Negotiate Like a Boss

B-School Experts on the Do’s and Don’ts of Job Negotiations

By Yvonne Milosevic

Whether you’re fresh out of undergrad or a decade into your career, knowing the right way to conduct yourself in salary and job negotiations is a critical life skill. Today, we’re sharing advice culled from some expert negotiators, who also happen to be professors at some of the top business schools in the country. Review this list of Dos and Don’ts for tips to ensure that your next employment negotiation puts the odds ever in your favor.

DO prepare for the negotiation ahead of time.

“What you do prior to the negotiation matters more than you think and dramatically affects your negotiation performance,” professors Linda Babcock and Julia Bear explained in their article about negotiation myths in Harvard Business Review.

job negotiations

Do your research to understand what sorts of things you can reasonably negotiate for—don’t walk in with unrealistic requests. Also, rehearse the conversation with a friend or family member until you feel you’ve nailed it. Babcock and Bear recommended you imagine that you’re negotiating for a friend. Sometimes, it’s easier to advocate for others than for ourselves.

DON’T turn the negation into an auction.

Associate Professor Daniel Feiler at the Tuck School of Business said it’s a bad idea to go into job negotiations using a competing offer as leverage for a higher salary. “You are telling them that you don’t distinguish between them and their competitor, and don’t really care about what their specific company does,” Feiler warned.

It’s also ill-advised to use the competing salary offer as a price point they need to beat. Instead, Feiler suggested you use it as a sign of your desirability. “It’s useful to signal that you have other good opportunities, but it’s also important to show that you’re excited about what they, specifically, do,” he added.

DO help them understand the why behind whatever you are requesting.

According to Harvard economist Deepak Malhotra, you need to tell the story that clearly explains why you want whatever you’re asking for. For example, let’s say you want to have a flexible work schedule. Pre-COVID, that might have meant working from home part of the week.

Now, this could mean working a compressed workweek of four 10-hour days instead of five standard-hour days. Or, perhaps you want to have complete control of your schedule, so long as your work gets done well and on time.  Make it clear that there’s a compelling reason, such as to help care for a loved one at home.

“It’s not enough for them to like you,” Malhotra noted. “They also have to believe you’re worth the offer you want. Never let your proposal speak for itself—always tell the story that goes with it.”

DON’T let your emotions interfere with the negotiation.

It’s natural to feel nervous when negotiating the terms of a new job. But don’t let emotions get in the way of getting some (or all) of what you desire. “When people feel anxious, they tend to negotiate poorly,” said Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks. “They tend to exit earlier and make steep concessions, which leads to poor negotiation outcomes.”

job negotiations

The next time you find yourself in this situation, try this mind trick Brooks swears by. Her research has shown that when people tell themselves they’re excited, rather than anxious, before an important negotiation, they’re more engaged and perform better.

DO consider the total package.

HBS’s Malhotra said people often think “negotiating a job offer” and “negotiating a salary” are the same. Instead of obsessing over the dollar amount, analyze the whole deal. Consider the added value of vacation days, schedule flexibility, travel perks, or opportunities for growth and promotion, Malhotra advised.

“Think not just about how you’re willing to be rewarded but also when,” he added. “You may decide to chart a course that pays less handsomely now but will put you in a stronger position later.”

DON’T accept too quickly.

Unless you’re desperate for the job, take some time to process your thoughts before giving your answer. The best approach is first to thank them for the offer. Then, let them know you’d like to take a day or two to make your decision. Weigh all the pros and cons. Consider any competing or potential offers. Make sure you’ve done your due diligence.

If there are details you’d still like to negotiate, you’ll lose your leverage by saying yes immediately. That said, don’t keep them hanging too long while you contemplate your decision. Unless they spring new details about the compensation package on you at the last moment, be ready to give an answer in a reasonable amount of time—a week or sooner is standard.

Finally, be honest with yourself about what you need to be reasonably happy. If the offer doesn’t meet your minimum requirements, despite all the negotiating tactics you’ve tried, be prepared to walk away. Just make sure to decline with grace. While it was not a match this time, you never know if you’ll cross paths with this company or individual in the future. Leaving a positive last impression is always the goal.