Interview and Negotiate Like a Lawyer

Follow these tips from lawyers to convince a hiring manager to offer you the job (and the salary) you want.

Lawyers are trained not only to argue a position but persuade judges, juries and even adversaries to try to see things their ways.

What can they teach job seekers about convincing a hiring manager to give them the job (and the money) they’re after?

Ladders asked two attorneys, who coach other lawyers on how to interview and negotiate, for tips and tricks.

Stephen E. Seckler, president of Seckler Legal Consulting in Newton, Mass., spent 15 years as a legal recruiter. He now runs his own business helping law firms manage their businesses more effectively.

Veteran litigator Victoria Pynchon works as a mediator at ADR Services, helping other lawyers negotiate their way out of sticky conflicts.

Don’t burn the interviewer

The first thing to remember when taking advice from a lawyer on how to persuade and negotiate is that your end goal is very different from a lawyer’s end game, Pynchon said.

When lawyers argue, their goals are to win, not generally to meet the other party halfway or form a lasting bond, she said.

“You negotiate based on positions – I’m right, and you’re wrong, and here are 10,000 reasons why you’re wrong and I should get the biggest share of the pie,” she said.

That’s not a bad approach in the courtroom or across the negotiating table from an opponent after the lines have been drawn and the first shots fired in a dispute, she said.

“It’s not so good in a job interview when what you’re trying to do is establish a relationship,” Seckler agreed.

A salary negotiation isn’t a conflict to be resolved, Pynchon said. There is a lot of push and pull, but what you’re building is a relationship which you both hope will last a long time, not a scorched-earth business deal.

Still, there is more back-and-forth in a good negotiation than most Americans are comfortable with.

Pynchon’s other tips on negotiating:

Make the first offer.

This goes counter to every guide to salary negotiations, but lawyers know that the person who names a number first sets the range for the discussion. Even if the other side disagrees, everything else is judged by how much higher or lower it is than that first number. “That’s why they call it an anchor,” Pynchon said. “It’s a cognitive issue; we can’t help it. Any number you introduce early in the negotiation will exert a pull on your negotiating partner.”

Don’t negotiate with yourself.

“One of the things they did teach us at law school about negotiating is, don’t bargain against yourself,” she said. “If you say you want $190,000 and the other person says that’s well beyond the range, don’t come back and say, ‘ How about $150,000?’ Wait for their response; don’t bargain yourself down.”

Justify and rationalize.

Always give a reason, preferably a good one, for what you’re asking for. If you don’t have a good reason, give a bad one. In studies of human behavior, people offering a ridiculous reason for asking a favor have nearly the same success rate as those offering logical reasons, Pynchon said. Offering no reason drops your success rate by more than a third. A “good” reason in this case would be a favorable comparison with what others in your position make, or a quantification of your contributions in your last job that demonstrate your real value.

Be generous, long before you need to be.

Reciprocity is one of the strongest human motivational factors, Pynchon said. It’s why waiters put mints on the plate with your bill – a little gift for which you’ll feel obligated. Hiring managers will feel the same way if they have a reason to feel obligated to you for the answers or support you’ve given members of his or her team through a social-networking site, for recommending job candidates or business opportunities – anything that is clearly generous and selfless that affects hiring managers or someone who works with them.

Be real.

“It has to be genuine, though, and you have to do it all the time,” Pynchon said. “People don’t like it when you’re clearly out to gain something. It makes them feel hustled.”

Make small concessions.

“Research shows that people’s satisfaction with the outcome of a negotiation is primarily tied to the number of concessions the other side makes,” Pynchon said. “Set your expectations high and make small concessions, or offer to do more work for the same money, to make people happy. You’re trying to build something durable, so it helps if both people come out feeling as if they’ve won something.”