If you're looking for the perfect job offer, you might as well stop right now: there's no such thing. But armed with the right information, you can get a good deal in a good place. Negotiating the job you want begins after you’ve learned how to be your own agent - after you’ve answered the tough personal questions and researched the company thoroughly.
Listen and answer first, ask questions later
Like the salary negotiation that follows it, the interview is a two-way process. The interviewer is gathering as much information about you as you are about the company. And a good interviewer will allow you to do most of the talking, so learn the difference between a quick question and one that requires a longer answer. In addition to listening to your answers, the interviewer may also be paying attention to how you budget your time in the interview.
In leading the conversation, the interviewer will cover essential information about the company, the responsibilities of the job, and other relevant material. Assume that the interviewer will answer most of your questions before you ask them, but ask your own questions at the end if anything is left hanging. Feel free to take notes and refer to them later.
Whatever you do, don’t talk about money until the prospective employer puts a job offer on the table. Until then, you have to convince them that you’re a hot commodity. Once they’re convinced, they will pay the fair amount it costs to get you. Let them make the first offer. Some interviewers will put pressure on you to disclose your current earnings, in the interest of determining whether they’re in the right range. As your own agent, you should just keep stalling - remember that you are never required to give a salary history. Money talk is the subject of Part 4.
Steer toward a better job offer
If, in the middle of an interview, you realize the job isn’t right for you, you have a choice. You could continue the interview, wasting both the interviewer’s and your time. Or you could cut the interview short, leaving halfway through, and going home wondering "what if."
There is a third alternative. You could always try to steer the conversation toward something closer to the job you want, or encourage the organization to restructure the job so that it will appeal to you more. You have nothing to lose, especially if your skills are highly in demand. Companies with an entrepreneurial culture are especially likely to be receptive to this kind of win-win maneuver.
Focus on your contribution
As the agent of your own career, keep your focus on the contribution you can make to an organization. In the selling stage of your conversations with a prospective employer, you have an opportunity to show how your work will help create more value for the company and its shareholders. Your contribution will stand out if, in addition to meeting the basic criteria for the position, you also have added skills or experiences. Examples include a well developed network of contacts, direct industry experience, and specific technical expertise.
Check the fit
You might want to do research to find out what a company is like. You can also see for yourself, once you get to the interview, whether the company walks the way it talks. One way to judge what kind of candidate a company is really looking for is to ask some pointed questions, like:
* What kind of management style is most rewarded in this environment?
* How can I be sure I'm achieving the company's objectives here, as well as my own?
* How do you view work/life balance?
* Why is this position open? What happened to the person who previously held the job?
* What is the turnover rate for the position or department?
* How does the company communicate to its members? How often?
* When can I expect a performance review? What is the process?
* What professional qualities are most valued in team members?
Turn them into a buyer
The goal of the interview process is to make the prospective employer conclude not only that they want to hire you, but that you are exactly the candidate they are looking for. Every answer that creates this impression - every point you score in an interview - makes you more valuable to that employer, and thus more expensive. The interview not only sells your candidacy, but also lays the groundwork for the salary negotiation.
Also check out our job offer assessing tool, The Job Assessor, in order to compare job offers.
- Linda Jenkins, Salary.com contributor