conversations you are going to have in the future!
Think Beyond Short Term Compensation
Compensation is one part of career capital, but it’s actually one of the easier ones to get. The connections, skills, and experiences you gain from working at a company are far more difficult to acquire than additional compensation.
Increasing your career capital empowers you to be more independent and is ultimately the way to achieve more career growth and higher compensation over the long term. Your manager, projects, team, and scope of work matter more than short-term compensation.
Think like Louie Bacaj, a former engineering leader at Jet.com who’s famous for his career advice. He published his earnings for the first 10 years of his career.
At first glance it looks like a consistently steady increase, but if you look closer, you can see some strategic decisions that kept his pay stagnant (or even slightly reduced) in the short-term. Eventually, this led him to a huge opportunity with a high payoff.
Understand the Game
Recruiters are negotiating everyday and entire HR teams are maximizing the company’s leverage to negotiate good deals for the company. Even candidates with 20+ years of experience are at a disadvantage when negotiating.
The 3 steps we explained above can be distilled into Rora’s 3 LAWs to negotiate:
- Leverage - Build your BATNA and understand the company’s
- Ally - Create an alliance and align incentives with the individuals who have power
- Wait - Be patient and be willing to walk away
Advocating for yourself during the negotiation process will not only pay dividends in terms of what compensation you end up with and how your next role goes, but you’ll see a difference in confidence in the rest of your life, as well!
If you are interested to learn more and get specific advice for your unique situation, schedule a free consultation call with one of our career advisors.