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17 March  2009 ~

job-search-negotiations.jpg Guest Post by David M. Schwartz.  Today, we are all dealing with the financial meltdown and economic woes. Clearly, it was much more comfortable negotiating when the economy was in much better shape.  The painful truth is that when faced with adversity—such as a recession or a dip in the job market—the natural tendency is to retreat to a defensive position, rather than mount an all-out attack. Candidates should never settle for less than they are worth. If they don’t ask – they don’t get.  There are jobs and new opportunities out there for those who stay focused, keep a positive mental attitude and remain proactive. Candidates just need to learn how to “play the game”.

The fact is that at the executive hiring level the economic environment often has very little impact on a candidate’s negotiating leverage. Candidates need to create a compelling value proposition by clearly differentiating themselves from the competition. Although employers might receive an avalanche of applications for an opening because people are desperate, worried and stressed out — top quality “A” players are still very hard to find.  If you have strong qualifications that put you in the category of “best of the best” you have more negotiating power than you might realize. Not surprisingly, executive-level candidates tend to have the strongest negotiating position even though employers are reining in the plethora of perks that once were relatively easy to secure.

Look at the total package. It’s not only about salary. Most employers today are reasonable and they are likely to negotiate with potential strong “A” players about such things as salary review, extra paid time off, flexible work schedule, etc. Severance packages and protective clauses are a top issue for executives. Candidates tend to see these severance issues as a way to manage the risk they take when leaving a secure job.

Ironically, in the early stage of negotiating compensation, the most important thing isn’t what you say, but what you –“don’t say”.  You absolutely do not want to discuss salary unless (and until) an offer is on the table.  The first one to mention money –LOSES.

When an employer puts an offer on the table don’t anger anyone by saying that you want to come in to negotiate. Instead, ask for face-to-face time to address any questions that you might have and focus on clarifications (not demands).

Once you have been offered what you consider to be a fair salary, don’t hesitate to negotiate for something else. Remember, you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. As long as you are dealing in good faith by being fair and reasonable, most employers will leave some wiggle room for negotiations. It is not unreasonable and nobody will rescind an offer, if you ask for a laptop, a cell phone, flextime, home office or another perk that will help you in your new job.

Whatever you and the employer agree, always ask for all the details to be confirmed in writing.  If a prospective employer seems to be put off by you asking for clarifications or for anything more, by way of a counteroffer or whatever, then that might be a signal telling you to continue your job search.  Executives must have the mindset that allows them to walk away. Act as though there is something better out there. Any senior executive starting in a new job should want to feel valued for what they have to offer and for what they bring to the table.  Any employer who is in the hiring game to get the cheapest employee possible is likely not to be such a good employer, after all.

What are some of the more common negotiating mistakes in this environment?

  •  Accepting the first job opportunity that comes along
  • Settling for less than you are worth
  • Limiting or exhausting your options
  • Not doing your homework and coming in to negotiations unprepared
  • Hung up on the use of “traditional” methods and old school thinking
  • Talking too much and laying all your cards on the table
  • Following the crowd and not being creative
  • Being unreasonable or perhaps too greedy
  • Failure to ask for professional advice

The bottom line, like anything else, is that negotiations need to be handled respectfully and kept in perspective. A cooperative approach will always work best.   If you do your research, set reasonable boundaries, and always come fully prepared to deal with the issues and tough questions, chances are very good –even during a tough economy that you will end up with a win-win offer that works for you and the new company.

Guest Post from
David M. Schwartz, Sr. Vice President –ROELMANA Group
Contact Information: Direct Dial:  610-359-6289 , eMAIL:

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  1. David. I think your tips for negotiating during tough times are very useful. In particular having the savvy and confidence to “walk away” is a very important negotiating tip. Moreover, I think that employers and decision makers “sense” that you have the confidence and most likely competence to “walk away”. glen

    Comment by Glen Miller March 19, 2009 @ 11:13 am
  2. Thought provoking and insightful. Great job caprturing the issues and thoughts candidates face. Nothing just happens. Negotiating strategies are pre-thought.

    Comment by Lee Diestelow March 19, 2009 @ 11:19 am
  3. Good article David. Agreed – never settle for less than you are worth. But in this economy, has the notion of what you are worth changed compared to 12 months ago? And, what about this economy could actually make you more valuable compared to 12 months ago? Seems like a person’s value proposition should be modified for this environment, but in what way?

    Comment by Howard Blum March 19, 2009 @ 3:47 pm
  4. Excellent review and tips for job seekers playing the negotiation game. Negotiation is about achieving a “win-win” situation. In these economic times where salaries and bonuses might be constrained, as David points out, there are many other items to consider during the negotiation process.

    Comment by Debra Sesholtz March 20, 2009 @ 7:24 am
  5. David, you hit the nail on the head with your point that a key strategy involves creating something about yourself that is unique, in order to increase your negotiating leverage. You don’t want to be a “commodity candidate” in a crowded field of many; you want to be the “unique candidate” in a field of one! In a sense, managing your search is a lot like managing a brand. You’ll have to identify your own unique strengths and create demand for them.

    You also make an excellent point about the non-cash compensation opportunities around which you can negotiate. What matters is the total package which can be achieved by trading hard dollars for soft, to arrive at something good for both the employer and you.

    In today’s climate of increased scrutiny for both total compensation and severance packages, make sure that what you ask for (and receive) can stand the red face test should it ever become public!

    Comment by Hank Boyer, CEO of Boyer Management Group March 20, 2009 @ 7:49 am
  6. Even after many years of business success, several months of being “between executive appointments” can be demoralizing and we can find ourselves doubting our value to industry. Thank you for reminding us that we have been successful contributors to our former employer’s welfare and have earned a value commensurate with our accomplishments. We need to assert that value.

    Comment by John Marshall, CPA March 20, 2009 @ 12:57 pm
  7. David, this is very valuable advice, particularly in these difficult times. Negotiating a compensation package needs to be genuine and must pursue the benefit for both, the company and the indiviual. Very often not recognizing this can lead to an impass in which can adversely impact the relationship or, worse yet, result in a retraction of an offer. I particularly like your comment about talking about money: “The first one to mention money – LOSES. There is clearly a lesson here for all of us.

    Comment by Rafael Flores March 20, 2009 @ 5:33 pm
  8. Great tips. Too many people violate one of your great tips. “You absolutely do not want to discuss salary unless (and until) an offer is on the table. The first one to mention money –LOSES.” Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Jim McGuffey, A.C.E. Security Consultants March 21, 2009 @ 12:57 pm
  9. David, you have written a good article concerning how to negotiate once you have obtained an offer. I would add some tips concerning how to differentiate yourself. I recommend that executuves should write a trifold brief, which describes who they are and how they intend to contribute to immediately to the sustainable growth and profitability of the company. Your trifold is a leave behind that should be given to everyone who interviewed you enroute to securing an offer. This will enable you to gain support for your initiatives that you intend to advance when and if you join the company.
    Good luck with your book.
    Best personal regards,

    Comment by William Roy Kesting March 22, 2009 @ 7:48 am
  10. David, your article was absolutely chockfull of thoughtful and sound advice. Not only that, I found it very uplifting to read something so positive and enabling in these current times that are otherwise so full of gloom and doom. You remind us that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that we have control over how long that tunnel actually is and give us the tools to change it to our advantage. Many thanks!

    Comment by John Newport March 22, 2009 @ 8:23 am
  11. Great one.
    We must still work together and it will be win-win for all.
    – Steven Burda

    Comment by Steven Burda March 22, 2009 @ 10:10 am
  12. David,

    You and I agree on most points here. Here is a blog post that I contributed last month that echoes a lot of the same sentiments, except one:

    I wonder, specifically, what you think “the first to mention money” means. The first to bring up the subject, or the first to cite an actual number?

    I have seen this ensue in an unnecessary power struggle, which can be an impediment for both sides. Since the goal of successful negotiations is a win-win, theoretically, this should still be achievable regardless of who divulges numbers first. To get to this point, both employer and future employee are accountable for communicating the value that they offer. If one party feels they are being undervalued, it is up to him or her to continue to validate their value until a mutual agreement can be reached. This may require settling on a short term agreement with established future conditions to be satisfied that will eventually please both sides.

    Comment by Karen Huller March 22, 2009 @ 1:42 pm
  13. David…. I found your article cogent, clear and concise.It’s astonishing how badly needed such a precis has become.

    Might suggest that you include in an expanded version something directed toward getting at corporate information that is not readily available in published documentation and PR. An interview that is steered toward changes that are being implemented and ones that are currently stalled could prove fruitful for both sides of the negotiation. Just what might be the aspirations of the interviewer et al that are supportable by the candidate?

    Comment by William A. McGregor March 22, 2009 @ 4:14 pm
  14. Excellent and insightful post.

    You clear and concise language would be wonderful to see in a book!

    Comment by Robert Davis March 23, 2009 @ 3:43 pm
  15. David – Excellent article. Your advice is on target, including pointing out that if the emplyer reacts badly, you probably would have had difficulties if you had gotten the job. And in this tough climate, you are more likely to run into employers who are under stress, with shorter fuses.

    I found a few of the “negotiatiog mistakes” unclear – please consider using a few more words for clarity.

    Finally, not being in a job search, but rather being a consultant on the prowl for clients, I thnk much of what you’ve written can apply as well. I’d like to see an article from you on that specific circumstance.

    Comment by Joe Porcelli, JVP International, Inc. March 24, 2009 @ 10:02 am
  16. David, this is a very interesting and thoughtful article. I agree that despite the current economic conditions, executive level candidates should do their best not to look desperate in the eyes of prospective employers. Executives need to clearly state their value proposition and not settle for an offer that doesn’t meet their overall criteria. Also, you mentioned that compensation is just one part of an offer package, and that is right on. We are looking for opportunities, not just money.

    Comment by Ken Foladare March 24, 2009 @ 2:27 pm
  17. Insightful and interesting article – right to the point. In this environment I think many people are so happy just to get an interview that they are somewhat defensive to discuss “extra’s” or
    even to negotiate at all, and I think employers use this to their advantage. If one has already come this far in the selection process (given the large number of resumes that respond to any job opening today), one is NOT negotiating from a position of weaknesss.

    Comment by Hank Belman March 24, 2009 @ 6:16 pm
  18. David, I agree with many of the ideas and suggestions you have here. Tough times does not mean fewer high level exec jobs. The right people at the top of the company is paramount when businesses need to be even more innovative and competitive. In fact, many exec jobs will become available if the incumbents are not at the top of their game. Those gaps will need to be filled in by the best of the best and so they really do have the leverage for negotiating.

    As a person making a career move, remembering that the person on the other side of the desk is a human being and not an object in between you and your next job will go a long way. Creating rapport and asking questions that will help determine whether or not you are aligned with the leadership style and values of the company is important in finding and securing the right position for high level execs. The qualities of respect, cooperation, preparedness and intention for win/win are essential for negotiating. And “asking”, making reasonable requests, is Great advice.

    Comment by Jacqueline Lesser Faust March 25, 2009 @ 9:20 am
  19. David,

    The first one to mention money –LOSES.

    Great advice.

    We find this true in our Appraisal business as well. We deal mostly with CFO, Controller and Chief Accounting individuals who are keenly aware of costs, fees, etc. What we try and focus on in the interview process is what we can do for them, how we can help them, what value can we bring. If we sucessfully SELL our message than the fee (Salary) discussion is almost a non-event, not the Main Event.

    Great stuff.

    Thomas H. Gudowicz
    VP- Sales & Marketing
    Enterprise Appraisal Company

    Comment by Thomas Gudowicz April 13, 2009 @ 12:26 pm
  20. An astute set of recommendations from a very good business person acting today as a trusted advisor to both businesses and candidates, David solves human resource needs. He understands the concept of the win win as good as any search firm provider; he relies on strategic and people skills gained over a long career — David and I first met when he was buying businesses 20 years ago in the chemical industry. You can still see that entrepreneurial spirit today.

    Comment by Kevin Coghlan April 13, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

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