Ask For What You Want: Negotiating Job Offers


Know What’s Negotiable in a Job Offer to Ask for What You Want

There have been numerous studies on the issue of whether women and men perform differently during a salary negotiation. Many findings underscore that men tend to get better compensation packages because they’re more likely to ask for what they want.

A very public example was Mark Walberg’s negotiation of $1.5 million – while Michelle Williams accepted less than $1,000 for the same work – to reshoot some scenes in a movie ironically titled “All the Money in the World.” The issue wasn’t her failure to ask for more. It was a lack of information on what was actually negotiable.


Harvard Business School Professor Deepak Malhotra is a leading expert on job-offer negotiations. He notes that “With executive mobility on the rise, people vying for similar positions often have vastly different backgrounds, strengths, and salary histories, making it hard for employers to set benchmarks or create standard packages.”

So understanding your options – and focusing on getting the right deal for the responsibilities – are critical, particularly when there is a broad range of outcomes.

Please see the Harvard Business Review article on 15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer. Here are some highlights:

  • Help them understand why you deserve what you’re requesting.

They have to believe you’re worth the offer you want. Never let your proposal speak for itself – tell the story that goes with it. Don’t just state your desire for a 15% higher salary, explain precisely why you’re especially valuable. If you have no justification for a request, don’t make it.

  • Make it clear they can get you.

If you intend to negotiate for a better package, make it clear that you’re serious about working for this employer. If you mention all the other job options you have as leverage, balance that by saying why – or under what conditions – you would be happy to forgo those options and accept an offer.

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of likability.

This is about more than being polite; it’s about managing some inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in the offer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance.

  • Understand the person across the table.

Negotiating with a prospective boss is very different from negotiating with an HR representative. HR may be responsible for hiring 10 people and reluctant to break precedent, whereas the boss, who will benefit more directly from your joining the company, may go to bat for you with a special request.

  • Understand their constraints.

Your job is to figure out where they’re flexible and where they’re not. A large company hiring 20 similar people may not give you a higher salary, but it may be flexible on vacation time and signing bonuses. A smaller company may have room to adjust the salary offer or job title but not other things.  

  • Consider the whole deal.

Focus on the value of the entire deal: responsibilities, location, travel, flexibility in work hours, opportunities for growth and promotion, perks, support for continued education, etc. You may decide to chart a course that pays less handsomely now but will put you in a stronger position later.

  • Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously, not serially.

You’re usually better off proposing all changes at once. And if you have A, B, C & D requests, clarify the relative importance of each one to you. Otherwise, the hiring manager may pick the two things you value least because they’re pretty easy to give you, and feel that the company met you halfway.

  • Don’t negotiate just to negotiate.

If something is important to you, absolutely negotiate. But don’t haggle over every little thing. Fighting to get just a bit more can rub people the wrong way – and can limit your ability to negotiate with the company later in your career when it may matter more.

  • Think through the timing of offers.

Considering multiple options is a balancing act. If you pull back too much or push too hard, a company may lose interest and hire someone else. But there are subtle ways to solve such problems. For example, if you want to delay an offer, you might ask for a later second- or third-round interview.

  • Avoid, ignore, or downplay ultimatums of any kind.

If someone tells you, “We’ll never do this,” don’t dwell on it. Instead you might say, “I can see how that might be difficult, given where we are today. Perhaps we can talk about X, Y, and Z.” If the ultimatum is real, that will become clear over time.

  • Remember that other things are going on at the company.

Unwillingness to agree to a request may simply reflect constraints you don’t fully appreciate. Or a delay in getting an offer letter may mean that the hiring manager has been diverted to other things. Ask for a clarification on timing and whether there’s anything you can do to help move things along.

  • Stay at the table.

What’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow. Over time, interests and constraints change. Be willing to continue the conversation and to encourage others to revisit issues that were left unaddressed or unresolved.

  • Maintain a sense of perspective.

And remember, you can negotiate like a pro and still lose out if you’re in is the wrong negotiation. The industry, your career trajectory, and the day-to-day influences on you (such as bosses and coworkers) can be vastly more important to satisfaction than the particulars of an offer.

For additional information on how to improve your salary and benefits, plus shape your job description, please see How to Evaluate, Accept, Reject, or Negotiate a Job Offer.

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