Why are people hesitant to negotiate when they get offered a job?

Paul Levy; Author/Blogger; Former President and CEO, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

There’s several reasons that people don’t negotiate the offer they get from a company. One is they were so nervous about getting a job — any job — that they feel a great sense of relief, and they just say yes. You can understand that. But remember that [companies] expect to negotiate with you, so see if you can get past that.

The second issue is many people feel uncomfortable about arguing about their value in the job market. They feel it’s distasteful. They feel it’s arrogant, bragging, or whatever it is — and it’s because they’re inexperienced. They don’t understand commerce in general, business in general, where people negotiate all the time. It’s just the way it is. And they let their personal discomfort get in their way.

The third reason is that people are not prepared. So, a job offer comes in. The company says, “Here’s the letter; would you like to sign it?” And [people] don’t know how to compare it to something else. They haven’t considered their alternatives. They haven’t considered what the market is paying, and they’re nervous that if they ask for something else, it will appear to be greedy or untoward or something and that maybe the offer will be rescinded. Well, the offer won’t be rescinded because they want you, but as a result [people] sign things.

We actually heard from a woman one day who did just that. She got a job offer, and the fellow said, “Here, I’ve got the letter here. Would you like to sign, and everything will be settled?” And she was so flustered that she signed it. And then she got home that night, and she called us and said, “I think I agreed to less than I should have. I’ve done some research since then, and it shows that I should have asked for more. Can I go back now and ask for more?” And we said, “Now it’s really awkward to do that. You’ll have to figure out some really interesting way to do that that won’t jeopardize your relationship with your employer at this point.”

So, preparation, practice. We actually say to people, “Think about the hardest question you might get during a job offer negotiation or the hardest situation, and practice how you’re going to answer and respond to that situation.” Practice in front of a mirror, practice with some friends — so that when the situation arises, your response or the answer just comes rolling off your tongue without any stress. Just quickly, “Thank you for that offer. I’m very pleased to get that offer, but, you know, I’ve been doing some research about the marketplace, and it appears that salaries are a bit higher than what you’re offering here. I was thinking something in this number range” — not a range [actually], a number.

Practice it so that when it happens, you’re comfortable, and it just happens. So, preparation. Then, talk to other people in the industry. Find out how they’ve negotiated, and see what you can learn from them, too.