Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When You Interview, Never Negotiate Until You Have An Offer

This advice is applicable to everyone, senior or junior.

I always try to tell candidates that they should not negotiate any aspect of a possible new position before actually getting an offer.  What this means is that during your first few interviews, you should only be gathering information to determine if you are interested in the potential job.  This is a time to ask questions and to listen – save your wants, needs and desires until you have an offer.  Once a company has committed to you and has made an offer, you will then have the leverage to bargain, but never before.

Last week I wrote about saying the wrong things when interviewing.  I used one example of a person who told her prospective boss that she liked to put her kids to bed.  It was misinterpreted.  Nevertheless, what the candidate was doing, in essence, was negotiating.  She was laying out her own ground rules for the job;  but in doing so, she precluded herself from getting an offer.

Interviewing is a process of gathering information.  Until you have all the facts about a company and a job, there is really nothing to negotiate. Some people, particularly those currently working, become slightly arrogant and lay out their wish list right up front.  it is their way of saying to a prospective employer, "I'm working, I'm successful and if you want me, here are my terms." They tell companies what they will and will not do and what they want and don’t want long before the opportunity is explained.  It is their way of being strong.  Unfortunately, it is a self-defeating strategy because it often precludes an offer.  

The leverage to negotiate is in the offer itself. 

Once you are made an offer, the company has committed to you fully.  Because of that commitment, it is time to negotiate.  Negotiations should not just be about salary and title.  They can also be about needs and life style.  I know of one person who lives in the city and was interviewing for a New Jersey job.  Once the offer was made, she was able to negotiate a daily limousine ride to work and back.  I can guaranty that if that had been brought up on the first interview, it would never have progressed to a second meeting. (By the way, I have actually heard about limos and car services happening several times.)

Salary expectations should not be discussed until an offer is made.  Interviewing should be a learning process for both hiring company and candidate.  As you interview, you can determine the parameters of the job which will enable you to determine if the salary range they have been given is reasonable for that job and for you.  Naming a number too early may preclude a salary negotiation.  I can think of many situations where after a number of interviews the candidate has learned about the difficulty of a job and believes that it should pay more than was originally suggested. Many interviewers like to ask what a candidate is expecting in terms of salary.  Sometimes this happens early in the process, sometimes later.  The answer should always be, “an opportunity”.  If a company tries to force a specific answer, the best way to handle this is by telling them current salary, which will leave you free to negotiate once the offer is made.

And then remember to read your offer letter.  If something you agreed to is not in the offer letter, it is not part of the offer.  Period.


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