In the early 1980s the country was in the midst of a recession to rival the one we are currently facing. Unemployment was in the double digits, and so was inflation. Yet I was able to negotiate a 50 percent salary increase when I took a job with a new firm in Washington, D.C. Although I would like to be able to say that my success was due to my extraordinary skill as a negotiator, it wasn’t.
I was still in my 20s at the time; this was the first time I ever really had to negotiate my own compensation, and in hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes. The things I did do right, though, were to negotiate with the right employer at the right time, and convince them that I was the right candidate for the job. Then and only then did we seriously talk about money.
With the economy being in the shape it’s in, if someone told you that you could go to your employer and successfully ask for a raise or move to a new employer with a substantial increase in compensation, you probably wouldn’t believe him.
Most people today are happy just to have a job.
They assume that they can’t get a raise or get a significant salary increase from a new employer because times are tough. Most employers are only too happy to reinforce that myth. When you know how to negotiate properly, however, the state of the economy is irrelevant, particularly for senior-level executives.
In order to be able to increase your compensation significantly, the first thing you need to do is sell yourself to an employer: convince the person filling the job that you can satisfy some need he or she deems particularly important.
They will find a way to meet your salary expectations.
If you are talking to an employer that really wants to hire you, for you, the economy is always good.
It also helps if the employer finds you.
When an employer or a recruiter seeks you out, it greatly increases your bargaining power. Take steps to make that more likely to happen. Be sure you have a powerful presence where employers are looking for people with your skills. The best way to do that is to expand your professional network, speak at conferences and enhance your Internet presence on Web sites where you are likely to be found by the employers you would like to work for.
Once you are found, make sure you appeal to whatever the employer cares about most. When the person hiring or promoting you recognizes that they need you, they are willing to pay more. Their focus then becomes one of “recruiting” you and making you feel good about the opportunity rather than “negotiating” with you to save a few dollars on your salary. When an employer views the situation in that light, they will not only give you more, they will do so gladly. It is your job to make sure that they never forget that they are trying to recruit you. Even if you have initiated the contact with the employer or recruiter, once you convince them that you are the right person to do what is most important to them, you will be well positioned to get what you want.
Here are four ways to increase your ability to negotiate compensation even when times are bad:
1. Emphasize the skills you have that are most important to the employer. Making money or saving money is always important when times are tough. So is making your prospective boss look good.
2. Let the employer know you really want the job because we all want to hire people who really want to work for us. But make sure it does not seem like you need the job because no one wants to hire someone who is desperate.
3. Have another offer, or at least be talking to other potential employers. Competition for your services makes you more valuable in the eyes of a prospective employer and greatly increases your leverage.
4. Avoid talking about money, or at least be vague about what it will take to hire you, until the employer is ready to make you an offer. At that point, you will have the most bargaining power.
Your value to a prospective employer does not go down just because times are tough. Good employees are even more important to the success of an organization in a challenging economic environment.
Know what the skills you bring to the organization are worth in the job market. Convince the employer that you are the person they want to hire by focusing on what they care about most. Then don’t be afraid to negotiate.