“If a job offers a certain pay, can I negotiate that?”

Question: I recently had an interview for a position and was told that the job paid a certain amount per hour. The amount of pay is a large pay cut for me, and the commute is longer than my previous commute.

If offered the job, do I still have the opportunity to negotiate salary and/or benefits? Or is it set in stone because they told me a set rate?  

New Kent, Virginia

Answer: Dear Greta:         

1. The pay offered for any job is just that – an offer – and may or may not be “set in stone.” When an employer and a job applicant first get together, it is common (but not always the case) that the employer lets it be known that “The salary offered for this position is a certain number, or a certain range.” No matter what the employer says, it is possible that – if the applicant seems valuable enough – the offered compensation may prove “flexible.” In my opinion the purpose of the interview process is just that: for the applicant to show the prospective employer how wonderfully valuable he or she is, and possibly even worth paying more than was advertised.

2. The time for discussion of “possibly higher pay” is when the job applicant has the most leverage: after he or she has shown himself or herself to be the most valuable person interviewed. At the conclusion of the interview process, if the job is offered to the job applicant, that surely means he or she seems more valuable to the employer than anyone else. That is good, and it means that it is now time to do what is entirely proper under the circumstances: for the job applicant to say, in his or her own words, “Is there any flexibility in the offered salary, as I would be more comfortable with a salary of about $10,000 more.” In my experience, I think most employers even expect to hear that question.

3. The job applicant can then (i) accept what was originally offered, (ii) seek more, as noted above, or (iii) reject the compensation offered as inadequate. If you are good at what you do, and have a positive working attitude, chances are most prospective employers will show some flexibility in compensation. Remember: if offered the job, you are seen as the most promising candidate out of the whole bunch. Sure, don’t be arrogant, but don’t sell yourself short, either.

Did you ever hear of a house buyer paying exactly the offering price? That is rare. Did you ever hear of a car purchaser paying exactly the offering price? That is also rare. Did you ever hear of a diner in a restaurant negotiating the price on the menu? Though it is rare, I have heard of it, and it is evidence of a negotiating secret: for a valuable customer – one who visits often, one who tips the servers well, and one who brings in a lot of friends – some restaurants give free meals. When dealing with any employer, remember how much he or she is “hungry” for a good employee.

4. The creative job applicant can also creatively negotiate other “things of value.” Greta, your note to me indicates that this is a long commute for you. If offered the job, but turned down for a larger pay package, might you suggest that the following be considered instead: (a) working from home one day a week; (b) reimbursement for commuting expense; (c) a better-sounding title; (d) improved benefits. Some of these things might be even more attractive to you than would be the higher pay you seek. I love to see people discover that, while important, money is not necessarily the most important “reward” an employee can negotiate for.

5. Remember, too, that everything that is negotiated today can be re-negotiated tomorrow. Most people think that negotiation takes place just once, or perhaps even once a year. I see it differently. I think negotiation goes on every single day, if and when you show your employer you are valuable, or show your employer you are not worth much, by how you work and what you get done.

If you make your employer say to himself or herself “Wow, Greta is so good, she gets more done than two people. She is the epitome of productivity and a great attitude, too,” then you are setting yourself up for the easiest and most successful re-negotiation of your life, next week, next month or sometime soon. But first you must show how good you are: that is what motivates winning negotiations.

Greta, you might enjoy and take advantage of our free YouTube video entitled “Can I Really Negotiate with My Boss?” You can view it by clicking on its title.

Thanks for writing in. Now go out there and show your great value!!  

Al Sklover

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