Negotiating an offer of employment 2008

I HAVE spent a lot of time writing about preparing for consulting interviews. The aim of performing well in the interview is to obtain an offer of employment. Imagine you have obtained an offer of employment from the consulting firm of your choice and you now want to negotiate the terms of the offer. Can you negotiate the terms of your offer of employment and, if so, where do you start?

1. Use your bargaining power

Your ability to negotiate the terms of your offer depends on how much bargaining power you have. As a graduate looking for a consulting job your bargaining power will depend, to a large extent, on the current balance of power in the job market. In the late 1990s, the job market was an employee’s market and companies would add extra benefits like an increased signing bonus or an extra week of annual leave in order to sign employees. Today, the job market is more of an employer’s market with a shrinking number of jobs and, one would imagine, less attractive compensation being offered.

Whatever the state of the economy, it is worth considering negotiating the terms of your offer. After you accept your offer of employment you will have virtually no bargaining power, so the time for negotiation is beforehand. If you are friendly and businesslike then negotiating needn’t create a negative impression, on the contrary, it demonstrates that you have a keen business sense and a healthy level of self confidence.

2. Obtain written confirmation

It almost goes without saying, but you need to obtain written confirmation of all of the terms you manage to negotiate.

3. Terms to negotiate

There are a number of offer terms that you might want to negotiate, including:

  1. office location;
  2. start date;
  3. compensation;
  4. starting position;
  5. annual leave; and
  6. offer response deadline.

3.1. Office location

To negotiate a change of office location, a first step might be to explain the reason for your request to HR. If they agree to look into the matter, make sure you agree on a date to follow up on the matter.

If your request is turned down, look for a person in your target office to vouch for the transfer, the more senior they are the better. When you find someone in the target office, explain your situation, describe why you want to work in that office, and ask if there’s anything he or she can do to help you. Offer to fly out to the office and meet with the consultants there in person.

3.2. Start date

Given the weak economy, you are likely to be able to negotiate a later start date. The key selling point is that the firm can start paying your salary later than planned, thus saving them money.

3.3. Salary and bonus

Given the weak economy, it will be difficult to negotiate an improved remuneration package.

The best form of leverage is to have another offer that pays more money. You can say, “I really like your firm; however I have another offer that pays $15,000 more. This is a difficult decision. I’m ready to sign with you if you can make the numbers work. Can you increase the compensation that you are offering?”

It goes without saying that it’s a bad idea to invent a fake job offer in order to provide negotiating leverage.

If you are an MBA or lateral hire and your previous salary was higher this gives you additional leverage. You may be able to convince the employer that you are being undervalued.

3.4. Starting position

If the job offer is for a position at a lower level than you believe is justified given your qualifications and experience you can ask for a shorter review period, e.g. six months instead of a year. This gives you a chance to prove your worth.

3.5. Annual leave

If you don’t like the amount of annual leave days provided, you should try asking for more. If that fails, ask about the firms unpaid leave policy. If the firm doesn’t have one, obtain written confirmation that you will be able to take extra days of unpaid leave.

3.6. Offer response deadline

If you need an extension to the offer deadline, ask for it. It’s a very common thing to get more time to make a decision, so don’t hesitate to ask for it.